Within the desert landscape of Giza, Egypt, a statue of the goddess Hathor stands her ground, a surreal apparition perfectly aligned with the Great Pyramid.
The work, Egyptian Woman in the Form of the Goddess Hathor by the American artist Carole A. Feuerman, celebrates the deity of love, fertility, music and motherhood. It is one of 14 installations at this year’s edition of the annual Forever is Now exhibition, which opened on Friday.
Now in its fourth iteration, Forever is Now was the first and remains the only contemporary art exhibition to take place at the 4,500-year-old Pyramids of Giza—a Unesco World Heritage site— and its surrounding plateau. The exhibition was conceived by the French-Egyptian curator and collector Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, the founder of Culturvator / Art of Egypte, which seeks to put on “ground-breaking exhibitions that change… the way the world perceives contemporary art in Egypt”. Its annual exhibitions, of which Forever is Now is one, present contemporary Egyptian art in heritage sites that “link Egypt's rich history with its creative present”.
The show, with its aim to “bring together artists from around the world to reflect on the enduring legacy of one of humanity’s most compelling and mysterious structures”, takes place within a particularly complex geo-political context this year—with war in Gaza only around 220 miles away and drones infringing on Egyptian airspace.
While other cultural events in Egypt, including the annual El Gouna Film Festival and the Arab Music Festival and Conference in Cairo, have been postponed due to the situation in Gaza, Forever is Now has, perhaps bravely, moved forward with its programme.
Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Ghaffar says: “The pyramids have withstood wars, earthquakes and plagues. They are a sign of unity and that humanity will prevail. More than ever it’s important to continue with this work.”
Works on show beyond Feuermann’s hyper-real rendition of Hathor include Dutch artist Sabine Marcelis’s Ra, which pays homage to the sun god—fittingly in the birthplace of the sundial. Her elegant translucent obelisk is part 2001: A Space Odyssey part ancient shrine, embodying the sun’s pure creative energy.
The Saudi artist Rashed Al Shashai’s The Transparent Pyramid, meanwhile—created out of palm fronds and using the wicker weaving method, which dates back to ancient Egypt—is a meditation on history, craft, and sustainability, while the Argentinian artist Pilar Zeta’s Mirror Gate is an invitation for viewers to look at their reflection in front of the pyramids; a work that, in this way, becomes a multi-dimensional portal connecting past and present.
Nearby, in Cairo, Culturvator/Art D’Egypte is hosting two concurrent exhibitions that draw on local heritage. One is the third edition of Cairo International Art District (CIAD), a pop-up visual arts district in the heart of downtown Cairo (until 29 October), some proceeds from which are going to the humanitarian network The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
This year’s CIAD is being hosted in historical locations including the Cinema Radio complex, a site, built in 1932, where the acclaimed singer Oum Kalthoum used to perform, as well as Access Art Space and the Hangar—contemporary galleries that are redefining the area as an arts hub.
In Cairo's 12th century Salah El-Din Citadel, another Unesco World Heritage site, a separate festival of contemporary art and design is taking place. For If These Walls Could Talk the site, which was the seat of government for almost seven centuries and through several dynasties, has been filled with works by artists including Omar Toussoun, Dia Azaawi and Gisela Colonand. With some 250 international collectors thought to be attending, the event is sure to be a boon to Egypt’s contemporary art scene.