In Conversation with Nevine Farghaly
Egyptian contemporary artist Nevine Farghaly holds a bachelor’s degree (1997), a master’s degree (2001), and a doctorate (2007) from Helwan University, where she is currently a professor.
Farghaly produces work on various scales. Small works that include multiple intricate pieces are not too dissimilar from her larger (often life-size) installations of metal parts. She focuses on producing sculptures that include figures and animals, as well as sculptures with mechanical movement. Farghaly has featured in many exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2010) and the Peking Biennale (2017). In this interview with Omenka, she takes us through her journey as an artist and her relationship with metal.
How did your interest in art begin?
It started through my studies in the Faculty of Applied Arts. That’s where I started to discover myself and my deep connection with and love for art. From there I earned my degree (MA and PhD) and currently work as a professor there. I’m also the head of the Decorative Arts department.
My love for art lies more with the concept of kinetic art, as you can tell through my work. My artistic journey lies between trying to control and maintain the natural shape of the figures and focusing on the different levels of abstraction of the model for the movement to act as the main element. My studies in kinetic and interactive art—learning the art of using such solid material and transforming it to an adaptable and formable element, and thus adding movement as a fourth dimension—this all leads to the work that I hold today.
As a female artist in a patriarchal society, how have you been able to overcome challenges in maintaining an active studio alongside building a successful teaching career?
I actually did not find it difficult to combine being an artist and professor in the field of art. On the contrary, I always felt that the two complement each other greatly. University was my initial motivation to study and research and teach. As a professor, I thoroughly enjoy the exchange of knowledge between the student and the teacher. Through art, I enjoy the process of applying and executing all the studies that lead me to produce the work I hold today, because with each piece of work there’s always more room for improvement and more to learn. So I believe they go hand in hand.
What informs your focus on sculptures of figures and animals, as well as sculptures with mechanical movement, and how do they express your underlying philosophy?
The name of my first exhibition Life Is Movement is a comprehensive expression of my personal philosophy and my interest in moving the symbol of life through stories, histories, and humanitarian or animal-inspired concepts in the creation of a special language of dialogue between man and all those words that surround him and these ideas. My work is based on the theory of play as a means of expression. During play the emotions are engaged, and there is a temporary distance from the world around. The sole focus for that moment is the “playing” and the interaction of the viewer with the work.
My process and work have gone through many stages in trying to control the three-dimensional figure. There’s the abstract configuration of the figures, and there’s also the abstraction that releases the diagnostic frame and takes the shape out of its usual form with embellishments and certain touches (from engraving to ornaments and colours) to add more smoothness and vitality to the metal.
My journey from interchangeably using relatively large metal parts to smaller ones is a path that was driven by my passion for movement and the desire to shift from the mechanical rigidity of it to a smoother and more functional movement that would better suit the work.
Please take us through the process of creating each work, from inspiration to conceptualisation and technique.
I begin by thinking about a story or subject and then design its characters and turn them into strips of iron and steel sheets which mutate through formation to the moving figures. By engaging the recipient within the work of art there is either a source movement or voice or light or all of them in one.
How do you source your materials? Do their origins, history, or an inclination towards environmental sustainability influence your selection?
It actually came very organically. I’ve had and still do maintain a long and challenging relationship with iron. I began my experimentation and implementation stage when I was obtaining my doctorate degree. That was when I started using gears, engines, and motors, which then required some welds. From time to time, I do employ some other raw materials such as wood, marble, and tile; however, iron and steel remain the champion mediums within my work.
You have participated in several major art exhibitions and events, including the Venice Biennale in 2010, and the Peking Biennale in 2017. With the growing proliferation of art fairs and biennales focusing on art from the continent, what is your opinion on the heightened focus on commercialism?
I find that my participations in the Venice and Peking Biennales are among my most important ones. I was pleased and honoured having the National Museum of Beijing acquire my work for its permanent collection. African art is a legacy of ancient history connected to various aspects of human experiences. Many of the world’s artists have benefited from it throughout the history of the arts, and it’s vital for galleries, museums, and institutions to be attentive towards it.
You work in various scales—small works that include multiple intricate pieces and large, often life-size installations of metal parts. How does scale imbue additional meaning to your work?
I began my journey of producing larger works to fulfil my interests in group exhibitions and biennales; however, when I started presenting my work at Ubuntu Art Gallery, I had to minimise the size of my work to better suit its presentation and adjust to the gallery’s dimensions. This stage gave me so much satisfaction. Before, it would usually take me six months to a year to complete one piece, but when I started playing around with smaller sizes, it could be done in three weeks to a month, giving me greater opportunity for experimentation and enjoyment of the whole process. But now, the work and its concept are the main drive in choosing the size.
In October 2018, you presented a solo, There Is Still Time to Play, at Ubuntu Gallery in Cairo, Egypt. Please tell us about the show, what you hoped to convey to the public through its theme, and the reception it received.
My exhibition at Ubuntu Art Gallery last October confirmed my vision of making the concept of play a means of expression through which I received people’s interactions with the work. It was the viewer’s call to break the barrier between him and the work of art. I was extremely pleased with the reception, people’s reactions, and the attention from critics. The collection included a set of fixed and interactive works all in different sizes, which took two years to prepare. The interaction in this collection of work comes on several levels. The first level is the dynamic interaction of the work and its relationship with the viewer. On another level is the relationship of the works with each other. You’ll find a lot of binaries in terms of what is connected and separate in the collection: a boy and a girl on the swing; the mother and her child; the child and the bird on the swing; the dog; the butterfly and the car, and others.
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