Attyat El Abnoudy — film producer-director
Award-winning Egyptian documentarist Attyat El Abnoudy is one of the few film-makers in the Arab world whose work has been consistently acclaimed in the West. She is widely regarded as the finest exponent of documentary cinema in Egypt and one of the finest Arab film directors alive today.
She concentrates upon social issues revolving around the Egyptian, Arab and African underclasses, especially upon the lot of women, a choice of subject matter which has limited her popular appeal and frequently invited the displeasure of Arab governments. However her artistry is universally applauded.
Trained as a lawyer, Ms. Abnoudy studied film-making at the Egyptian Film Institute and later at the International Film and Television School in England. Her first film, Horse of Mud (1971) won three international prizes, Grand Prix and FIPRCI at Grenoble Film Festival, Grand Prix at the Manheim Film Festival and Grand Prix at the Damascus Film Festival. Her next film Sad Song of Touha (1972) won the French Critics Prize at the Grenoble Film Festival. The 22 films she has made between 1971 and 1996 have won over 30 international awards.
Her film Permissible Dreams (1983), an Egyptian-German co-production, was broadcast on Berlin Television, Channel 4 (UK), Greek Television, and throughout the Scandinavian countries as well as in the Arab world. Rhythm of Life (1988), a German-British co-production, was broadcast on Channel 4 (UK) and ZDS, the German 2nd Channel.
Her most recent films are Rawya (1995), a profile of a peasant woman artist, Girls Still Dream (1995), a study of the problems of Egyptian teenage girls, and Democracy Days (1996), tracing the role of women in the 1995 Egyptian parliamentary elections.
A retrospective of her work, “Humble People’s Film-Maker”, has been shown at the Cinemateque of Hamburg and Auxberg Film Festival in German, at the Cinemateque of Bologna in Italy, the Tempere Film Festival in Finland and at the Los Angeles Film and Video Festival in the United States.
Ms El Abnoudy has served on the International Jury of the Manheim Film Festival, and has been head of the International Jury Committees of the Oberhausen Film Festival in Germany, the Klibia Film Festival in Tunisia and as Executive Director of the Second International Documentary Film and Short Subject Festival in Egypt.
She was formerly married to Egypt’s leading poet Abdel Rahman El Abnoudy.
Azza Fahmy — master gold and silversmith
Like her sister Randa Fahmy, Azza Fahmy is considered pre-eminent in her field — the Arab world’s finest designer of traditional jewelry.
Born in Suhaaj, Egypt, Ms Fahmy took a Fine Arts Degree in interior design from ::I University before apprenticing to a master gold and silversmith at the ancient Khan El Khalili, the first woman in Egypt to be permitted into a traditionally male-dominated profession.
After years of apprenticeship and intensive research into traditional jewelry forms, she held her first exhibition in 1974 and launched a career which has taken her around the world and placed her among the top professional women in Egypt.
Working in silver, gold and with semi-precious stones, her work reflects a wide range of Arab and Islamic traditions and periods, including Bedouin, Nubian, Kabili (Algerian Berber), Umayyad, Egyptian and Syrian Ayyubid and Mamluki, Persian Safavid, Central Asian Seljuk and Timurid, Turkish Ottoman and Indian Mogul. Ms. Fahmy has also been credited with reviving the use of classical Arabic poetry and Islamic wisdom sayings in the calligraphic inscriptions incorporated into many of her pieces, which express profound spiritual values that have been lost to much of the modern Arab world.
In America Azza Fahmy has had exhibitions of her work in Washington DC, Denver, Houston and New York. Her work has also been shown in England, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Her commercial clients include the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Howard University Art Museum, the Museum of Women in the Arts, the Textile Museum and the Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, the University of Illinois Centre for the Arts, Williams College Museum of Art, the Brook Museum of Art at Memphis and the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris as well as Harrods and Liberty of London.
Her many international clients include Queen Noor of Jordan, French actress Catherine Deneuve, Madame Jihan Sadat, Egyptian actress Fatin Hamama and the royal families of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Randa Fahmy — master metalsmith and lighting designer
Randa Fahmy is widely considered to be the world’s pre-eminent designer of Islamic metalwork and one of the finest lighting designers in the Arab world. She is the first contemporary designer of metalwork to master the traditional canons of the craft and recreate the proportions and detail that brought Islamic metalwork to its glory.
Ms. Fahmy was born in Suhaaj, Egypt in 1951 and graduated with honours from the School of Art at ::I University in Zamalek, Cairo. A protege of the great Egyptian painter ::I, she became intrigued with traditional forms in old Cairo and embarked on a two year intensive study of Islamic metalwork, analyzing the proportions and structural composition of the finest examples of metalwork from the golden age of Islamic craftsmanship.
