By Rana Khaled
In a dark room, background music playing, Michael Romany pours sand on the glass table in front of him. His hands are a blur as the grains flow through his fingers, forming moving pictures of Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Square, lifting signs, asking former president Hosni Mubarak to resign. Fingers flicking, he brings to life the screams of the martyrs’ mothers, the protester’s happiness upon learning Mubarak would step down, and Egypt’s hope for peace and equality.
Michael Romany, 26, is Egypt’s first sand artist. His shows record important turning points in Egypt’s history, such as the massacres at Port Said and Maspero, and Egypt’s charming natural beauty and immortal monuments.
With his art, he strives to record events “without intercalating my own political ideologies or affiliations,” he said.
A light beneath his glass table illuminates the movement of the sand. A camera, arranged vertically in order to catch the movements of his hands, captures the scene for his audience.
“It’s just like playing with shadows,” he said. “The sand prevents light from getting through the glass, creating silhouette shapes on the screen.”
Romany has been drawn to the arts since he was a child, when he liked to paint, draw, and experiment with different colour palettes.
“I’m an artist by nature,” he said.
But he didn’t learn about sand drawing until 2008, when he stumbled upon a video by a Korean sand artist on the internet.
“The idea was astonishing to me,” he said, “I was so interested in figuring out the tools and equipment the artist used.”
Sand drawing requires expertise in multiple artistic disciplines, including drawing, script writing, directing, music and lighting, he said.
Romany scoured the internet for information, but the art was still new, so he didn’t find much, he said. He spent hours watching videos, trying to deconstruct how other artists created figures and faces from mounds of sand. He drew upon his university education in mechanical engineering to install the necessary equipment and lights.
“I started practicing at home, then, I performed my shows at my friends’ birthdays, graduation ceremonies and wedding parties,” he said, “People started to post my videos on Facebook.”
He started to receive offers to perform and give training workshops at local and international venues, including the Opera House, El-Sawy Culturewheel, and cultural palaces. He has toured all the Egyptian governorates, and also travelled to Lebanon and Holland to perform.
Romany’s audience is made up primarily of young art students interested in learning about innovative approaches to art, he said.
Egypt’s art sector has struggled since the 25 January Revolution, he said, because money is tight, and investors have overlooked less mainstream techniques like sand art.
He called on the Ministry of Culture to support non-traditional art forms and asked the media to help raise awareness.
“Unfortunately, most Egyptians aren’t interested in arts except the famous types media focuses on such as cinema, singing and dancing,” he said.