“He-who-keeps-alive” was one of the words used for sculptor by the Pharaohs. In fact, Egyptian ancient art in all its forms obeyed one law: the mode of realistic representation of individuals – Pharaohs and deity in particular. Back then; artists endeavored to preserve everything from their present as clearly and permanently as possible. The context in which the Pharaohs wanted to view and experience sculptures were their world, their reality – with a stillness that seems like a forced, temporary freezing.
This description seems to represent the core of Egyptian artist Mahmoud El Dewihi’s body of work. Sketching out the reality surrounding him in his hometown of Aswan, El Dewihi, born in 1978, diligently transforms his world into timeless creatures, mirroring ancient Egyptian sculptures and defying today’s struggles and tomorrow’s uncertainties. Whereas ancient Egyptian sculptors focused on glorifying their ‘masters’ turning them into Gods ready for the after-life, El Dewihi celebrates and holds in respect his ordinary country fellow men and women. While his creatures are no deities, they record and immortalize Egyptians’ utter sense of calm assurance and convey an impression of severe elegance – features that Egyptians have never lost despite the calamities they have been facing over the past decades. The weighty circumstances seem to have not had their toll on the world narrated by El Dewihi. His creatures are grand, almost too confident. Their gaze is intense with unclouded expressions and their posture domineering. And despite their probable poverty or lack of a job, they are proud and content. His peasant women whether standing or sitting are dignified, almost conceited, his men crouching by the Nile, sitting with the knees drawn back, a rigid arm keeping the body proudly straight, offer an overpowering feeling that at any moment, they will come alive and speak to you or simply straighten up and walk away. El Dewihi’s faces look straight ahead, into eternity, and the body viewed from the front is vertical and rigid, with all the planes intersecting at right angles. The purity of line in El Dewihi’s work suggests a restrained energy, too shy to be set free and go wild. The aloof and solitary nature is predominant but it is combined with an awareness of a warm human personality beneath the impeccable lines and the bronze or granite stone.
Hailing from the magical town of Aswan in Upper Egypt, one of the world’s most prominent ancient quarry landscapes, El Dewihi sources part of his material from there – namely granite, echoing his predecessor Mahmoud Mokhtar, Egypt’s father of modern sculpture. It is from Aswan that Mokhtar was to source the granite for the most important and most symbolic work of art in modern Egypt – “Nahdet Masr” or “Egypt Awakening” standing today in front of Cairo University. The history of the grinding stone quarries in Aswan stretches almost 20,000 years back in time to the late Paleolithic era. In the present days, the quarry area is to become an open-air museum, led by the living master sculptor – Adam Henein. In fact, at the tender age of seventeen while studying for a commerce degree, El Dewihi would cross Henein’s path during one of the first Aswan International Sculpture Symposiums. For the following fifteen years, El Dewihi would become part of Henein’s closest assistants and would learn his sculpting skills by observing, working and assisting Henein on some of his most important oeuvres.
‘Beneath The Sun, Above The Sand’ is Mahmoud El Dewihi’s fourth solo exhibition in Egypt. It marks an important step as he moves into larger size bronze works, momentarily arresting time with his creative power to immortalize himself and others through his art and contributing to the evolution of the idea of “Egyptianness” as a national identity.