‘When you look at the form of a woman, you see beauty and love.’
So said the Sheikh of al-Azhar University, Mohamed Gamia, in an address that challenged stereotypes at the opening of the fourth annual Caravan Festival of Arts in Cairo last week.
‘We came here today to satisfy our soul for its need of beauty,’ Gamia went on.
‘When you look to the heavens, you see beauty and love. When you look to the kingdom of earth, you see beauty and love. When you look in the faces of people, you see beauty and love.’
He gestured to the exhibits, many of which used the female form to make points that seemed deliberately to confront historic shibboleths.
The Festival was hosted at the historic St John the Baptist Church in Maadi, Egypt, and founded by its rector, the US Anglican Revd. Paul-Gordon Chandler to bring together artists from across the religious and social spectrum in Egypt.
It had a pronounced emphasis on the femininity of Egypt’s future, even though the theme – ‘The Road Ahead’ - was about religious harmony.
Two of Egypt’s most prominent female stars sang at the event: Youssra, Egypt’s top actress and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme who is a powerful advocate for the oppressed.
She said that those who wished to restrict freedom also often wished to restrict art.
‘One year after the revolution we are starting to hear voices that threaten our freedom. This scares me, but it also makes me want to fight harder for it. You can never negotiate a person’s freedom.’
Rula Zaki is a popular Egyptian singer who captivated the crowd through her beautiful rendition of ‘People of the Book’, celebrating the unity of Muslim and Christian in Egypt. [Watch here]
The Lebanese portraitist Khalil al-Hakim exhibited ‘She is our Mirror’ – a portrait of Alia al-Mahdi, who caused controversy in Egypt by posting nude artistic images of herself online, in defense of revolutionary freedoms.
US-born artist, Julia Moran-Leamon had made a painting that revealed itself on close inspection to be a woman's dress upon which is written the word 'freedom' in Arabic
'Motherhood and the Future' by the Egyptian Ahmed Salim from Aswan is an image depicting the Nubian people of Egypt and their hope for the future
Entitled ‘The Road Ahead’, the exhibition contemplated the future direction of the Egyptian revolution.
It featured 45 artists from both the East and the West. All pieces were available for purchase, with twenty per cent of all proceeds going to charities aiding the poor of Egypt.
Chandler explained what had sparked his idea for a festival four years ago. ‘Art is one of the best means for encouraging friendship among those with differences.’
He introduced Bishop Mouneer, head of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, and Dr Mahmoud Azab, head of the Azhar committee for interfaith dialogue.
Dr Azab declared, ‘Religion as a sign of civilization is an inspiration to scholars and artists alike.
‘Christianity is the religion of love, Islam is the religion of mercy, and Egypt is in dire need of both.’
Bishop Mouneer, also an exhibitor, supplying a photograph entitled ‘All in the same boat’ declared, ‘When we love God truly, we love each other also. The road ahead in the revolution is to realize we are all in one boat. We must take care of this boat, which is Egypt. We must also row in the same direction.’
The exhibition runs until 5 May.