Under the auspices of the Swiss Cultural Pro-Helvetia in Cairo, Egypt, Swiss artists Alex Meszmer and Reto Müllerand are now in Egypt working on the first introduction of ++al-Muthaff al-Rahhal++ (the itinerant museum) in the capital city of Upper Egypt, Assiut, 350km south of Cairo. The itinerant museum imitated those of the Transitory Museum of the city Pfyn in Switzerland.
The Itinerant Museum was first introduced on 13 December 2018 in the cultural palace of Assiut with the project collection ‘raisonnée des sciences, des arts et des métiers’, including a film about work, arts and handcrafts in Assiut and Pfyn.
Inspiration: Tombs of Meir
The two Swiss artists say that they had planned to come to Egypt to introduce their museum in 2013. However, the political situation was unstable in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. On 3 July 2013, the Muslim Brother President of Egypt, Muhammad Mursi, was overthrown, and Egypt embarked on s secular State. “That was the day we signed the contract to introduce our activity to Egypt. It took until autumn 2014 for us to be able to travel to Egypt for research and a new project. And it was in November 2014 that we went to Assiut for the first time. We met two archeologists from Assiut, Mahmoud Mohamed Ali and Ali Mahfouz, and they helped us visit archeological sites in the region. One of those places were the tombs of Meir.
“The inspiration of the tombs of Meir, the mirror in time to our own profession as artists, led our way to the new project. The first idea that popped into our minds was to open a branch of the Pfyn’s Transitory Museum at in Assiut. The Louvre was about to open a branch in Abu Dhabi at that time, so why shouldn’t the Transitory Museum at Pfyn do the same in Assiut? It took us some time to find out that a private citizen can’t open a museum in Egypt and that only the state is allowed to do so.
“What should the content of the museum be? We saw a lot of images in the tombs of Meir that showed daily life in Egypt 4000 years ago. Some activities haven’t changed since and especially in rural areas in the Nile Valley, we could observe sceneries that seemed to have fallen out of time: Craftsmen and farmers that still used similar tools like in ancient times. We proposed to our archeologists to document in video old crafts in the region of Assiut.”
The artists continue: “An exhibition of photos about arts and crafts in Assiut and Pfyn was set up in the courtyard of the Cultural Palace. Additionally we brought drawings from the artist Mark Staff Brandl. Mark took the objects we brought back from our stay in Assiut in 2015, and searched for modern equivalents, drawing both of them. A story from Assiut and a story from Pfyn was told by two storytellers during the reception. A DJ played workers songs from the fifties that created the special atmosphere for the day. The screening of the collection raisonnée des sciences, des arts et des métiers, our film about arts and crafts in Pfyn and Assiut was the final item of the program. Apart from many official guests from Assiut, we were happy to welcome Dalia Suleiman and Maysoon Mafoudh from Pro Helvetia Cairo.
“Many craftsmen came to the event. For the official opening the audience did a tour through the exhibition and discussed every photo: who is the craftsman? what do they know about him/her? Where is he/she to be found? The tour did take a long time and the curiosity of the audience was a new experience for us. During the tour the two storytellers acted out the stories of Asyut and Pfyn. It was a very lively event!
“Finally the screening of the film started. The effervescent audience commented on all the scenes of the film and went on with the discussion during the screening. The craftsmen enjoyed very much that they could have been part of this evening.”
Pro Helvetia is a Swiss arts council mandated by the Swiss Confederation to support and disseminate Swiss arts and culture in the Arab region. It promotes cultural exchange, develops and nurtures long-term partnerships, initiates co-productions, and support residencies.
25 December 2018