No nudes is bad news for Egypt art school
3 Jun 2008
CAIRO: One hundred years after it was founded, Cairo's School of Fine Arts seeks to train Egypt's artists but has to make do without nude "life" drawing classes so as not to offend Islam. It is in this academic hive, sheltered inside a neo-classical villa on the chic island of Zamalek, that 2,500 students come from around the country, with most of the female students these days veiled. Ever since it was set up by the patron Prince Yussef Kamal in 1908, modelled on European art schools, the great names of Egyptian art have passed through.
The long list started in 1911 with the father of Egyptian sculpture, Mahmud Mokhtar, and includes the best-known pioneers of modern Egyptian art like Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Sabri and Ragheb Ayyad.
The school was recognised as a national institute of higher education in 1927. But the time has gone when you would learn to draw, paint or sculpt the human body and its movement, as in some other parts of the world, facing a nude model. "We no longer have anything but anatomy books and photos," says a student Ahmed Gamel, 20. A naked model would be 'haram', or forbidden, under Islam. "It just happened, without a decree, in the 70s. There never used to be a problem," says a professor. Like the dancers at Cairo's Opera House, the models must be covered head-to-toe. Bellydancing, also considered an artform by some, is in decline in Egypt, with dancers considered sinners by the majority.
The devout say that Islam forbids any human representation in art. At the start of the 20th century, a reformist Mohammed Abdu tried to argue that such a restriction was anachronistic. (Source)