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AUC’s Rare Van Leo Collection on Display at UCLA Hammer Museum

Arts and Culture
Dalia Al Nimr
July 30, 2023

The first international survey of work by the late Armenian-Egyptian studio photographer Van Leo is currently on display in the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles as a collaboration between the museum and AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library, which holds the Van Leo collection, with additional collaborative support from the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut. Becoming Van Leo is showing until November 5 and includes ephemera and some photographs printed from negatives for the first time. 

“This exhibition at the Hammer Museum is the highest-profile showing of Van Leo's work to date — a retrospective of his art and life — and therefore brings international attention both to Van Leo's work and legacy but also the tremendous holdings of the Rare Books and Special Library at AUC,” said Negar Azimi, the exhibition’s curator. 

Three years prior to his death, in 1998, Van-Leo bequeathed his collection to AUC, where it has since been housed at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. Last year, AUC celebrated the artist’s 100th birthday with a first-of-its-kind 3D exhibit, and this year, it has partnered with the Hammer Museum on Becoming Van Leo

"Over the past decades, the AUC Library has been keen to partner with museums and reputable organizations across the globe, including Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Brighton Photo Biennial and  Deutsche Architecktur-Museum in Frankfurt," said Lamia Eid '82, '92, interim dean of AUC's Libraries and Learning Technologies. "Our aim has been to be a key partner in the creation of innovative exhibitions, using the rich and unique collections of  AUC's Rare Books and Special Collections Library. I’m positive that the Becoming Van Leo exhibit is a resounding success, bringing together people who appreciate the significance of Van Leo’s unique work. It is surely a celebration of a great photographer and a testament of  collaborative efforts by team members from both AUC and the Hammer Museum."

As stated on the Becoming Van Leo webpage, “The exhibition traces Van Leo’s career from his earliest encounters with the camera in the 1930s, in which he used friends and family as models, through his experiments in self-portraiture of the 1940s and 1950s, and onward to his studio work, which extended into the 1990s.” The exhibition also includes Van Leo’s personal items, including letters, books, magazine clippings, personal notes, immigration forms to the United States and Canada, bills, correspondence with girlfriends, applications to the Art Center School in Los Angeles, a video interview by the artist Akram Zaatari and a series of never-before-seen 16mm films of the artist’s family. 

Van Leo Photo

“It is extraordinary to have access to not only an artist’s work but also his ‘life scraps,’ which is to say the tremendous well of ephemera that Van Leo amassed and kept, from letters to business cards to childhood mementos,” said Azimi. “Van Leo was a complicated, compelling artist who in many ways was ahead of his time. His work belies facile distinctions between art and craft, East and West.”

Becoming Van Leo has been described in the media as “compelling and deeply personal,” and visitors to the exhibition have been “very enthusiastic,” as Azimi noted. 

Behind-the-scenes work was "a complex process that involved countless hours of communication, discussion, planning and preparations by members of both institutions," said Eid. "Sharing collections from AUC's Rare Books and Special Collections Library, reaching out to different communities, engaging visitors, promoting Egyptian culture and heritage beyond AUC, furthering research and scholarship, and enriching the visitor experience are critical goals that we constantly strive to achieve."

As Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, noted, “This exhibition is an opportunity to introduce Van Leo’s extraordinary oeuvre to people outside Cairo, where his archive is housed, and to take a more in-depth look at his influences and impact. Dedicated to working in black and white film, Van Leo’s photographs are dramatic, moving, and through his lens, the ordinary became extraordinary.”

Van Leo photo
Van Leo photo

Photos courtesy of the Hammer Museum


Shaping an Artist's Future: Meet the First Recipient of the Liu Shiming Endowed Scholarship

Arts and Culture
Honey ElMoghazi 
April 5, 2023
Shahd El Helbawy stands with Wei Liu, smiling in front of a painting.

Shahd El Helbawy sees mysteries to be explored through her most recent artistic pursuit: sculpting. Her passion for art has led her to be the first recipient of the Liu Shiming Endowed Scholarship. Established last year at AUC, the scholarship will support El Helbawy’s journey through AUC’s visual arts program.

“In addition to tuition, this scholarship will enable me to travel and attend exhibitions abroad where other artists can view my work and I can see theirs,” El Helbawy said. “I feel it will be a good network of connections that I could use to support my goals.” 

