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The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) presents its first contemporary art exhibition, Traces of Egypt, by Egyptian-German interdisciplinary artist Susan Hefuna. Commissioned by the GEM to launch its contemporary cultural programming, the exhibition is a celebration of the Egyptian craft appliqué tradition, the Khayamiya, which dates back centuries.
In Traces of Egypt, Hefuna draws on her extensive experience working with textiles and collaborating with local artisans to create a series of 28 costumes made of Egyptian cotton that pay homage to the Khayamiya tradition.
Susan Hefuna has been creating her striking graffiti-like textile works since 2001. Encompassing costumes, installations and textile wall pieces, she draws on a variety of influences and traditions from around the world and in doing so, has developed her own unique artistic language. Her textile works are informed by the aesthetics of Africa and Japan, the traditional craft of American quilts and storytelling, with their iconic layered cloth patchworks, as well as the Egyptian heritage of tent making, or Khayamiya, of Old Cairo. Using Egyptian cotton, khayamiyas are often elaborately patterned and feature colourful appliqué designs to brighten up the interior of tents. "I was inspired by the tentmakers' craft, specially also how these patterned textiles define a quiet space within the hectic and loud streets of Cairo. Traditionally khayamiyas are used as temporary textile structures for celebrations such as weddings, funerals, Ramadan," said the artist.
The Sound of Earth, Sun, Water, Air. Installation of 28 costumes at GEM.
Hefuna works with Egyptian cotton, creating designs of connected dots and lines, reminiscent of her multi-layered drawings, and evocative of the architectural structures that she is known for, such as the large-scale wooden Mashrabiya screens. These connected white dots and lines appear like constellations, a stellar network stretching out against a night-time sky of the black cotton, a galaxy of shapes and colours. The colourful collage of words, structures or images in unique textile pieces triggers varying emotions and feelings about togetherness. The linked dots and lines remind us that all is connected on this planet.
The Sound of Earth, Sun, Water, Air (2022.) Egyptian cotton, khayamiya appliqué
Susan Hefuna's dresses are both functional and aesthetic, representing the inseparability of art and life in historical and contemporary Egypt. They serve as a reminder of the country's rich heritage and the importance of preserving it for future generations. "Through the use of the Khayamiya tradition, I aim to bring attention to the living heritages of Egypt, and the importance of connecting them to contemporary art," emphasizes the artist.
Panel discussion during the opening.
The opening day of the exhibition saw a panel discussion featuring Susan Hefuna, Venetia Porter, former Curator of Islamic and Contemporary Middle East Art at the British Museum, and South African Architect Sumayya Vally, Founder of the Design Studio Counterspace and Professor of Practice at UCL, London. The panel discussed Susan’s artistic approach, the significance of her use of crafts techniques from Egypt such as Khayamiya, Mashrabiya wood turning, as well as drawing, and its relevance to contemporary art.
According to Saida El Harakany, Cultural Programming Director at Legacy (Manager and Operator of the GEM), "We are proud to host the work of Susan Hefuna, a talented artist who has masterfully reinterpreted the Khayamiya tradition presenting craft as art. This exhibition marks the launch of the GEM’s contemporary cultural platform which is focused on the arts, design, and craft."
In addition to being one of the largest archaeological museum’s in the world dedicated to a single civilization, the GEM is Egypt’s leading cultural, destination, and Traces of Egypt is a perfect example of the museum’s cultural programming’s commitment to showcasing Egypt’s rich cultural heritage. By offering a wide range of experiences and activities with a focus on local and regional art, craft and design, the GEM aims to make culture accessible to everyone, to create lasting social impact and to contribute to Egypt’s economic development.
The museum also recently launched the GEM Artspace, a membership club for the creative industry that will allow local, regional, and international artists, designers and crafts people to showcase their work in several temporary exhibition spaces throughout the museum all year long.
Although the museum’s interior spaces, including the galleries, are currently closed until the official opening, visitors can see the exhibition by booking one of the guided tours that are available online through www.visit-gem.com. These tours provide visitors with a chance to experience the areas of the GEM that are accessible, including the Hanging Obelisk, the Grand Hall, the Glass Hall, outdoor areas, the gift shop, and retail and food and beverage outlets.
Conceived to present the world’s most comprehensive collection devoted to ancient Egyptian civilisation, the Grand Egyptian Museum displays, conserves, and studies over 50,000 artefacts across seven thousand years. The Museum embraces the diversity of Egyptian history and culture to connect all visitors to creativity, knowledge, ideas, and to one another. By integrating entertainment, culture, learning and lifestyle, the Grand Egyptian Museum site incorporates a deep sense of history in an inclusive setting for all visitors seeking to celebrate, discover, and be part of Egypt’s past and future.
A subsidiary of Hassan Allam Holding, Legacy Development and Management specializes in the management and operation of premium destinations. Hassan Allam Holding is one of the largest privately owned corporations in Egypt and the MENA region, with over 85 years of experience in engineering, construction, building materials, and utilities, with over 45,000 employees. In March 2021, Legacy for Management and Development won the contract to provide and operate services and facilities at the Grand Egyptian Museum for 12 years. As the operator of the GEM project, Legacy adopted a new business model for museum management in Egypt to support the sustainable growth of the project. Legacy aims to integrate cultural, commercial, and entertainment experiences at the GEM to create an inspiring visitor destination and enhance Egypt’s position as a world-class tourist destination, contributing significantly to Egypt’s economic development.
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM)
X4VF+V3F, Cairo - Alexandria Desert Rd, Kafr Nassar, Al Haram,
Giza Governorate 3513204, Egypt
Location on map
Until the official opening of the new GEM's building, the exhibition can be visited by booking one of the guided tours that are available online through www.visit-gem.com
Connect with GEM:
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Dina Abou El Fetouh - email
Culture Programming Manager:
Maryam Helmy - email
For inquiries on the exhibition collaborations and GEM Artspace membership please contact: artspace(at)gem.eg
From press information.
© Photos: Courtesy of Susan Hefuna and The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).
Photographer: Natasha Yonan