After apprenticing with metalsmiths at the Khan El Khalili, she realized that the art of fine metalwork had been lost. She systematically recreated the great masterpieces that remain in collections and museums and learned the canons of craftsmanship.
Her first exhibition of Islamic metalwork was held in 1978 and resulted in commissions from leading architects in the Arab world to design lighting and decorative metalwork for palaces, mosques, hotels, resorts and private homes throughout the Arab world.
In 1981 she co-founded Al Ain Gallery in Duqqi, Cairo, with her sister Azza Fahmy, Egypt’s finest designer of traditional jewelry. Since then Al Ain Gallery has become an institution in Cairo and a must for visitors seeking the finest of Egyptian craftsmanship. In 1982 Ms. Fahmy expanded her atelier into the largest metalsmithing workshop in Egypt and is presently constructing a factory in the 26 October industrial city on the outskirts of Cairo. Randa and her sister Azza employ and train many women in the traditional crafts.
Randa Fahmy continues to give exhibitions throughout the world and has created and re-created hundreds of designs from the Islamic tradition. She has recently completed the decorative lighting for the Sonesta Resort at Sharm El Sheikh and has begun work on an adjacent resort in Sharm designed by the architect Nabil Ghali and owned by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan An-Nahayyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Ms. Fahmy has worked with most of the greatest traditional architects in the Arab world, including the late ::I, Abdel Wahid El Wakil and Rassam Badran. She was chosen to design the lighting for the Aga Khan Awards ceremony held at the Citadel in Cairo in 1989.
Her international clients include Queen Noor of Jordan, Madame Jihan Sadat, UN Secretary General ::I the late singing legend Mohamed Abdul Wahab, Egyptian actors Faten Hamama and Noor Sharif, Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, Sultan Qaboos of Oman and the royal families of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
Over the years Ms. Fahmy has expanded her traditional design vocabulary to encompass Syrian, Ottoman, Moroccan, Arab, Indian and Southeast Asian forms. Her work graces royal palaces, resorts and ordinary households throughout the Arab world, Europe and America and is on display in some of the world’s most prestigious showrooms and galleries.
Salwa Bakr — novelist
In a country famed for its rich modern literary tradition, Salwa Bakr has become one of Egypt’s most respected novelists and short story writers. Born in Cairo in 1949, Ms Bakr took degrees in business management and literary criticism before embarking on a career in journalism. She has published three collections of short stories and two novels.
Her satirical novel The Golden Chariot (1991) is set within the walls of a women’s prison located outside Cairo during the Nasser era. It focuses on a member of the Alexandrian aristocracy imprisoned for murder and, according to Latifah al-Zayat, is written in a style “similar to the style of folk-tales (al-haki al-sha’bi) which depends on digression, description, accumulation of seemingly separate details, and turning dramatic events into narrative.” It is a novel of narrative sophistication which was widely praised in its original Arabic publication and has since been translated into English and other European languages.
Salwa Bakr’s short stories were awarded a major prize for fiction by the German national radio in 1993.
Gazbia Sirry — Painter
Prize-winning Egyptian artist Gazbia Sirry is one the Arab world’s leading exponents of modern painting. Educated in Cairo, Paris, Rome and London, Ms Sirry served as Professor of Painting on the Faculty of Art at Helwan University in Cairo. In addition, Ms. Sirry has been granted numerous fellowships, including the State Fellowship for Creative Artists (1962-66, 1969-71), the Huntington Hartford Foundation Fellowship (1965), the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdient (1975-6), Fulbright and National Museum for Women in Art Fellowship (1993).
She presented 55 one-woman exhibitions of her work between 1953 and 1988 in Europe, North America and the Arab world as well as numerous other group and international exhibitions in Egypt and abroad.
Among the many prizes she has won for her painting are the Prize of Rome (1952), an honorary prize at Venezia Bienale (1956), the first prize at the Salon de Caire (1960), and the great prize of International Contemporary Art in Monaco (1968).
She is a member of the Egyptian Syndicate of Plastic Arts, the Societe des Amis d’Art, the Egyptian Society of Graphic Artists, the Association of Cairo Atelier for Writers and Artists, Society of Wakalat Al Ghouri Artists, and the Committee of Fine Arts on the Supreme Council of Culture within the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.
Her work has been frequently referred to in numerous journals and books, including the Dictionary of International Biography, the International Who’s Who of Women and the Encyclopedie de la Peinture, and Who’s Who in the Arab World. Her work has also been covered in several television documentaries. An artistic biography, Gazbia Sirry, was published by the General Organization for Information in 1984.