In memory of Naguib Mahfouz: Cairo exhibition and tour mark 15 years since his death

The legacy of the late Egyptian Nobel laureate is being revived with a new photo exhibition, a special tour and free museum entry

Several events are taking place in Cairo this week to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

They include an exhibition of photographs of the legendary writer taken by the late Mohamed Hegazy, a Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz tour and free entry to his namesake museum.

Mahfouz was propelled to international fame in 1988, when he became the only Arab to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His legacy lives on through the dozens of novels, short stories, plays and screenplays he wrote across a 70-year career – including his masterpiece The Cairo Trilogy, which follows an Egyptian family across three generations from the 1920s.

But his awards, personal items and other tangible aspects of him as a person were not collected in one place until the Naguib Mahfouz Museum opened in July 2019.

The photos taken by Hegazy between 1992 until Mahfouz’s death aged 94 in 2006 have never been displayed in Egypt before, though they had been shown in exhibitions in Austria, Germany, Jordan and the UAE.

Duat photo exhibition

Aly Hegazy decided to display the photographs taken by his father in an exhibition in downtown Cairo that opened on Monday, which is both the anniversary of Mahfouz’s death and his father’s birthday. It concludes on September 4.

“I did this exhibition to honour my father’s memory and Naguib Mahfouz’s memory,” Aly, 19, tells The National.

The exhibition is named Duat, which means "afterlife" in ancient Egyptian mythology because it aims to revive the legacy of two great artists, he explains.

“Duat is the place where kings and queens come back to life,” says Aly, a university student and photographer. “We’re bringing these pictures back to life.”

Hegazy, born in 1964, was a photojournalist for the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper and later worked for Nisf Al Dunia magazine.

He had a unique relationship with Mahfouz, whereby he was able to take candid pictures of him on the street, at home and even in the intensive care unit at El Agouza Hospital during his final days.

The 27 photos on display capture Mahfouz in his daily rituals: buying a newspaper, walking to a downtown cafe with a cane in hand, hailing a taxi, getting stopped by fans on the street and sitting on the sofa in his robe at home.

There are also two photos of Mahfouz in the 1990s, from the private collection of his daughter Huda, that had never been displayed before.

Hakan Emsgard, the Swedish Ambassador to Cairo, was at the opening of the exhibition on Monday night.

“Mahfouz is the only Nobel Prize laureate in the Arabic language, so I think this is very important from that perspective,” Emsgard tells The National.

“I also think it’s important because it shows pictures that are very personal that say something about the person. They’re intimate, but somehow not invasive."

Visitor Khaled Abdelwahab, 29, says he found the photos showed Mahfouz as an “ordinary citizen”.

“He wasn’t this famous status that you can’t reach. He was a man of the public, walking the streets to his work, to his coffee shop to see his friends and write there,” says Abdelwahab, a policy adviser and translator for the New Zealand Embassy in Cairo.

Duat takes place at the Consoleya coworking space in Downtown Cairo until Saturday, September 4

Walk Like an Egyptian tour

Walk Like an Egyptian, a walking tour group founded in 2015, is running a special Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz tour on Friday.

The tour starts with a walk through the historical quarter of El Gamaliya in Old Cairo, where Mahfouz was born and the setting for many of his famous novels. The three novels of his trilogy – Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street – and Midaq Alley are all real street names in this area.

The tour includes a visit to the Naguib Mahfouz Museum, hidden within the small alleys of the bustling district near Khan El-Khalili market and Al Azhar Mosque.

Finally, patrons will drive by the house in Agouza where Mahfouz later moved, and continue downtown to the coffee shops he frequented to write and meet friends, such as Cafe Riche.

The visit ends with a stop at the Duat exhibition, as part of a collaboration between the organisers.

Asmaa Khattab, founder of Walk Like an Egyptian, says she is excited to shed light on an Egyptian personality who is “important in our modern history” but perhaps not celebrated enough.

“Everyone knows Naguib Mahfouz and they love him, but not a lot of people have visited the museum or remember him in their daily lives,” she tells The National.

The tour takes place on Friday, September 3 and can be booked through the Walk Like an Egyptian Facebook page

Naguib Mahfouz Museum

The Naguib Mahfouz Museum showcases the writer’s life and works over two floors in the historic Tkeit Abu El Dahab building next to the 18th-century Mosque of Abu Dahab.

Among the items on display are photos, awards, personal belongings, Mahfouz's personal office and the Nobel Prize of Literature certificate. Themed rooms include a cinema broadcasting the many films that were adapted from his novels.

The museum details the events of his career and life, from his government job to an assassination attempt by extremists in 1994 that left him with nerve damage.

A new exhibition titled Naguib Mahfouz through the Eyes of the Caricature, with 40 caricatures from different countries, opened on Tuesday and will run until Thursday, September 9.

Museum entry is free until Sunday, September 5; more information is at mahfouzmuseum.gov.eg

Updated: September 1st 2021, 11:03 AM
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