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Sculptures Within Sculptures: How Magdy Abdou Recreates Ancient Cities

Visual artist Magdy Abdou channels his affinity for ancient civilizations by sculpting abstract representations of their primitive architecture within the life that would occupy them.

If for some odd reason you chose to read this before truly taking in the details within these sculptures, or you have but it’s just not sinking in, here’s the tale they tell. Magdy Abdou, an Alexandria-born Egyptian visual artist who mastered his craft in Carrara, Italy, carves rustic sculptures of primitive cities inspired by ancient civilizations and their architecture. Abdou does that inside sculptures of human or animal figures, such as a labyrinth of endless stairs and spaces inside something that could be viewed as a dog, or an anglo Nubian goat.

“The ambiguity is intentional, it builds an air of mystery to intrigue, as their abstract nature is meant to leave them open for interpretation,” Abdou tells SceneHome. In a nutshell, the visual artist’s concept is similar to an Escher painting, or the plot of Christopher Nolan’s Inception; a dream within a dream, but instead, it’s sculptures within sculptures. And, at times, within even more sculptures.

Abdou began sculpting in his native Alexandria, and while roaming the coastal city he would find himself captivated by abandoned buildings, imagining the life that used to occupy them hundreds - if not thousands - of years ago. “I would build scenarios wondering how people lived in them, about the clothes they wore and the food they ate,” Abdou says. “I tried to recreate this experience through these sculptures, and allow viewers the freedom of creating their own narratives around them.”

Leaving the cities empty allows us as viewers to see what we choose to see. Ultimately, the pieces reverse our perception of environments. Rather than being situated within them, it’s the other way around.

In his recent exhibition at Motion Art Gallery in Zamalek, titled ‘Kingly Remains’, Abdou applied his ingenious concept with a storyline following the many mediterranean legends he heard in his hometown. ‘Sunken Cities’ was the general theme, depicting architecture ranging from coptic and Ancient Egyptian, to Roman and Greek, in colours mimicking the process of deterioration and rust that time inflicts on relics of the past. If you were lucky to visit this exhibition and view the pieces up close, you would’ve noticed that deep within the tiny cities sculptured within figures, there are even smaller sculptures placed within their spaces.

To Abdou, depicting Ancient Egypt lied beyond replicating hieroglyphs and instead recreated the majestic aura often associated with the civilization. “Some pieces apply verticality to inspire awe, in an attempt to create the same feeling experienced when viewing our antiquities,” Abdou says, referring to the pieces that depict human and animal figures, and sometimes both, standing in an alerted position, still managing to withhold architectural elements within their narrow form.

Attempting to tell a legendary story about cities of antiquity sunken within animal figures and covered with rust, well, Abdou’s concept is ambitious and doesn’t appear to have an end. As their journey is meant to go on and on, smaller and smaller as he adds to his collections. Meant to be viewed from a broad perspective without zoning in on a precise aspect, the pieces present themselves in neutrality. Leaving all the possibilities of wonder for you and your contemplation. After all, art is best left open for interpretation, to test the depth of your imagination.