The landscape of Egypt’s Giza Plateau and its famed pyramids has changed dramatically over the millennia. When it was first built around 2600 B.C.E., the Great Pyramid featured a gleaming gold cap on its peak, and its sides shone bright white thanks to a finish of polished limestone. The Great Sphinx, meanwhile, might have originally depicted an ordinary lion rather than a mythical creature.
More than 4,500 years after their creation, the pyramids have lost their sheen, and the reclining sphinx’s head has long since been chiseled into its current human form. The changes don’t stop there. As Aimee Dawson writes for the Art Newspaper, contemporary artists continue to reinterpret the historic site with enormous, site-specific installations, including French artist JR’s Greetings From Giza, which seemingly levitates the top of Giza’s second-largest pyramid.
JR’s illusion is one of ten works highlighted in “Forever Is Now,” a first-of-its-kind exhibition that debuted on the Giza Plateau last week and will remain on view through November 7. A private Egyptian art firm, Art D’Éypte, organized the show in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Unesco, reports Taylor Dafoe for Artnet News.
“The pyramids have a long, illustrious history ... that has fascinated and inspired artists from all over the world,” says Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, Art D’Égypte’s director and founder, in a statement. “I’m thrilled to share what will be an unforgettable encounter with the union of art, history and heritage.”
For the exhibition, ten contemporary artists from around the world created bespoke works of art that encourage viewers to see different elements of the ancient site in a new light. (Find a map with locations of each work on Art D’Éypte’s Facebook page.) Featured creatives include American artist Gisela Colón, Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr, and Egyptian-born and Los Angeles–based artist Sherin Guirguis. “Forever Is Now” also spotlights Ai-Da, an “ultrarealistic robot artist” that was detained by Egyptian customs for ten days due to suspicions that it was a spy, reports Nadia Khomami for the Guardian.
Art D’Égypte spokesperson Mariam El Tagoury tells Daily News Egypt’s Nehal Samir that organizers hope to attract both contemporary art lovers and individuals interested in the history of area.
“The contemporary art scene has its enthusiasts in Egypt … but we do hope to make it more accessible and relatable to a wider audience,” El Tagoury says.
Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn calls the opportunity to create a piece for the exhibition a “true honor,” per the Art Newspaper. His sculpture, Together, features two enormous human hands whose fingertips touch to create an arch over the pyramids in the distance (at least when viewed from the right angle).
“I decided to create a site-specific sculpture that would hopefully not interfere with the surroundings but somehow support their majestic timeless beauty, a sculpture that would outline the human connection throughout time,” says Quinn in a statement posted on Facebook.
In the trompe-l'oeil installation from JR, the tip of the Pyramid of Khafre appears to magically hover above its base. The mirage is captured in a photograph that itself is held aloft by a disembodied hand. (In a 2016 installation at another famous site, JR decorated the Louvre’s modern glass pyramid to create the illusion that it had disappeared, blending into the Paris museum’s Gothic palace façade.)
Constructed from mesh and steel, JR’s Greetings From Giza also consists of a for-sale digital component: namely, 4,591 non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Each individual NFT is meant to represent a year since the pyramid was built by Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre around 2570 B.C.E., notes JR on his website.
Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Khufu commissioned the Great Pyramid, the largest of the three Giza pyramids, to serve as the final resting place for himself and his queen. Originally about 481 feet tall (it’s since lost about 31 feet to erosion), the monument towered over all other humanmade structures in the world for the next four millennia, according to PBS.
To construct the Great Pyramid, ancient Egyptians labored for nearly three decades, quarrying, transporting, smoothing and stacking nearly six and a half million tons of stone. Popular Hollywood-fueled myth holds that enslaved people built the pyramids. In reality, however, most modern researchers argue that the enormous structures were constructed by paid laborers who were “not [enslaved] at all, at least in the modern sense of the word,” as archaeologist Mark Lehner told Jonathan Shaw of Harvard magazine in 2003.