Watani International

What’s t to become of L’Atelier?

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L’Atelier D’Alexandrie (The Alexandria Atelier), which has since its establishm­ent in 1 34 been a convergenc­e zone for culture and art lovers, today faces an uncertain future. A -anuary 2022 ruling by the Court of Cassation,

Egypt’s highest court, confirmed one by a lower court to terminate the rental relation between the Atelier and the owners of the Alexandria villa that housed the Atelier since 1 56.

The ruling put an end to a years-long legal battle in which the owners attempted to claim their magnificen­t turn-of-the century villa on Victor Bassili Street while the tenant sought to remain there in its capacity as a prestigiou­s cultural entity of huge public benefit.

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In accordance with the court ruling, a formal handover of the villa was carried out on 23 -anuary 2022, in presence of prosecutor­s and police officers. Executing the handover were Atelier board members: artists Hany al-Sayed and Mohsen Abdel-Fattah; poet Gaber Bassiouny; and film-critic Samy Helmy; and representa­tives of the villa owners.

All legal and historic documents, as well as the marble plaTue that bears the name “L’Atelier” were removed from the building and taken for safekeepin­g by one of the Atelier board members. But the large pieces such as an old, historic piano; oil paintings by pioneering artists; antiTue cinema screening devices; furnaces for burning ceramics; and other items had to remain in formal custody of the owners for two weeks.

L’Atelier’s Samy Helmy could not hide his bitter disappoint­ment at the manner in which the court ruling was executed. He told :DWDQ that, contrary to the norm of a court ruling taking a few months to be implemente­d, this one was speedily executed “without even notifying us of the date of execution. We were taken unawares; we hadn’t even been given the time to make provision for some place to which to move the Atelier’s possession­s.

“Given the great cultural value of the Altelier,” Mr Helmy continued, “we had been hoping for some compromise to resolve the villa issue. Alexandria Governor Muhammad al-Sherif had promised to give the Atelier an alternativ­e adeTuate place that would allow it to go on with its

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cultural and artistic mission, but has so far not done so even though the governorat­e owns several such places in Downtown Alexandria.”

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For 87 years, L’Atelier D’Alexandrie has been a name synonymous with culture and the fine arts, boasting among its sponsors and protégés figures through whom Egypt’s contempora­ry art movement was born and on whose shoulders its various schools flourished and thrived.

It has hosted on premises countless artists to work there and display their artworks in exhibition­s of an eclectic choice of genres and works of painting, sculpture or installati­on. It has also organised conference­s, debates and screenings of films by internatio­nal producers. Its literary, cultural, and artistic activity has always been in perpetual movement.

Until execution of the recent court ruling, L’Atelier was housed in the magnificen­t villa on Victor Bassili Street. The villa was built in 1 25 by Greek tycoon 1ikola Tamvaco and later sold to the Alexandria­n Syrian wood merchant Edward .aram who commission­ed all the splendid wood panelling and floors that remain today.

In 1 34, .aram sold the villa to Banco di 5oma which rented it to the great artist Muhammad 1agy (1888 1 56). 1agy was among the founders of the modern Egyptian art movement, and establishe­d the modern painting school of Egypt. In 1 56, the Italian bank rented the villa to the Alexandria Atelier which remained there as tenant until its recent eviction; the villa meanwhile had changed hands among several owners.

Over the years, L’Atelier has created a space for connection between Egyptian and non-Egyptian painters, musicians, poets and writers. And the Egyptian masters who interacted with their counterpar­ts from many places in the world came to impact generation after generation of people in Egypt. The Atelier thus has always represente­d a continuum of rich history and learning. Today, the prayer on the lips and hearts of Alexandria­ns goes: “May that continuum never be interrupte­d.”

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