Zeinab Al Hashemi, Camouflage 1.618: The Unfinished Obelisk. Image Credit: Supplied

In front of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt is a long pole-like structure that seems to shoot up from the ground. It glistens in the setting sun and complements the ancient geometric form of the pyramids. Titled Camouflage 1.618: The Unfinished Obelisk by Emirati artist and designer Zeinab Al Hashemi. Made from a combination of natural camel hair taken from different selected camel breeds, inspired by the history and legacy of camels in the United Arab Emirates, reinforced metal rods that spiral up bare towards the sky, the sculpture takes the form of an obelisk, a nod to ancient Egyptian obelisk artifacts.

The difference, however, is the addition of camel hair. The work is one of several monumental artworks commission for Art D’Égypte’s second edition of “Forever is Now”. Al Hashemi’s work continues her “Camouflage” series, which sees her incorporate the soft material of camel skin on a variety of metal structures, one which was displayed during the last edition of “Desert X AlUla” in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

“I use the soft material of camel skin and force into geometric shapes that represent the desert dunes,” said Al Hashemi. “I am working with materials that represent nature while other materials represent industrial or urban elements and all the transformations that we have been witnessing in the region.”

The exhibition “Forever is Now” marks the second iteration of Art D’Égypte’s show of monumental land art placed around the Pyramid of Giza. The organization, which launched in 2017, features an itinerant exhibition of public art commissions taking place in major landmarks of Egyptian heritage. According to its founder Egyptian Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, the show is meant to showcase “a fusion between heritage and contemporary art”. The show has become increasingly international in its showcase of artists in the North African country, but this year there are more participants from the region. Through the month of November, works on show were by Egyptian Thérèse Antoine, American Natalie Clark, Mohammed Al Faraj from Saudi Arabia, Italian Emilio Ferro, Zeinab Al Hashemi from the UAE, the popular French photographer and street artist JR, participating for his second time, Ahmed Karaly from Egypt, French-Tunisian artist eL Seed, Spanish artist SpY,Pascale Marthine Tayou from Cameroon, Syrian-Swedish artist Jwan Yosef and Liter of Light, a global, grassroots movement that uses inexpensive, readily available materials to provide high quality solar lighting to those with limited or no access to electricity.

Mohammed Al Faraj, Guardians of the Well. Image Credit: Supplied

What could visitors expect at the second edition of “Forever is Now”? These large-scale site-specific works strived to complement Giza’s 4500-year-old monuments. They hoped to achieve

the same sense of timelessness and mystery as their ancient architectural counterparts.

Art that resonates care for the environment and champions sustainability was also a core theme of this year’s event, with many artworks produced using natural and industrial materials. The message is that the future cannot be achieved without respect for nature and the past.

“Our global success last year motivated us to develop new plans that will amaze the world once more, and this year we are proud to showcasing eco-friendly artworks that support the goal of United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27 that takes place in November 2022,” said Nadine Abdel Ghaffar. “We want more and more global audiences to have the chance to see the vibrant art scene the region has to offer through Culturvator, our new cultural platform.”

Saudi artist Mohammed Al Faraj has created Guardians of the Well, a monumental work that is part of his “Thirst” series looking at the relationship between the elements of water and air on human experience. The work comprises the form of a figurine made from rusted used water pipes from dried-up springs on rural farms which Al Faraj has transformed into an interactive musical instrument akin to a kinetic sculpture where abstract forms represent air, animals, and people. The pipes the artist uses are covered with various branches of palm trees that make them look like futuristic fossils of mythical creatures. In a nod to Egypt, parts of the metal and plastic pipes and palm trees are sourced from Fayoum, a city in Middle Egypt known for its rural landscape.

“The work is a capsule of materials, hopes and disappointments at the same time,” said Al Faraj, reflecting on how the materials he used link his hometown of Al-Ahsa in Saudi Arabia with the rural landscape of Egypt. “It aims to show how the natural environment affects thepeople, especially the agricultural areas,” he adds. “The palm tree as a fossil-like element makes the work like the human body and what it holds—these hopes, disappoints, history, the present and the future. The palm tree in what it represents socially, politically, and historically is facing forgetfulness and change and will fossilize because of this.”

What’s more is that the work has an interactive quality: it makes musical sounds as the wind bristles through them or when people walk underneath or by them. “I wanted to create a connection with the ancient structures of the pyramids but also the people who come and see my work,” he adds. In this way, he stresses, the people also take part in creating the work.

“When Art D’Égypte called me and informed me about my selection and participation I felt it will be a huge responsibility to exhibit next to this very strong and historical location,” said Thérèse Antoine who showed her Pantheon of Deities, presenting a grouping of obelisk-like structures that reflect on the connection between the human body, space, and time. The space in which they are found is designed according to a circular plan reminiscent of an ancient sundial.

Ultimately, as JR states, the contemporary artworks on show are about connecting with the past and with eternity. His work Inside Out Giza uses the codes of pharaonic constructions for each visitor who sees their portrait appear at the top of the pyramid and is then printed for eternity before they leave from as he says, “this universally sacred and timeless site.”

“It aims to show how the natural environment affects the people, especially the agricultural areas”