The Rare Books and Special Collections Library RBSCL at the American University in Cairo AUC inaugurated an exhibition featuring the collections of Ramses Wissa Wassef titled, “Ramses Wissa Wassef: The Architect and the Artist.” The celebration was attended by Richard A. Bartlett, chairman of the Board of Trustees; Lisa Anderson, AUC president; and the Wassef family.
“November 11, 2011 was the celebration of Wassef’s birth; hence we consider this year his centennial; it is a good occasion to honor him as one of the pioneers in implementing sustainable architecture,” said Conchita Schirgi, architect and curator of regional architecture collections at the RBSCL. According to Schirigi, the exhibit reveals the multi-faceted nature of Ramses Wissa Wassef as an artist, architect, humanitarian and sustainability forerunner whose work continues to influence art and society today.
“This exhibition is a chance to expose Wassef’s work and philosophy to a larger public and to inspire our AUC community to take a second look at this artistic genius,” said Schirgi, “the purpose of RBSCL is to use the materials and information contained in those holdings to assist students and other scholars in undertaking research that not only justifies their being conferred a degree but also in the hope that the results of this research will have positive benefits for others: the community, the nation and the world,” she added.
Influenced by the beauty and splendor of the medieval neighborhoods of Cairo, Wassef put his heart, mind and hands to work to revive the traditional building crafts and architecture of Egypt. This emphasis on Egyptian heritage is evident in his first known architectural project, the new Lycée Français du Caire 1936, which replaced the original French school where he had studied. He designed other school buildings between 1936 and 1940, including the Lycée Franco-Egyptien d’Heliopolis and the College Français du Daher, among others.
“We extend our gratitude to AUC for helping us preserve Wassef’s work,” said Ikram Nosshi, an architect and Wassef’s son-in-law, “We thought of AUC (for the exhibition) because we know it’s a safe home where Wassef’s work will be preserved and accessible for future generations to learn from it.”
Wassef’s interest in the arts is reflected in his design of museums for prominent artists, including the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum (1960) and Habib Gorgi Museum in Cairo (1967). Churches represent another major area of Wassef’s work. Among the most well-known churches he designed were the Mar Girigis St. George Coptic Church in Heliopolis 1954 and the Virgin Mary Marashly Church in Zamalek 1957. In addition, he designed and constructed a number of private residences around Cairo, including the villas of Fikri Boutrus 1947 and Princess Naima Ibrahim 1948.
His frustration with the prevailing, contemporary educational methods played a formative role in his work to establish and guide the artistic community at Harraniyah village in Giza. The creative works of Wassef’s Art Center at Harraniyah, including tapestries, ceramics and batiks, received international recognition during and after Wassef’s lifetime, through awards, publications and exhibitions around the globe. Emphasizing the applied arts, he tirelessly promoted the idea that “one cannot separate beauty from utility, form from material, work from function, and man from his creative art.”
The exhibition is open at the AUC Library February 19 to June 28. It is open to visitors on Sundays and Tuesdays from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. For more information about the Exhibition, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org ; or call at 02.2.2615.2923, 02.2.2615.3094, 02.2.2615.3676.
The Tapestry Collection Museum in Wassef’s Art Centre at Harraniyah will be hosting an exhibition for Wassef’s work March 15, 2012 through the end of the year.
The RBSCL supports research and teaching in the arts, culture, and society of Egypt and the Middle East. The library documents ancient, medieval, and modern Egypt and the wider region, with particular areas of focus in Egyptology, Islamic Art and Architecture, and travel literature.