National heritage, as represented in historic monuments and elements of more-recent military and civilian life, was a dominant theme of a recent exhibition of the Egyptian Scale Modeling Club.
The three-day show, called “EgyHobby 2021”, took place late last month at the Al-Hanager Arts Centre at the Cairo Opera House complex. It displayed more than 300 works by about 50 artists.
Only handmade objects, some of them no larger than a fingertip, were accepted.
Despite the small size of these miniature simulations of people, places and objects, even their smallest details were clear to visitors.
The exhibition used lighting to highlight aspects of some notable works, especially models of historic monuments. The lighting revealed cracks that artists intentionally made to suggest the effects of time on the surfaces of these structures.
The architectural renderings on display included scale models of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Cairo’s historic mosques, and Bab Zuweila, one of the three surviving gates of the Old City of Cairo, built almost 1,000 years ago.
Modern Warplanes and Ancient Boats
Other models depicted more modern artefacts. Sayed Fouad, an artist and engineer who co-founded the group behind “EgyHobby 2021”, showed models inspired by old Egyptian, Saudi and Syrian warplanes. They reflect his interest in aviation since his childhood, influenced by his father’s work in the air force.
“All models are handmade, which is a condition of participation in the exhibition. The materials include a variety of wood, metal, clay, plastic, matches, and recycled scrap.”Sayed Fouad
An artist and engineer who co-founded the group behind “EgyHobby 2021”
While Fouad and artists like him chose to make models of military machines and vehicles, other artists preferred civilian subjects, Including people.
The exhibition included a variety of designs of miniature boats and ships. Some of them were of historic vessels bearing the Ankh, or “the key of life”, to simulate the solar boats of ancient Egypt.
Wooden boats were often buried with Egyptian kings, in rituals to prepare their journey through the afterlife. The most famous and largest, more than 43 metres (142 feet) long, was found in the tomb of King Khufu, who died around 2566 BCE.
Later kings were buried with smaller models, often less than a metre (three feet) long. Some tombs were found to contain fleets of up to 50 boats.
Fouad told Al-Fanar Media: “All models are handmade, which is a condition of participation in the exhibition. The materials include a variety of wood, metal, clay, plastic, matches, and recycled scrap.”
A miniature artist, he explained, “must be very passionate about this art, because it takes a long time, patience, and extreme precision”.
Gallery: Heritage Relived in Miniature
Artists “sometimes use very precise tools, such as those used by dentists, to be able to carve and highlight details on very minute surfaces,” he added. “An artist must be familiar with the historical and technical background of the model he is working on.”
Street Scenes from Decades Ago
Visitors to the exhibition were able to see artists’ familiarity with the historical and social context of a number of their miniatures. Examples included two models of Egyptian streets during the 1980s and 1990s by Ahmed Al-Fayed. The artist used architectural landmarks and advertising banners that distinguished the facades of buildings at those times.
The heritage theme was evident in the works of Abeer Saad El-Din, who started practising miniature art about three years ago.
She told Al-Fanar Media: “I am particularly concerned with Egyptian and Arab heritage. I presented models of a rural house, a traditional baking room, and a kitchen with oriental food items.”
“I am particularly concerned with Egyptian and Arab heritage. I presented models of a rural house, a traditional baking room, and a kitchen with oriental food items.”Abeer Saad El-Din
An artist who teaches miniature modeling
Saad El-Din uses raw materials, such as wood, ceramic paste, and Aswan clay. “I have tried different materials every time, to keep my miniatures intact and protect them from damage,” she said.
“Miniature art is inspired by doll houses, which recall many childhood memories. It is called the art of diorama,” she continued. But “this art is not taught at Faculties of Fine Arts. All efforts made in this field, in Egypt and the Arab world, are individual attempts based on personal diligence.”
Saad El-Din teaches miniature art, in both online and in-person workshops. Female trainees from Bahrain and Morocco who joined the online course later designed miniatures displaying the local heritage of their countries.
The artist, who studied art criticism at Egypt’s Academy of Arts, intends to document the art of miniature through research that may be her master’s thesis, she told Al-Fanar Media.
“I am seeking to attempt documentation through a book to connect this art to ancient Egyptian origins, such as the miniatures of the daily life of ancient Egyptians; from writing and planting to mummification,” she explained.
Some artists drew inspiration from movies, including Hollywood films like “Joker”. Others, however, focused on local character through emblems such as Cairo’s characteristic white and black cabs and Egypt’s trains.
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The artist Hussein Al-Qaisi embodied a scene from the Egyptian movie “The Passage” (2019) through miniature models of the actors next to a tank, all made of clay, foam craft, and plastic, enclosed in a glass box to protect the delicate pieces.
A video tour of the exhibition is available on YouTube.
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