Farid Fadel talks about his latest exhibition Nile Meets Danube and what inspired him to juxtapose Hungarian culture with Egyptian tradition
By Farid Fadel
Sailing down the Nile and the Danube may be two very different experiences but to me they have one thing in common: a breath of fresh air loaded with history and culture. A Nile cruise in Upper Egypt leaves one with a sense of awe and flashing memories of great temples reflected in the water and colorful sunsets against villages with their mud houses and dancing palm trees. The Danube, on the other hand, tends to surprise you with apparitions of glorious cathedrals and Arcadian castles at sharp river bends with plenty of water activities in the foreground.
But this exhibition is not about the meeting of the two rivers as much as the cultures and civilizations they have nurtured and inspired. A river basin is therefore not only a predetermined pathway for running water but also a secure cradle for the life and activities of its inhabitants. The annual rhythmic Nile floods became the backbone of a sophisticated irrigation system in ancient Egypt, while river navigation facilitated communication and control from the central government in Memphis and Thebes. Hungary may depend more on rainfall for its agriculture but the Danube has always served as a major venue for passenger and commercial transportation, not to mention trade and cultural exchange with many neighboring countries.
I find all of the above a good backdrop to better understand some strange similarities between the two cultures. Both Egyptians and Hungarians enjoy festivities with a lot of music and energetic dancing. Their cuisines share the properties of being rich, filling and often quite spicy. Both peoples have suffered repeated attacks from many invaders only to come out stronger and more united in the end. If given a fair chance, youth from Egypt and Hungary can prove intelligent, hard working and competitive on an international level.
On a more artistic note, the Egyptian paintings in this collection ooze with nostalgia for places in my homeland with which I’ve fallen in love over and over again. Village landscapes, Nile scenes and portraits of Egyptians young and old have featured in many of my exhibitions in Egypt and abroad. Paintings of Hungary, however, are the fruits of repeated visits since my first trip in 2009. I did my sketches and drawings earlier, but the paintings mostly in 2013. Budapest may be the crown jewel of Hungary, but there are many gems that rival its beauty all over the country. Take for example charming Szentendre with its crafts and art galleries, or sail onward around the Danube bend to the rich architecture of Vac, Visegrad and Esztergom. Soak in the Mediterranean spirit of multifaceted Pecs or travel to the wine country of Tokaj with picturesque vineyards covering the rolling hills. Spend a day in Eger and enjoy breathtaking views of church steeples from the castle grounds. These are a few places that helped me establish a more comprehensive view of Hungary’s real spirit.
There is something peculiar about Egyptian and Hungarian cultures: They’re both unique and contagious. Universally speaking, what keeps a culture pure is usually some form of isolation. In Egypt’s case, it is its desert geography, while in Hungary it is its linguistic roots which can be traced to central Asia. Having said that, the other side of the coin is sharing that culture with the rest of the world. Every pupil around the world studies ancient Egypt at some stage. Even today, despite the present political turmoil of a difficult transition, Egyptians still make headlines by letting their voices be heard through the most unconventional of methods, unprecedented in modern history.
Despite years of conflict, invasions, destruction and wars, Hungary too is remarkable for rising up from the ashes, casting its sorrows away and rebuilding itself one more time to catch up with the rest of Europe. Through it all, Hungarian photojournalism was a pioneer art, the music of Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly played all over the world and Hungarian scientists have won many Nobel prices in many fields. So while Egypt and Hungary may not be considered today’s superpowers, their cultural influence reaches far beyond their borders, and this is precisely what Egypt Meets the Danube celebrates. et
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