Wei Lu, head of the foundation and son of the celebrated Chinese sculptor Liu Shiming stands on campus where the sculpture will be placed
Wei Liu stands where his father's sculpture will be placed at AUC New Cairo

As a visual arts junior minoring in interactive media design, El Helbawy is interested in artistic narratives that link the human consciousness and unconsciousness. “I want my artwork to be interactive, where the viewer can relate to each piece in their own way that may evoke certain memories or emotions, for example,” she explained. “I believe that each person will relate to the artwork and understand it differently than the other.”

El Helbawy’s passion for sculpting gives her a unique connection to the Liu Shiming Art Foundation. Wei Liu, special advisor for the foundation and son of the celebrated Chinese sculptor Liu Shiming, donated his father’s renowned “Silk Road” sculpture to AUC in addition to establishing the scholarship. 

“I really liked that most of Shiming’s sculptures have a natural structure to them. With simplistic details, the whole artwork comes together to create a realistic form,” El Helbawy noted. “There is freedom in working with clay and there is always a mystery in not knowing what the outcome will look like.”

El Helbawy is grateful to be part of a program that endorses young artists and encourages cross-cultural artistic dialogue. “Meeting new people from different cultures and seeing their work with different mediums will help me gain  fresh perspectives and come up with new concepts that I could integrate into my artwork,” she explained.   

In the future El Helbawy aspires to join exhibitions, start her own art studio and set up a space for other artists to learn sculpting and clay modeling. “I first need to work on myself and create more projects that represent my identity to be able to someday establish my own art foundation, just as Liu Shiming did,” she added.  


Two AUC-Directed Films Featured at Visions Film Festival

Arts and Culture
Abigail Flynn
March 27, 2023
Two promotional images are shown. The promotional image of "Way Home" shows an artistic rendition of a head facing left. In the center of the head is a doorway with a figure standing in it. The color scheme is light brown and a pale green. On the right is the promotional image for the film "Okay". It shows a face peering through a broken pane of glass with the word "Okay" in jagged text beneath it.

Lights, camera, action! The Visions Film Festival, which took place at AUC’s Tahrir Cultural Center earlier this month, featured a number of projects by AUCians, including two student-directed films. 

Among the festival’s 32 feature films and documentaries were Way Home, which was directed by film and integrated marketing communication student Mark Ayman, and Okay, directed by Seif Abdel Raouf ‘19 and featuring a number of student and alumni actors.

A screenshot of the film "Way Home". The shot shows a statue in the center of a square with buildings and billboards behind it. Caption at the bottom read "I do not know frankly, I never tried to count them."

Ayman submitted his film to the festival through an editing course he took at AUC. “Way Home tackles themes of loss and home and takes place in the streets of Cairo,” he explained. “My favorite part of the experience was when one of the audience members approached me after the screening to tell me how she was touched by the film and related to it. Her words made all the effort put into the film valuable.”

“Everyone involved in the film could not be prouder of the success of Okay,” said Abdel Raouf. “We submitted it to many organizations, and it has been showcased in multiple international film festivals and honored with prestigious awards. Experiencing the success of such a significant project to us is probably our favorite part of the whole process.”

Abdel Raouf’s film follows a young man who is visited by a mysterious entity when his parents send him to renovate their new house. Abdel Raouf’s project involved film student Mohamed El-Khatib and alumni Youssef Taha ‘21, Mostafa Khatter ‘19, Abdel Rahman Farid ‘20, Doha Youssef ‘21, Abdullah Shaker ‘21 and Sherif Dewidar ‘20. “I would like to give a special thank you to all of them for making this project a reality,” Abdel Raouf said, “Their passion was inspirational and their hard work played an essential role in elevating the film. Without them, this project would not have been possible.”A screenshot of the film "Okay." A young man sits in the center of the screen while reading a book. The lighting and tone are dark and ominous.

Participating in these projects gave team members the opportunity to explore new roles and further develop their technical skills. “Okay was the first film I had worked as a main actor on,” said El-Khatib. “I was also a technical coordinator and had the chance to learn more about the technicalities of screening and sound systems in theater halls.”

“Having the film shown on a big screen with a room of strangers is an unforgettable moment, and the whole experience has taught me so much,” Ayman concluded.


