Gamal el-Sigini was a sculptor and medalist born in the neighborhood of Bab al-Shaariya in Cairo. He grew up near the Khan al-Khalili market and was impressed as a child by the craftsmanship of the metalworkers and goldsmiths established in this area. He joined the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1933, where he studied under the Saint Petersburg born Swedish sculptor Boris Frödman-Cluzel (1878 - 1959). In 1937, el-Sigini won the Mahmoud Moukhtar Prize for sculpture, which was created by intellectual and feminist Huda Shaarawi in 1935 to commemorate the death of the renowned sculptor, Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891 - 1934). El-Sigini graduated in 1938, and in 1945 founded the Group Sawt al-Fannān (The Voice of the Artist) that promoted young Egyptian artists and inspired the art critic Muhammad Sidqi al-Gabakhangi to establish a monthly art review with the same name.
El-Sigini traveled to Paris at his own expense and discovered the works of Rodin, Brancusi, Bourdelle and Maillol. In Egypt, he was a member of the Group of Modern Art founded in 1947 with his contemporaries; Hamed Owais, Gazbia Sirry, Zeinab Abdel Hamid, Salah Yousri and Youssef Sida. The same year, el-Sigini received a scholarship to pursue his studies in metalwork and sculpture in Rome. When he returned to Egypt in 1951, he established his studio in the neighborhood of Zamalek and was appointed as a professor of sculpture at the School of Fine Arts in Cairo. In 1958, he moved to Alexandria to head the department of sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts just after its creation by sculptor Ahmad Osman (1907 - 1970). El-Sigini left this post in 1964, when he was named director of the section of sculpture at the School of Fine Arts in Cairo. In 1969, because his works and those of his contemporaries were not commissioned for public spaces, he threw a number of his sculptures into the Nile to express his frustration. El-Sigini traveled to Spain for his last exhibition at the Center for Mediterranean Studies in Barcelona, where he died in November 1977 at the age of sixty.
Gamal el-Sigini produced numerous works, using a diversity of materials, such as bronze, stone, copper, wood and leather. He developed an original technique of hammered red copper for executing low-reliefs inspired by ancient Egyptian art. From the 1950's, he sculpted social realist works dealing with intensely idealistic and patriotic themes. Although the message of his works was often political, el-Sigini created a poe tic style characterized by the introduction of symbols, such as the dove or the snake, as well as his own calligraphy using the signs of an imaginary language. He sculpted allegorical reliefs of several places in Egypt, such as the Nile, Alexandria or Cairo, and often interpreted the image of motherhood as a representation of his homeland.
A recurrent subject in his work used as a symbol of Egypt is the carūsa, a bridal sugar-doll traditionally sold on the occasion of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet (mawlid an-nabawī). After the defeat of the Six-Day War in 1967, el-Sigini, like many artists of his generation, expressed his disillusion and despair in his work. He conveyed this through the figure of a mutilated or hanged carūsa. El-Sigini produced several statues of Egyptian public figures and in 1958, won the governmental competition for the monument of the poet Ahmad Shawqi (1868 - 1932) to be placed in the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome. Two copies of this sculpture stand today in Cairo in front of the poet's Museum and inside the Opera House.
Besides being a sculptor, el-Sigini was a talented medalist and produced numerous medals in copper, silver and gold for various official occasions, such as the medals of the Alexandria Biennial from 1955 until the end of the 1970's. He also designed projects for monuments, such as the reliefs for the monument of the Unknown Soldiers in Port Saïd and a monument of the October Victory, which was intended to be placed at the entrance of the Suez Canal but was finally not executed. El-Sigini is the author of a series of paintings inspired by rural life, sail boats and the figure of the carūsa. His works can be seen at the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art in Cairo, the Opera House in Cairo, the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome, as well as in the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
|1959||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|1958||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|1958 ||International Exhibition in Brussels, Belgium|
|1957 ||International Exhibition in Moscow, Russia|
|1956||Venice Biennial, Italy|
|1955||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
Awards and Honors
|1962||Egyptian State Merit Award|
|1937||Mahmoud Mokhtar Prize for sculpture founded by Egyptian intellectual and feminist Huda Shaarawi|
Modern Egyptian art, sculpture, Group of Modern Art, Sawt al-Fannān, social realism, Egyptian ancient art, monuments, medals, decorative reliefs.
Iskandar, Rushdī, al-Mallākh, Kamāl, al-Shārūnī, Ṣubḥī. 80 sana min al-fann: 1908-1988, (Eighty Years of Art: 1908-1988). Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1991.
Al-Mallākh, Kamāl, Jamāl al-Sijīnī (Gamal el-Sigini). Cairo: General Information Organization, 1985.
Karnouk, Liliane. Modern Egyptian Art (1910-2003). Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2005.
Link to artworks and article about Gamal el-Sigini at Zamalek Art Gallery: http://www.zamalekartgallery.com/en_artist.php?artistID=161
- Title unknown, n.d
Hammered copper on wood, 48 x 26 x 3.5 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
- Emma Caly-Ayad
Gamal el-Sigini in his Studio, 1953
Oil on canvas, dimensions unknown
Private collection, source: al-Mallākh, Kamāl, Gamāl al-Sijīnī (Gamal el-Sigini). Cairo: General Information Organization, 1985.
- The Poet Ahmad Shawqi, 1958
Plaster, dimensions unknown
Garden of the Wax Museum in Helwan, photograph by Nadia Radwan (2011)
- Motherhood, 1960
Bronze, 43 x 40 x 20 cm
Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery, Cairo