Egyptian artist Nabil Makir writes on his website, “Everybody must do his part in the world. Artists cannot carry guns or be doctors, but they can express themselves with their brushes and pencils. There must be mutual understanding.”
The creative angst and hope of Egyptian as well as other Middle Eastern and American artists is on dramatic display at two exhibitions in Washington, D.C. right now – “AMEN – A Prayer for the World” and Helen Zughaib’s “Fractured Spring” at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery. AMEN is a project of CARAVAN, an intercultural and inter-religious arts initiative to build connections between Middle East and Western populations. The AMEN exhibit has already been in Cairo and will move next month to New York City.
For the CARAVAN exhibit at Washington’s National Cathedral, Egyptian artist Reda Abdel Rahman made life-size fiberglass human forms modeled after the ancient Egyptian god Amun, each in one of four different poses of prayer. The forms were given to 30 Egyptian and 18 Western artists to decorate. Collectively, they are a stunning call to each of us to listen, reach out and connect with those we consider “other.”
About his own statue, Abdel Rahman wrote, “I imagined myself in front of Queen Hatshepsut or Queen Tiy or Nefertari. This queen is the mother of our people, and from her body extends all goodness in the form of branches giving joy and comfort and good fortune, personified by the turquoise scarabs that she bestows on everyone. She has sat down on Set, the ancient Egyptian god of evil, as a sign of her control over the circumstances and all the evil forces of political Islam, who have wronged the Egyptian civilization.
American artist Amy Gray recalled buying her first harp, when its maker told her, "' The instrument needs to be tuned every day for at least the first month, so that it will to learn that it was no longer just a bundle of wood, but a harp, something that was meant to sing.…It is in this spirit that I have made my form into a human harp to be not only “an instrument tuned for praise” but an instrument tuned for peace.”
Egyptian Hisham El Zeiny began drilling holes into the rigid torso and then added light to give a“more meditative, contemplative aura as 'light comes from within.'"
Lebanese-born Helen Zughaib, an Arab American living in Washington, D.C., created a statue for the CARAVAN exhibit but filled her solo exhibit at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery with her ongoing interpretations of the Arab spring. “In the early days of the Arab Spring,” she writes, ”there seemed to be an abundance of optimism, hope and potential for change in the Arab world….three years ago, in my first painting on the Arab Spring, I used the flower as motif. I have carried that flower throughout this exhibit as well, refusing to give up, though now a bit wilted, angry, questioning and bleached of color.”
Spring Flight shows birds seeking freedom but constrained by cages, or picture frames,
many carrying a drooping blossom.
Di/as/pora may be read right to left as people flee or left to right as people return.
Peace Puzzle – can you find the English and Arabic letters that spell “peace?”
It’s up to each of us to help put the puzzle together.
The widely exhibited and highly acclaimed Zughaib, whose art has been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believes the arts are one of the most important ways to help shape and foster dialogue and positive ideas about the Middle East.