The art of diplomacy

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

A cylindrical sculpture greets you at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the latest exhibition showcased at Zamalek Art Gallery. Aptly named, ‘The Guard’ gives a clue as to what awaits you from sculptor Elim Dutra’s collection to be found within.

The evening of Sunday, Oct. 21 saw a reception being held to mark the opening of the new season at the Cairo art establishment.

Although noticeably not the largest of venues, the beauty of the place is that it is possible to view all the works in a single visit, without leaving you with the sense of being overwhelmed by its size.

Wandering around the exhibition with little prior expectation of what I would find, I felt distinctly privileged to observe works of art that I am more accustomed to seeing lining the South Bank in London, not in a small art gallery on a busy Zamalek street.

I can honestly say that abstract sculpture is not exactly my area of expertise. But the works in Brazilian wood and Egyptian granite were powerful, bold statements. You couldn’t just pass them by, they deserved a second look and then another. They challenged the viewer to have a guess at what they were attempting to represent.

Abstract sculpture is supposed to focus on form, with the better sculptors able to convey feelings from conscious or unconscious intellectual, emotional and contextual content. These works certainly succeeded in doing that.

Elim Dutra is probably not your average sculptor, or artist for that matter. He is a diplomat, the Brazilian Ambassador to Egypt. His “love for sculpture began more than 30 years ago and has flourished in parallel with the demanding schedule of his diplomatic career.

He does not refer to sculpture as a “passion but instead something he considers “very important that never ends. He devotes any spare time he has to sculpting, essentially his weekends and holidays are devoted to the art form.

Studying the sculptures, I noted that the earlier works displayed had tended to be made from various types of wood while his more recent ones were in granite. Why the switch?

“I have worked with many materials – wood, marble, bronze and granite. I have been working with granite more since being posted to Egypt as it is readily available here, Dutra commented.

Fundamentally, he claims that it is “easy to work with both (wood and granite).

“Granite is obviously harder but wood is more difficult to work with as it has veins, he said.

When asked about which sculptors had influenced him, Dutra cited Constantin Brancusi and Brit Sir Henry Moore. Romanian Brancusi was known internationally for blending simplicity and sophistication, leading the way for modernist sculptors.

One of Dutra’s works on display is entitled “The Thinker, not surprisingly reminiscent of Frenchman Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture of the same name (“Le Penseur ). Dutra, though, said that Rodin was not an inspiration. But coincidentally, Brancusi spent two months learning his craft at Rodin’s atelier before deciding that he would not have a chance to shine under someone so well-known in the field.

Dutra works for maybe 20 days to complete each work. By the end of the process, he says he looks at it and then decides on an appropriate name, one that sums up what he feels it looks like.

As for the future, Dutra plans to continue his work with granite while in Egypt. I am in no doubt that the ambassador will likely have more exhibitions to come judging by his first foray into the Egyptian art gallery scene.

For details about the exhibition, please see Agenda.

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