Graduate Students Receive International Recognition for Documentary Films

Arts and Culture
March 12, 2023
Screenshots from three documentary films on youtube. The top screenshot is a shot of branches of a date tree from beneath with the words "Quorsaya People" in Arabic and English. The middle photo is a screenshot of a video showing a shot of the nile from a small boat with a small island in the distance, with the words "Nile Inhabitants" in Arabic and English. The bottom image is a screenshot of a video of date trees from far away with the text "Golden Fingers" in Arabic in English, all with video play button

Three graduate students from the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism were recently recognized internationally for their documentary films by the Broadcast Education Association

Mirna Abo El Seoud won first place for her documentary film “Golden Fingers,” which explores the struggles of women in Fayoum who specialize in making wicker crafts. 

Gehad Essam AbdelRazek was honored with an Award of Excellence for her documentary film “Quorsaya People,” which follows the lives of the farmers and fishermen living on the Quorsaya island in the Nile. 

Fatma Ahmed ElKhatib was honored with an Award of Excellence for her documentary film “Nile Inhabitants,” which explores the experiences of families who live in small boats on the Nile and make their living through fishing. 

Learn more about the center and its work.


AUC's Theatre Program Debuts Original Plays Tackling Mental Health

Arts and Culture
February 20, 2023
Actors perform Piece of Mind plays

Part of AUC’s Mental Health and Well-being Initiative, Piece of Mind is a bilingual theatrical performance that aims to start conversations about mental well-being, ranging from depression to social media addiction. Written by members of the AUC community, Piece of Mind features five original 10-minute plays that will be performed at AUC's Gerhart Theatre from February 21 to 28. 

“The main goal of Piece of Mind is to raise awareness of mental health and to reduce the stigma around it,” explains Jillian Campana, theatre professor and associate dean for undergraduate education in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. “We hope that audience members will relate to the plays in some way and will feel seen and validated, knowing that they are not alone in what they're going through.”

Piece of Mind was created from scripts submitted in early Fall 2022 by members of the AUC community. Fifty scripts were submitted and a committee of staff, faculty, alumni and students ultimately selected five finalists who received feedback from professional script writers during workshops.

Actors perform piece of mind plays on stage at Gerhart theatre

The five plays were perfected over winter break and cover a range of topics, including body image (Hide, written by alumnus Omar Omar in English); attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Dawsha written by student Zeina Shalaby in Arabic); Grief (WARD, written by student Nour El Coptan in Arabic); social media addiction (Alive, written by Campana in English) and Depression (Lissa, written by alum Youssef Omran in English and Arabic). 

"The edits and rewrites helped me refine the play. Thanks to feedback and workshopping from the team, It went from an underdeveloped idea to a story, one that hopefully sends a supporting message about mental health," said Shalaby.

Actor performs piece of mind plays on stage at Gerhart theatre

In addition to being performed at the Gerhart Theatre, Piece of Mind will also be seen by local high school students for matinee performances during the week as part of the annual Educational Outreach Theatre production that brings original plays to local schools. 

Piece of Mind is supported by the Mental Health and Well-being Initiative, the Center for Student Well-Being, the Department of Psychology and the Associate Provost for Research and Creative Work. It is produced by the theatre program in the Department of the Arts, School of Humanities and Social Sciences and overseen by Campana and alumni Noah Abdel Razek ‘20.


Al Maghreb Wa Al Mashreq: World-Renowned Moroccan Musician Nouamane Lahlou to Appear at AUC

Arts and Culture
December 20, 2022
Lahlou leans against a wall

As finals week comes to an end, AUC’s Department of the Arts, in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Cairo, is hosting a lecture-concert  by Moroccan artist Nouamane Lahlou as well as a Moroccan-themed reception at AUC New Cairo’s Malak Gabr Arts Theater this Thursday from 1 to 3 pm.

Lahlou is a singer, composer, author, music researcher and lecturer who is considered one of the most important Moroccan and Arab musicians of his generation. He has received multiple awards, including the Moroccan National Medal and Morocco’s Person of the Year Award.

Born in 1965 in Fez, Morocco, Lahlou entered the world of music and art at the age of 5 after being gifted a guitar. At 10 years old, he joined the Conservatory of Fez. Following years of playing with the group and studying, he left Morocco for the United States, where he further developed his musical talent while pursuing his studies.

Lahlou finally settled in Egypt, where his artistic career took off. In Cairo, he appeared as a singer and composer on radio and television and participated in the second conference of Arab music at the Egyptian Opera House. After gaining considerable acclaim, he returned to his home country to become a professional composer and researcher in Moroccan music.

Throughout his career, Lahlou has participated in festivals and has given lectures and workshops in major universities in Morocco, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

The lecture-concert will be attended by Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Egypt Ahmed Tazi. Lahlou will be accompanied by his band.

