The Egyptian sculptor Sayeda Khalil has long been fascinated with using contemporary technology to create art.
Khalil, who is 53, was one of the first Egyptian artists to employ laser light in art. She presented the first holographic artistic experiment using laser light at Cairo University’s National Institute of Laser Sciences, says a biography at the Fine Arts Sector of Egypt’s Ministry of Culture website.
In her latest exhibition, “Let’s Ride a Bike,” at Cairo’s Ubuntu Art Gallery, the artist returned to traditional materials but sought to continue experimenting. The exhibition presented 24 metal sculptures with rotating wheels, exploring different shapes and states of the bicycle.
Building each work from inside, Khalil dispensed with welding and connected the sculptures’ parts internally.
On this, she told Al-Fanar Media: “We are part of time movement, and the brightest spot in its movement comes from the details that are sometimes nothing but our contradictory human feelings. The repetition of movement is the hero, and the hope is to break the wheel, since despite its being fixed, it is just a moment in time.”
“When I started working with laser technologies, late in the 1990s, I was thinking of a way to employ science for the benefit of art. However, I faced resistance to my idea from scientific bodies and traditional art circles.”Sayeda Khalil
Early Experiments with Lasers
Khalil was born in Qalyubia, north of Cairo, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in art education from Helwan University in 1994. Later on, she got a master’s degree in laser sculpture” in 2000, and a Ph.D. in art education in 2006. Now, she is a professor of sculpture at her alma mater.
She told Al-Fanar Media: “When I started working with laser technologies, late in the 1990s, I was thinking of a way to employ science for the benefit of art. However, I faced resistance to my idea from scientific bodies and traditional art circles.”
Khalil attributes that rejection to the lack of “people who were willing to understand the possibilities offered by science to develop art”. She continued her adventure, however, in cooperation with experts at the National Institute of Laser Sciences. “At first, they also doubt the possibility of creating sculptures of fiber material, or leaking light from inside,” she added.
Since then, she has experimented with passing laser light through sculptural blocks to manipulate perspective and shadows. She also worked with holographic techniques.
Khalil was astonished at the excitement that surrounded “appearances” by Umm Kulthum, who died in 1975, at recent concerts through hologram technology. “The method has been in use for more than 70 years in some countries of the world,” she said. “This is a paradox that reveals the sad state of our technical lagging.”
Skepticism from Funders
Khalil’s own experiments with laser techniques were hindered by high costs. When she asked for financial support from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts sector she faced “great skepticism,” she said.
The lack of support prompted her to return to traditional materials, such as bronze, acrylic sheets, and wood, preparing and polishing surfaces by hand.
She also experimented with mirrors and the reflection of lenses. “The optical illusion enriches the artwork,” she said. “It is important for any artist to contemplate the internal component of the statue itself.”
Thanks to successive technological developments, laser techniques have become easier. This enabled Khalil to cut materials with lasers to achieve better results.
After more than 20 years of work, Khalil seems committed to contemporary art styles.
“An artist cannot draw inspiration from heritage while their knowledge of the current moment is deficient. The ancient Egyptian artist set out from the vision and philosophy of his time. It is the right of contemporary artists to start from a vision that belongs to them.”
“An artist cannot draw inspiration from heritage while their knowledge of the current moment is deficient. The ancient Egyptian artist set out from the vision and philosophy of his time. It is the right of contemporary artists to start from a vision that belongs to them.”Sayeda Khalil
Changing Public Views
Despite the “isolation” of contemporary art in Arab societies, she expresses pride in her works’ successes, represented by sales and acquisitions.
“When I started, private art galleries neither welcomed this art nor bought our artworks,” she said.
“Public taste desires traditional figurative sculptures,” she added.
Still, she and other artists worked to change public views by producing sculptures that expressed hard-to-catch thoughts and feelings.
“We succeeded in confirming our presence,” she said. “Personally, important institutions and public figures are keen to acquire my works.”
Khalil’s experience combines practice, education, and training. She organizes workshops to keep her students informed of “the most important international experiences”.
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Her latest exhibition ran from December 22 till January 11 at Cairo’s Ubuntu Art Gallery.
In a statement, the Ubuntu Art Gallery noted that “Khalil focuses on the human aspects of her work, moving away from traditional ideas. She is preoccupied with expressing the man-woman relationship in multiple images through her sculptures. She chose sculpture to express her vision of life.”