The spectacular sculpture of 90 year-old Egyptian artist Adam Henein

A new retrospective celebrates the life and work of one of Egypt’s greatest artists. (Supplied)
Updated 11 October 2019

The spectacular sculpture of 90 year-old Egyptian artist Adam Henein

CAIRO: The acclaimed Egyptian sculptor and painter Adam Henein turns 90 this year, and his work remains relevant today, as visitors can currently see in a new retrospective — organized by the UAE’s Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) — at the Sharjah Art Museum.

The exhibition, which runs until November 16, boasts around 80 artworks created during Henein’s eventful seven-decade career. It is part of SAF’s “Lasting Impressions” series, which, once a year, highlights a prominent Arab artist.

“We chose Adam Henein because we thought that, as a person who (has been working) since the 1950s until today, he’s one of the very few (artists) alive and who link the modernist and contemporary styles,” curator Sheikha Noora Al-Mualla tells Arab News.

Adam Henein turns 90 this year, and his work remains relevant today. (Supplied)

Born in Cairo to a family of metalworkers and jewelers, Henein’s defining encounter with art dates back to his childhood, when, aged eight, he reproduced a clay sculpture of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten after seeing it in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. Impressed by his talent, Henein’s supportive father would go on to display a few of his son’s sculptures in his shop in Old Cairo.

Henein went on to gain a degree in sculpting at the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1953, before receiving a scholarship to study in Europe. He enrolled at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts, where artistic luminaries including Paul Klee, Josef Albers, and Alphonse Mucha once studied. And, as with so many artists, Paris was another stop for Henein — he and his wife lived in the French capital for nearly 20 years.

The time he spent in Europe was liberating and eye-opening, enabling him to experiment artistically and acquaint himself with the works of Western sculptors, according to Al-Mualla.

Henein did not limit himself to a single artistic medium or surface. (Supplied)

Henein returned to Egypt in the 1990s, and has since been heavily involved in helping to elevate the country’s cultural scene. When the government decided to initiate restoration work on the Sphinx of Giza in the late Eighties, they approached Henein to lead the design team. He was initially hesitant about taking on such a major commitment, but eventually agreed in 1989. The project was finished in 1998, and Henein was decorated for his work on it.

In “Lasting Impressions,” Henein’s works — most of which have arrived directly from his home-turned-museum in Cairo — are displayed in a minimalist layout over two wings. The exhibition reveal the artist’s little-known experimentation with abstract painting — intertwining shapes and colors creating a harmonious composition.

Henein did not limit himself to a single artistic medium or surface; he created paintings on delicate papyri, Japanese paper, and tempera.

Henein gained a degree in sculpting at the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1953. (Supplied)

“He did not (belong) to a certain school or method of painting and sculpting. His experimentation was different than anyone else’s,” says Al-Mualla.

The artist was most celebrated, though, for creating non-traditional, bold, smooth bronze sculptures portraying animals — including cats and dogs, so popular in ancient Egyptian art — and individuals from Egypt’s working class, particularly those in the Nile Valley city of Aswan.

Henein also turned to contemporary culture for inspiration. In the early 2000s, he produced a large statue of the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and a noticeably round bust of the famed Egyptian writer, playwright (and Henein’s peer) Salah Jahin.

Henein also turned to contemporary culture for inspiration. (Supplied)

One particular animal proves to be a recurring motif in Henein’s oeuvre — thoughtfully  and simply represented — the bird. Whether sleeping, standing tall, watching, or even courting, Henein’s birds are symbolic, majestic, and somehow vulnerable. Henein, it seems, was fascinated by the liberating act of flying, as one can see in a rare 1970s sketch in which he repeatedly draws small, bird-like planes.

“We see the bird throughout his career,” notes Al-Mualla. “It kind of symbolizes him as an artist; it symbolizes freedom, movement, and trying out different things.”

‘Hamilton’ makes a successful transition to the big screen

Updated 04 July 2020

‘Hamilton’ makes a successful transition to the big screen

CHENNAI: Cinema sometimes looks to go back to its roots. Some years ago, European auteurs like Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and others introduced “Dogme 95” as a new form of moviemaking, which meant using no props, no artificial lighting and no makeup. It did not last long. However, Thomas Kail’s “Hamilton” — released to coincide with the Fourth of July and streaming on Disney Plus — is another experiment that reminded me of the very early days of motion pictures when some directors in India captured a stage play with a static camera and then screened it in remote regions, where it was not feasible to cart the entire cast.

Kail used six cameras to shoot what was originally a theatrical production. Over two nights in 2016, he filmed the play with most of the actors, including Tony Award winners, who were in the stage version. Every attempt has been made to make it look cinematic, with impeccable camerawork and editing. There is a bonus here. The movie enables you to be a front-bencher at Richard Rogers’ stage production. This closeness that allows you to see clearly the expressions of the actors establishes an intimacy between the audience and the cast.

Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, the 160-minute show makes a fabulous musical. The release of the film with its intentionally diverse cast comes at a critical time when race relations in the USA have hit the rock bottom. When Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr) sings that he wants to be in “the room where it happens”, the lyrics are sung by a black man.

Alexander Hamilton (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, also the creator of the piece) is the least well known of the American founding fathers. An immigrant and orphan, he was George Washington’s right-hand man. Credited as being responsible for setting up the country’s banking system, Hamilton was killed in a duel by Burr.

The musical is inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton. Courtesy of Disney

The story is narrated through hip-hop beats. Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) sings his speech to Congression, and the debates he has with Alexander Hamilton are verbalized through lyrics. Hamilton also has a lot to say about America’s immigrant past. In one scene French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette tells Alexander, “Immigrants, we get the job done!”

Performances are top notch. Miranda is superb, and evokes an immediate connection between the film and the viewer. King George III is brilliantly portrayed by Jonathan Groff, and Hamilton’s wife, Eliza (Philippa Soo), is an endearing presence who has a calming effect on her often ruffled and troubled husband.

“Hamilton” is a great, if subjective, account of early American political history for those not familiar with that period. It must be said, however, the musical makes a long movie, which might be a trifle tiring for those not used to this format.