Learn more about the event here


In Photos: Mapping Time Exhibition Captures Decade of Experimental Art

Arts and Culture
December 18, 2022
Two displays at the Mapping Time exhibition at Tahrir Cultural Center

More than 87 art projects from AUC’s Visual Arts Program are on display now at the archival exhibition Mapping Time, held at Tahrir Cultural Center. The exhibition showcases drawings, digital prints, videos and installation art produced over the last ten years under the program.

Mapping Time Exhibition

Designed and supervised by Shady Elnoshokaty, associate professor of practice and director of AUC’s Visual Arts Program, the project explores how individuals understand time by examining three layers: present/reality, past/memory and future/fantasy. While varying greatly in appearance, each piece translates a well-researched idea into the visual structure of a map.

Mapping Time Exhibition

“The project was designed to create an educational experience that establishes a direct connection between experimental research and art education,” Elnoshokaty wrote. “This individual and collective undertaking results in an experience that is both profound and extensive for the group at large.”

Mapping Time Exhibition

Mapping Time is on display at AUC's Marriott, Margo Veillon, Legacy and Future galleries through Friday, December 30.


AUC Press Awards Fatma Qandil the 2022 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

Arts and Culture
December 12, 2022
Fatma Qandil receives 2022 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

AUC Press awarded the 2022 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to Egyptian author, poet, playwright and translator Fatma Qandil for her debut novel, Aqfas farigha (Empty Cages).

In their citation for the award, the judges described Aqfas farigha as “an unflinchingly honest portrayal of the relationships of violence that lie beneath the surface of an ordinary middle-class Egyptian family; relationships of gendered power,” continuing: “Confidently weaving the reader into the psychological texture of intimate and fraught relationships, Qandil tells a story of womanhood, family and loss, which will stay with the reader long after the final page.”

A longtime fan of Mahfouz, Qandil expressed her gratitude for receiving the award. “I consider myself fortunate to be part of a generation that had the privilege of waiting for Naguib Mahfouz’s latest book,” she said. “We got to read them when they were still fresh, and they changed my life. They were like letters written for me and me alone. I used to read them by myself, circling the treasured lines and writing in the margins. Each book became a part of my soul.”

Qandil dedicated the award to Arab female writers and young women. “They have many battles that they are destined to take up - against themselves, against the world, against their texts,” she said. “|Perhaps this prize will show them that recognition always comes in the end. This celebration is the true compensation for the price that we, women writers in this part of the world, have chosen to pay for the sake of the euphoria of writing and nothing else.” 

The Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature was established by AUC Press in 1996 and is awarded to the best contemporary novel published in Arabic in the previous two years. The winning novel is selected by the five jury members who make up the Mahfouz Award Committee: Shereen Abouelnaga, Thaer Deeb, Hussein Hammouda, Dina Heshmat and Adam Talib.

The award, recognized as a major contribution in support of contemporary Arabic literature in translation, consists of a cash prize of $5,000, as well as translation of the winning novel into English and publication under AUC Press’s fiction imprint Hoopoe. 

At the award ceremony, which was attended by writers and other distinguished personalities of Egyptian cultural life, AUC Press also celebrated the publication of the English translation of the 2021 winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody by Ahmed Taibaoui translated by Jonathan Wright.

Fatma Qandil was born in 1958 She is associate professor (emerita) in the Department of Arabic at Helwan University in Cairo and deputy editor-in-chief of Fusul, a magazine of literary criticism. She has published numerous collections of poetry, works of literary criticism and translations into Arabic, and her work has been translated into many languages worldwide.


It's Just One Bag, Isn't It? Upcoming AUC "Invisible" Performance at COP27

Arts and Culture
Abigail Flynn
October 31, 2022
A fish swims around plastic pollution in the ocean

“All the world’s a stage,”- Shakespeare (As You Like It)

What is the world, but a stage? Jillian Campana, professor of theatre and associate dean for undergraduate studies at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, will explore the relationship between art and life during “invisible theatre” performances at COP27. 

The play, titled It's Just One Bag, involves AUC student actors who will perform a conversation in conference exhibit rooms in which they argue about single-use plastic bags and their effect on Egypt’s environment. The interactive performance will ask the audience to examine why people choose to use single-use plastic instead of sustainable options and what impact these decisions have on their community. 

Invisible theater scripts are written using a hybrid form of traditional playwriting and improvisation. “We will have a few rehearsals on campus to challenge the actors to adjust their responses according to how spectators engage,” Campana says. “This type of theatre demands training in improvisation and deep research into the subject matter.”

