Monday, February 20, 2017

Short Story: The NMEC Opens in Cairo

Model of a weaving workshop
A temporary exhibition on the development of Egyptian crafts through the ages is marking the soft opening of the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo. Written By/ Nevine El-Aref.

Overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake in the heart of Egypt’s first Islamic capital of Al-Fustat stands the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) with its pyramid-shaped roof. After six years of delay due to budgetary constraints in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution, the NMEC was partially inaugurated this week with the opening of a temporary exhibition relating the history and development of Egyptian crafts through the ages.

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was scheduled to officially inaugurate the exhibition along with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany. Although the work at the NMEC has been proceeding according to the schedule drawn up with UNESCO in 2002 when the foundation stone was laid, construction was put on hold after the revolution.

The museum was originally to be opened in July 2011. Owing to the revolution and funding problems, the opening was delayed. Over the past six years work proceeded slowly, but by 2014 all the construction work had been completed, including the galleries, corridors and exhibition sections as well as labs and storage galleries. Despite still showing some concrete underlay, the building’s floors and staircases are now encased in grey marble and the lighting and security systems all installed.

 A crescent necklace
However, budgetary issues have still prevented the total completion of the museum and its opening to the public. To overcome such obstacles, El-Enany suggested creating a temporary exhibition hall to put on show some of the museum’s planned exhibits to encourage tourism to the NMEC and provide the required funds to open the whole museum.

Over the last six months work on the two levels hosting the temporary exhibition “Egypt’s Crafts through the Ages” has been at full swing to meet the opening deadline. Workers have been organising artefacts inside showcases, while others have been inserting graphics on the theme of the exhibition design. Curators have been fixing labels on each display.

“I am very happy and proud to say that a part of my dream has now come true,” El-Enany told the Weekly, referring to this week’s partial opening. He added that between 2014 and 2016 he had been honoured to have been the supervisor of the NMEC project.

“In this capacity, I have seen first-hand the hard work and dedication of the museum staff and the ministry employees in making the museum’s debut exhibition a reality and a successful one at that. I take this opportunity to thank them for all their hard work,” El-Enany said, explaining that the newly opened exhibition was only a sampler of many more exciting endeavours to come.

“I hope every visitor will enjoy the exhibition and stay tuned to all of the NMEC’s future projects,” he said. The exhibition, El-Enany added, embodied what the NMEC as a museum and an institution aims to highlight: the material culture of a long-standing, diverse and advanced civilisation. It reflects both the continuity of traditions and the innovation of technologies in Egypt.

 Mabrouk and El-Enany inspecting the latest work at the exhibition hall before
 the opening
El-Enany said that the chosen crafts for the new exhibition were particularly relevant to the museum’s surrounding area, which has long been a hub of woodworking, textile production, jewellery making and pottery manufacturing. “Although the inauguration marks the opening of a single temporary exhibition to the public, the NMEC is a much larger entity than that, with rich galleries covering a plethora of themes in addition to being an extensive scientific research centre and cultural hub,” El-Enany said.

He announced that in order to celebrate the NMEC’s soft opening, the museum would offer admission to visitors free of charge beginning on 16 February and continuing through the end of the month. Photographs and videos for TV channels would be free of charge in the same period, he said.

“Craft production in Egypt has a long and rich history that over time has been continuously refined, incorporating new techniques and raw materials to create a treasure trove of exquisite masterpieces, many of which survive to this day,” Mahmoud Mabrouk, the exhibition designer, told the Weekly.

He said that the choice of crafts for the first temporary exhibition held at the NMEC boded well, with the location of the museum in Al-Fustat being known for its rich tradition of crafts. The area around the museum hosts a centuries-old pottery production community, and pottery producers and vendors line the main streets leading to the Museum.... READ MORE.

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