'Artists must play a role in beautifying the city:' Cairo's City of the Dead infused with culture
'The Gate to the Soul' is a new art project that illustrates the stage that lies between life and death
Bawabat Al-Rouh (The Gate to the Soul) is an art project located in Cairo's City of the Dead, done in collaboration between two artists, Egyptian sculptor Houreya El Sayed and Hungarian sculptor Beata Rostas, and supported by Archinos firm for architectural and restoration solutions.
El Sayed told Ahram Online that the idea for the project was introduced by her friend, Hungarian artist Beata Rostas, whom she had met five years earlier at theAswan International Sculpture Symposium.
Rostas was interested in illustrating a tangible 'gate to the soul', namely depicting the stage that lies between life and death, which can also enable the visitor to "communicate with the souls he loves," adds El Sayed.
El Sayed liked the idea because "it goes hand in hand with my work philosophy," the idea of tugging at spiritual ideas in artwork.
"We commenced a process of brainstorming, trying to imagine how the project could see the light," explains El Sayed.
Rostas pitched the idea to Archinos which was already carrying a conservation project in Sultan Qaitbey's 'Maq'ad', which, according to Archinos' website, is "one of the last eight surviving buildings of the original complex that are listed as historic monuments."
Located in Cairo's City of The Dead, the building was initially constructed along the lines of the late-Mamluk architectural style. Archinos' restoration project aims to first "carry out architectural conservation of the maq'ad, a reception hall that is virtually the only surviving part of the palace built in 1474 within Sultan Qaitbey's funerary complex" and "to adapt the building for use as a cultural centre serving the local community," as is mentioned on Archinos' website.
Archinos' restoration project is funded by the European Union, under the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
For its part, Archinos agreed to integrate this contemporary art project within its restoration work in the area, suggesting that the artists use simple building materials like brick in their illustration.
Archinos provided the artists' with both the space; a wall within the maq'ad reception hall, and also the needed building materials.
El Sayed was also adamant to incorporate glass into the project, "because glass allows a reflection of light and also has a spiritual underpinning."
Between 8 and 21 February, Archinos held a workshop for the artists, including El Sayed and Rostas, but also an American artist who received support for another art project executed within the same reception hall.
During the two-week workshop, El Sayed and Rostas brainstormed the sketch of this artistic work, and proceeded to create it.
Besides delivering the building materials, Archinos also helped to provide the artists with construction workers, and a sculptor to assist them with the installation.
As El Sayed explains, they first proceeded to build this gate, whose shape was inspired by the spirit of this area's buildings, using red brick. They left vacant areas in-between stones that would later be filled with glass units produced by the local glass manufacturing company, to add "an aesthetic value" to the gate but also to further enhance the spiritual meaning it suggests.
The project is in harmony with El Sayed's own artistic vocation, since most of her work employs stone and glass, or solely glass.
"For me, glass, with its transparency and luminosity, is the only tangible material I can use to truly depict the soul," El Sayed explains.
"I am also very much interested in historic Egyptian art that transmits peaceful energy. In my work, I try to preserve the symmetrical balance typical of the ancient Egyptian artist's work," she adds.
The opening of 'The Gate to the Soul' is scheduled for today, 21 February, and can be visited by the public anytime.
"I hope to see more of these workshops and collaborations between artists," El Sayed aspires.
"Artists must play a role in beautifying Egypt's different public spaces. Because beauty and art affect people's behaviour, their feelings and their sense of belonging towards their country," she adds.