The students will disguise the fact that their conversation is staged, leading the audience to perceive it as a real event. “Invisible theatre seeks to reach smaller audiences but to make a bigger impact with those small groups,” Campana explains. “When participants do not know they are seeing a rehearsed performance piece, they are more apt to engage with the dialog and share their own thoughts. Invisible theatre capitalizes on this by demanding audience participation.”

Around 43% of plastic waste in the Mediterranean comes from Egypt, much of which is single-use plastic. By making the audience an active participant in the art, It's Just One Bag will emphasize the importance of individual autonomy. Invisible theatre hinges on audience engagement, which the student actors are trained to encourage. 

“Many people think only large corporations and governments can help work toward solutions, but the truth is, if someone is not part of a solution, they are part of the problem,” says Campana. “And when people feel they are not part of the conversation and actively helping with the issue, they tend to ignore it. The more everyday citizens feel involved in helping with this issue, the more they will begin to make other changes. Big solutions take both large and small steps and the involvement of everyone.”


A Fresh Point of View on Middle Eastern Diasporas With AUC’s Ramy Aly

Arts and Culture
Devon Murray
October 4, 2022
Picture of Ramy Aly and his book
Ramy Aly holds the Routledge Handbook on Middle Eastern Diasporas

Ramy Aly, assistant professor and anthropology unit head, has co-edited the newly released Routledge Handbook on Middle Eastern Diasporas. The volume offers a fresh look at Middle Eastern diasporas, with chapters on matters as diverse as aging Turks in Sweden to Arabs in Toronto’s electronic music scene.

The book moves away from the area studies approach and methodological nationalism and instead approaches diasporic experiences along a set of terrains and experiences like making and remaking homes, livelihood and mobilities, expressions of diaspora in art and culture, how diasporic sensibilities are experienced and the notion of being plurilocal.

“Typically, readings on diaspora are all too often about ‘scary Middle Easterners’ going to other countries and causing problems because they aren’t able to adapt. This is a narrow understanding of the scale and the extent of the flow of people to and from the Middle East,” he said.

“The aim is to offer a set of readings on diaspora that foster more understanding and more nuance,” Aly explained. “When you read about Middle Easterners in Canada, for instance, you’re going to read about them through music — so you stop thinking of them as religious subjects or problems for the welfare state and instead begin to consider other aspects of their existence.”

An accumulation of three years of work, the book comprises 32 chapters by 31 contributors who identify as anthropologists, political scientists, art history academics and ethnomusicologists, among others. Aly himself is the co-author of the book’s introductory chapter, “Coming to and coming from the Middle East: The unfolding of diaspora,” with his co-editor and co-author Dalia Abdelhady, associate professor of sociology at Lund University (Sweden). 

Interacting with a variety of disciplines across the book’s chapters during the editing process, Aly described his experience navigating the challenges of transdisciplinary scholarship as an “exercise in academic tolerance.”

“During the writing process, it was challenging and interesting to push ourselves to be a bit more accepting of the fact that there are many different ways of looking at the world, but at the same time, maintain this need for interrogation and critique,” he recalled.

Born in London to Egyptian parents, growing up as part of a diaspora led Aly to complete his PhD on the subject and write his first book, Becoming Arab in London: Performativity and the Undoing of Identity. “Having moved to Egypt and shifted my research focus, I felt that this part of my academic life was drifting away, and then Dalia reached out,” he said, describing the book as a “lifeline” that pulled him back into the diaspora arena. “It means a lot to me, personally and professionally.”

Aly joined AUC’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Egyptology in 2013. His teaching covers a wide variety of subjects, including youth cultures, death and immorality, and the economy. 

“I feel very privileged to teach at AUC,” he said. “There is a sense of discovery and change as well as an edginess to contemporary anthropological knowledge that is particularly impactful amongst the students here. Personally, I have come of age as an academic at AUC.”

Having grounded himself at the University and in Egypt, Aly is now engaged in two main research projects. The first is a book about the hair cultures of young Egyptians and what these mean for our understanding of race, gender and class in Egypt. The second project focuses on ethical self-making through narratives of the 2011 revolution.

The Routledge Handbook on Middle Eastern Diasporas is dedicated to Aly’s daughter and Abdelhady’s son, both of whom are diasporic children. Aly has donated a copy of the book to the AUC Library with hopes that it will be useful to students and educators alike.