How the Pyramids Became a Site for Contemporary Sculpture

Now in its third year, Art d’Egypte brings an array of site-specific works to the Pyramids of Giza to prove their lasting influence on centuries of creativity and frame them in a new light. Pulling it off is no small feat.

“Mirror Gate” by Pilar Zeta. Image courtesy CulturVator/Art d’Egypte

The Pyramids of Giza are tall, mighty, and mysterious, emblems of our technological prowess and limitless ambition during ancient times. Though they’ve been studied exhaustively and are the subject of countless bodies of work, French-Egyptian curator Nadine Abdel Ghaffar found herself fascinated by the prospect of the pyramids backdropping blue-chip sculpture to show how they’ve influenced today’s creative talents who can present them in a new light. That led her to found the Cairo-based arts firm Art d’Egypte in 2016 with the goal of mounting an outdoor exhibition of large-scale works around the pyramids. The first edition launched in 2021—convincing wary archaeologists wasn’t easy—and attracted more than one million visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This year’s edition, “Forever Is Now III,” is the largest yet, bringing 14 site-specific installations crafted around the theme of “play” that respond to the monuments with verve and whimsy. Argentine artist Pilar Zeta created Mirror Gate, an enigmatic limestone portal topped with a pyramidal apex beckoning viewers to walk down a checkered pathway to a giant egg perched on a plinth. It wouldn’t look out of place on a surrealist film set. Dutch material whiz Sabine Marcelis recast the sundial—an invention originating in ancient Egypt—through her own lens, yielding a glass rectilinear monolith embedded with solar cells that provide a light source after dark. Greek sculptor Costas Varotsos lined up a series of metal circles and filled them halfway with liquid, making the pyramids appear to float on water when viewed from afar.

“RA” by Sabine Marcelis. Image courtesy CulturVator/Art d’Egypte

“The Pyramids, for me, are a token of hope for humanity,” Abdel Ghaffar told Arab News, echoing words of wisdom that Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass shared with her. “It’s a wonder that was not lost. It withstood pandemics, wars, different religions, and it’s still there. He was like, ‘Look at the Pyramids: This will give you hope. It’s still there. Humanity will not be erased. Don’t worry.’”

Mounting a show of this scale in such a sensitive site is a herculean task, and requires coordination with the Secret Services, UNESCO, and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Art D’Egypte works closely with UNESCO to make sure the show leaves the 4,500-year-old site untouched and unharmed—the pyramids are among the oldest World Heritage Sites. One-foot-tall layers of imported sand protect the environment from the wear and tear of installation and rowdy guests, a precaution that paves the way for further interactivity. “It’s a more engaging experience this year, no longer just a dialogue between the artists and the pyramids,” Abdel Ghaffar told Designboom. “It’s a trilogy between artist, viewer, and the site.”

“Horizon” by Costas Varotsos. Image courtesy CulturVator/Art d’Egypte
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