Grand Egyptian Museum arts programme begins with Susan Hefuna exhibition

The show, Traces of Egypt, features 28 costumes celebrating the Khayamiya tradition

Susan Hefuna at her Traces of Egypt exhibition at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Photo: Grand Egyptian Museum
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The Grand Egyptian Museum has launched its arts programme with a solo exhibition by contemporary artist Susan Hefuna.

Traces of Egypt, commissioned by the museum, more commonly known as Gem, opened on March 19 and will run until June 15.

It consists of 28 costumes made of Egyptian cotton that pay homage to the Khayamiya tradition, the patterned and colourful appliques that date back centuries.

“I am very honoured to exhibit the first contemporary art exhibition at the Gem,” Hefuna, who is Egyptian-German, tells The National. “The dialogue between contemporary art and Egyptian ancient heritage is truly unique and exciting.”

The exhibition is part of a rich arts and cultural programme planned for the museum, says Saida El Harkany, cultural programming director at Gem operator Legacy Development and Management.

“We want to send a message across that the Gem is a destination and not just a museum of ancient civilisation. It’s also a contemporary art platform, where we have programming across the arts, design, crafts, even gastronomy,” she says.

Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures from the exhibition

The 500-square-metre museum complex, home to the world’s largest archaeological collection, has yet to officially open.

However, the museum began hosting small group visits and private events in a limited area in November. The interior spaces, including the galleries, are still closed to visitors and a grand opening date has not been announced.

Recent events at the Gem include a concert by opera singer Fatma Said, Art Cairo and the RiseUp start-up summit.

Traces of Egypt opened with a panel discussion featuring Hefuna, as well as Venetia Porter, former curator of Islamic and contemporary Middle East art at the British Museum, and South African architect Sumayya Vally, founder and principal of Counterspace studio.

Hefuna, born in Berlin in 1962 to an Egyptian father and German mother, grew up in Egypt, Germany and Austria.

She has had exhibitions all over the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, the 2009 Venice Biennale and the 2012 Biennale of Sydney.

In the Mena region, she has held solo exhibitions at the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo and the Sharjah Art Foundation; was included in a group exhibition at the Beirut Exhibition Centre; and participated in the 2007 Sharjah Biennial.

Her works often use Egyptian crafts techniques such as Khayamiya and Mashrabiya, a carved wood or stone architectural latticework screen.

For Traces of Egypt, Hefuna designed the shapes, designs and patterns of the dresses, and local artisans implemented the designs with their traditional technique of appliques. She has worked with the same artisans since 2007.

She says she was inspired by life in the Nile Delta, where her family home is, and “the close relationship of human beings with nature”.

The subtitle of the exhibition is, The Sound of: Earth, Sun, Water, Air, and the main title relates to her drawings on tracing paper as well.

Hefuna also created a children’s colouring book with handmade drawings of the costumes for the Gem gift shop and upcoming workshops.

The museum recently launched the Gem art space, a membership club for the creative industry that will allow artists, designers and crafts people to showcase their work in five temporary exhibition spaces.

Other plans in the works include international art exhibitions, film screenings, performances, talks, book launches and a family weekend, El Harakany says.

The goal is to make the Gem an all-inclusive cultural destination that builds Egypt’s brand name, has a social impact and is economically sustainable.

“The focus is on Egypt first and then we’re going to open it up to the region and the world,” she adds.

Visitors can see the exhibition by booking one of the museum’s guided tours online at The tours include the Hanging Obelisk, the Grand Hall, the Glass Hall, outdoor areas, the gift shop and retail and food and beverage outlets. Ticket prices start at 75 Egyptian pounds ($2.40) for Egyptians and 500 Egyptian pounds ($16.15) for foreigners.

Updated: March 26, 2023, 1:38 PM