The Forever is Now exhibition has returned for a second year with the ancient Pyramids of Giza serving as the backdrop for 11 large-scale contemporary art installations.
Organised by Egyptian consultancy Art d’Egypte, Forever is Now 2 opened on Thursday and runs until November 30.
About 500,000 people visited last year’s show during its three-week run and more than a billion watched it on social media live streams.
“The expectations were high and this year was even more difficult with all the changes – government changes, challenges, the economic crisis, so much. But it’s actually happening,” Art d’Egypte founder Nadine Abdel Ghaffar tells The National.
This year, 11 artists are showcasing their installations at the pyramids.
From the Middle East and North Africa region, they include Emirati multimedia artist Zeinab Alhashemi, Saudi artist Mohammad Alfaraj and Egyptian sculptors Therese Antoine and Ahmed Karaly.
Also joining the exhibition are British-American sculptor Natalie Clark, Italian light and sound artist Emilio Ferro, Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou, Syrian-born Swedish visual artist Jwan Yosef, Spanish artist SpY, French-Tunisian artist eL Seed and returning French street artist JR.
“We were trying to cap it to eight, but we couldn’t. There was just no way,” Abdel Ghaffar said.
Alhashemi says she is excited to be the first Emirati artist to take part in the exhibition. She had participated in Desert X in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia in February, but considers this her first major international commission for a public art piece.
“It’s definitely a very proud moment. It’s a moment where I’d like to give this celebration to the UAE, to the Emirati artists, to Arab women," Al Hashemi tells The National.
Her installation Camoulflage 1.618: The Unfinished Obelisk pays "tribute to camels in the region" through the use of camel hide that resembles the desert's sand dunes. She combines this with Egyptian elements, referring to the unfinished obelisk in Aswan and the position of the pyramids believed to be based on the "golden ratio" — 1.618.
Many of the artists used ancient Egyptian inspirations to match the setting. Sculptor Clark said she wanted to "capture the feminine divine" with her work Spirit of Hathor, made from 2.5 tonnes of Corten steel and Carrara marble.
“It represents her rising to illuminate the world in the morning, holding the sun in her horns," Clark tells The National.
Egyptian sculptor Antoine's installation Pantheons of Deities symbolises the sundial and five gods from the Old Kingdom — Ra, Maat, Osiris, Isis and Horus.
Saudi artist Mohammad Alfaraj spent three weeks in Fayoum, an oasis about 100 kilometres south-west of Cairo, to source the ideas and materials for his artwork Guardians of the Wind.
The installation is made from rusted water pipes, the branches of palm trees and fishing lines that belonged to local fishermen who can no longer fish in Fayoum's Qarun Lake due to pollution, Alfaraj says. The elements combine to resemble a ribcage and a futuristic fossil.
It has an "environmental, social and political" message about what humanity leaves behind, Alfaraj tells The National.
On the centre pipe is an Arabic poem written by Alfaraj that starts: "Can you hear the scream of the desert in me and the unsettlement of the sea?"
He said the artwork was so fragile it broke when he first installed it, so he had to adjust the lengths of the pipes for the palm branches to withstand the wind.
Other artists, such as Jwan Yosef, wanted to reflect the intermingling of past and present. He used his own face as a reference for his sculpture Vital Sands, which shows his facial features made of Galala limestone partly submerged under the sand.
“I wanted this to be a grounding experience. You’re looking at the pyramids and these monuments that are holy and they’re about the heavens and the skies and the afterlife, and I wanted this to be about where we’re standing right now and in a way project the everyday person onto these grounds,” Yosef tells The National.
One of the installations sure to create a public buzz is JR's Inside Out Giza. Visitors enter the pyramid-shaped interactive photo booth and receive a large-scale black-and-white portrait from a slot outside. Volunteers wearing white overalls then paste the portraits onto billboards in front of the pyramids, giving them their five minutes of fame in front of the timeless monuments.
JR's 2021 work, Greetings from Giza, showed a hand holding a black-and-white postcard, which gave the illusion that the top of the Great Pyramid was levitating. He says he feels "honoured" to participate in the exhibition for a second time.
“Last year was an amazing experience and I was excited to do another work that involved people and gather people to create something together. So this year it’s a step further into that process of involving people," JR says.
Inside Out is part of a global art project launched by JR in 2011, which more than 400,000 from more than 140 countries have joined.
It is part of a grassroots solar lighting movement called Liter of Light, founded by Filipino social entrepreneur Illac Diaz.
The hand-built solar lights for the installation were assembled by women's co-operatives in Safi, Morocco, and youth volunteers.
“Concerns about sustainability in an age of environmental crisis” is one of the themes of this year’s exhibition, alongside Art d’Egypte’s mission to “connect the art of Egypt’s past with that of the 21st century”, the company said.
Art d’Egypte has held four major exhibitions at historical sites, including the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Manial Palace Museum and Al Muizz Street in Old Cairo.
Forever is Now 2 is being held under the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board and the patronage of Unesco.
Its main sponsor this year is real estate developer Qatari Diar Egypt, with a long list of others, from the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Youth to Christian Dior and Instagram by Meta.