“Dream and the ability to imagine are the real credit of any nation,” says the veteran sculptor Adam Henein. Henein has dedicated his life to sculpture which he sees as an extension of ancient Egyptian art, creating a dialogue between the human body and the stone.
Watani talked to Henein about his sculpture and the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, the 18th edition of which recently wrapped up, and about the future of the art in this climate of increasing fanatic ideology and other
Given that hardline Muslims insist that statues are idols and should be banned, are you concerned about the future of art in general, and sculpture in particular, under the current Islamist regime?
I can’t believe that there can be any force that could take away the freedom of creativity from Egypt, or chain it, especially when it expresses itself in the diverse forms of arts. There has always been a relationship between art and religion through the meditating artist, which is some form of ‘mysticism’ or ‘worship of God’.
Dream or memory? Which of them is the stronger influence when you work?
I always tend to dream; I dream when I work. Dream for me is the fountain from which the spark of creativity bursts and opens endless paths. At the same time there can be no artist without a vibrant memory, otherwise he or she not only cannot dream, but will also lose the self.
Tell us about the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium.
Sculpture is a great beautiful art that had for years in Egypt been relegated to the walls of monuments and temples of ancient Egypt. This was until the Aswan Symposium was inaugurated in 1995 to revive this fine art. It is a rare image of a dream that saw the participation of countries from all over the world.
Since the symposium is an important cultural event, why then it is unknown to ordinary people?
This is because of the wide gap between formal education and culture in Egypt. There is a general lack of interest in the arts on the part of ordinary Egyptians, and subsequent governments and the media did not do much to ignite this interest.
What was the idea behind assigning an open museum for sculptural works in Aswan?
The Symposium now has a collection of more than 200 large granite pieces, and such wonderful, giant works deserve to be on display in a museum. The museum, which is located on a high plateau near the Aswan High Dam, was the brainchild of the architect Akram al-Magdoub. The slope at the entrance of the museum has been used as an open exhibition for the smaller granite sculptures.
Aswan is rich in stone, and has a deep-rooted heritage in sculpting. We just wanted to revive this heritage with a modern touch; we don’t mind hosting some works with some added metallic motifs, which enrich the main material—stone.
How do you deal with stone?
Sculpture is rich in secrets; when you deal with the material, it creates a kind of conversation. You feel that many things are formed inside you, new sensations full of surprises.
What about the female character in your work?
I see woman from a very special perspective; I respect and honour her. In my artwork, I am keen to help this female human being attain her full stature of strength and dignity; her vitality; even sacredness. I do not restrict the depiction of woman to a carnal, physical form. When depicting woman, I do not degrade her body.
In your opinion, what is the reason for the retardation of sculpture in Egypt?
This is simply because some Islamist streams have banned sculpture as some form of paganism, which is of course nonsense. Islam bans the worship of statues, but it does not ban sculpture. But art is part and parcel of Islamic civilisation, as manifested in the botanical and geometric shapes and the mosaics that ornament mosques and Islamic architecture. All these types of art are not too far separated from sculpture.
You spent a long time, several decades, in the West. How did this affect you?
This time was very beneficial. I learned and I worked. I held many exhibitions and visited countless museums and achieved fame. This long time is implanted in my artistic being and, together with my original, deep-rooted Egyptian heritage, makes me who I am.
• Born in Cairo in 1929
• Graduated from the College of Fine Arts, Cairo, Sculpture Department
• Travelled to Luxor, 1953
• Scholarship from the Ministry of Culture to study at the Munich Academy, 1959
• Settled in Paris, 1971 – 1995
• Returned to Egypt and built an atelier in Harraniya, 1996
• Established the International Sculpture Symposium in Aswan, 1966
Prizes and Awards
• Art Production Award, Ministry of Education, 1953
• Grand Nile Prize, Cairo Biennale, 1988
• State Award of Appreciation, 1998
• First Prize Place Medal of Science and Art, 1998
• Mubarak Award, 2004
• Museum of Contemporary Art, Cairo
• Academy of Arts, Basel
• Museum Umm Kulthoum, Cairo
• Al-Ahram Newspaper, Cairo
• Egyptian Academy for Arts, Rome
• The International Garden for Sculpture, Dallas, Texas
• Museum of the Arab World Institute, Paris
• Al-Mansouria Foundation for Culture and Creativity, Jeddah
7 April 2013