The Special Grand Prize Image Credit: Ayman Sharaf

Cairo: An exhibition titled ‘Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square’ was inaugurated by Gandhi’s granddaughter Kirti Menon in Cairo’s Al Sawy Culturewheel last weekend. More than 150 paintings and drawings depict how the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of peace influenced the January 25 revolution in Egypt.

“I don’t think there has been anybody who hasn’t been following the Egyptian revolution,” Menon said.

“At the time of the revolution it was quite apparent that Egyptians were committed to a peaceful revolution and it was a sort of rising of the people against social injustices,” she added.

Chants of ‘silmayya’, the Arabic word for peaceful, amongst a large number of protesters at Tahrir Square, was one of the highlights of the revolution. The resonance with Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence and passive resistance to bring about peaceful change was apparent and drew the attention of all peace-loving people in the world. Several protesters were seen carrying placards with quotes by Mahatma Gandhi.

To highlight the influence of Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and the largely peaceful pro-democracy revolution in Egypt, the embassy of India in Cairo organised the event involving school children in Egypt and India. The young artists were asked if they had sensed the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir square and to reflect the mood in their entries.

The exhibition, which was the brainchild of Indian ambassador to Egypt Navdeep Suri, concludes on May 9.

“One of the most important characters of the 25 January revolution, that it was peaceful as Tahir’s protesters were chanting Silmeyah and some of them were carrying plaques with Gandhi’s famous quotes,” Suri said.

Ahmad Hassan Abu Al Yazeed, a student of architecture from the Alexandria University and currently employed with the National Association for Urban Harmony, Cairo, won the special grand prize, including a trip to India.

“Yazeed will meet the winner of the grand prize from India and will spend a week at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad. He will also visit Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad,” Suri said.

Yazeed will also visit the various design disciplines in NID, have a glimpse of campus life and visit architectural sites in the city.

The first prize winner from India, Sandeep Raj K. from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, will be hosted by the eminent Egyptian artist Mohammad Abla for a week in Cairo and Fayoum.

The exhibition that depicts Mahatma Gandhi’s message of peace is one of other events included in the Festival of Performing and Visual Arts, ‘India by the Nile’, the first festival organised in Egypt dedicated to Indian arts and culture.

India by the Nile opened on April 13 and will continue until May 13.

In Egypt, there has always been an obvious interest in India. Indian clothes and fabrics, jewellery and art and handicrafts have always been popular in the Egyptian market while almost everyone knows about Bollywood film productions.

“However, the festival hopes to go beyond all cliche elements imported to Egypt from India,” according to Bijay Selvaraj, second secretary for press and political affairs from the embassy of India,

“Though preliminary interest in India is undeniably present in Egypt, we want to tackle a much broader spectrum of culture. With this festival we hope to widen the cultural image of our country. This is why we were very careful with the choice of elements that will be presented during the festive month,” Selvaraj added.

The festival is planned in such a way as to present to Egyptian audiences a sample of the many artistic riches of India, from events showcasing films and meetings with Indian authors, to Indian crafts exhibitions besides music and dance performances. The festival has also included elements from Indian cuisine.

— Ayman Sharaf is a journalist based in Cairo