Egypt and its family of artists have lost a friend and faithful interpreter of national heritage, Sobhi Girgis (1929 – 2013), a pioneer sculptor whose remarkable and prolific output was authentically Egyptian, integral to the features of life past and present
Egypt and its family of artists have lost a friend and faithful interpreter of national heritage, Sobhi Girgis (1929 – 2013), a pioneer sculptor whose remarkable and prolific output was authentically Egyptian, integral to the features of life past and present.
Girgis was awarded many prizes in his lifetime, the most important of which was the first prize at the Alexandria Biennale 1994 and the Fifth International Cairo Biennale in 1995, as well as the State Prize for Appreciation in Art for 2007.
Girgis’s art was also the subject of the top art critics and historians in Egypt and abroad. A permanent museum in his name was set up in Agami, near Alexandria.
Girgis was born in 1929 in one of Cairo’s more populous districts, Qullali, where he was clearly influenced by folklore at an early age. He studied art at Cairo University, graduating in 1958. From there he gained a scholarship to Italy, where he continued to study art from 1965 to 1970, during which period his artistic character was polished.
Vivid, expressive rhythms
Girgis has held 20 solo exhibitions and taken part in many local and international art events. He represented Egypt at the International Biennale in Venice in 1976, as well as in Spain and India and at the First Biennale of Cairo 1984 and the Biennale of National Arts “Road to the Sun” in Ecuador in 2006.
Girgis was a professor of sculpture at Cairo University’s faculty of fine arts, and was considered a pioneer of metal cast statues.
Over his 60 years of experience Girgis used many materials, including brass and bronze which helped him turn his sculptures into blocks of vividness and expressive rhythms worked in angular and oblique structures. He also made many pieces from untraditional materials such as gypsum.
Girgis was an all-rounder, not only a talented sculptor but also skilled in fine arts. He had a musical ear too, and played the oud (lute) and zither. His father, Saad Girgis, was a well-known oud player who was one of the main members of the band that played with the veteran diva Umm Kalthoum.
Girgis’s paintings were usually similar to his sculptures, as if they were sketches for his three-dimensional pieces, with the shadows on the surface of the paintings showing the third dimension. His sculptures were masterful depictions of both realistic and abstract, the softness of the body and the rigidity of matter. He loved to depict the human body, particularly in the context of motherhood, family and childhood.
Girgis frequently formed his figures from the past; an extension of ancient Egyptian art, but with a contemporary touch through which he successfully blended modernity and heritage, creating an avant-garde movement of contemporary art of sculpture.
5 February 2013
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