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Art Show Commemorates Nagy Shaker, Egyptian Puppet Master

An exhibition in Cairo commemorates the late Egyptian artist Nagy Shaker (1932-2018), puppet designer of what has been called the greatest Arab operetta ever recorded: “The Grand Night”.

The show opened at Helwan University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in the central district of Zamalek on February 16, 90th anniversary of Shaker’s birth. A week later it moved to the Center for Culture and Arts in Helwan.

Omnia Yahya, the university’s vice dean for community service affairs and coordinator of the exhibition, told Al-Fanar Media that he hoped it “will inspire art students in every place and field”.

Yahya was a student of Nagy Shaker, who spent more than half a century as a professor in the decoration department at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

The exhibition, “The Inspiring Artist Nagy Shaker, a Perpetual Creativity”, includes examples of his work from childhood to the last stages of his career and sheds light on his contributions to multiple practices in art, Yahya said.

“The late artist was a professor in the true sense, and gave his students an awareness of their creative energies. Nagy Shaker had multiple talents poured into one broad path of contribution.”

Heba Helmy
A visual artist

Born in Al Zaitoun District in Cairo, Nagy Shaker graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1957 after completing a diploma project on puppetry. Two years later, he designed puppets and decorations for the play “Al Shater Hassan”.

Before joining the Faculty of Fine Arts as a teaching assistant in the same year, he worked in journalism, designing the covers of the Egyptian magazine “Sabah Al-Khair”. Visitors to the exhibition can see many of his pictures of the daily lives of ordinary Egyptian workers and peasants, side by side with a group of portraits which he made when he was fifteen years old.

‘An Exceptional Talent’

“Nagy Shaker’s drawings and paintings demonstrate his abilities at an early age, and indicate that he possessed an exceptional talent,” said the artist Mohamed Banawi, professor of mural painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

On the way to the exhibition hall is a screen showing a documentary movie by the young director Youssef Nasser on Shaker’s artistic journey, with comments by his students. The late artist was “a believer in the importance of overture to global experiences” while retaining pride in his original identity, according to Omnia Yahya.

Nagy Shaker became famous for his design of the puppets for “The Grand Night”, which won second prize at the Bucharest International Puppet Festival in 1960.

The exhibition, “The Inspiring Artist Nagy Shaker, a Perpetual Creativity”, includes models of his work from childhood to the last stages of his career and sheds light on his contributions to multiple practices in art, Yahya said.

Born in Al Zaitoun District in Cairo, Nagy Shaker graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1957 after completing a diploma project on puppetry. Two years later, he designed puppets and decorations for the play “Al Shater Hassan”.

Before joining the Faculty of Fine Arts as a teaching assistant in the same year, he worked in journalism, designing the covers of the Egyptian magazine “Sabah Al-Khair”. Visitors to the exhibition can see many of his pictures of the daily lives of ordinary Egyptian workers and peasants, side by side with a group of portraits which he made when he was fifteen years old.

‘An Exceptional Talent’

“Nagy Shaker’s drawings and paintings demonstrate his abilities at an early age, and indicate that he possessed an exceptional talent,” said the artist Mohamed Banawi, professor of mural painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

On the way to the exhibition hall is a screen showing a documentary movie by the young director Youssef Nasser on Shaker’s artistic journey, with comments by his students. The late artist was “a believer in the importance of overture to global experiences” while retaining pride in his original identity, according to Omnia Yahya.

Nagy Shaker became famous for his design of the puppets for “The Grand Night”, which won second prize at the Bucharest International Puppet Festival in 1960.

Gallery

The operetta, written by the poet Salah Jaheen, with songs composed by Sayed Makkawi and directed by Salah El Sakka, recounts the activities in an Egyptian village on the last night of moulid, the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday.

The 40-minute black-and-white animated movie became an instant success in the Arab world. An updated version in full colour is due to be released this year

Work in Film and Theatre

Shaker designed puppets and stage decor for plays such as “Sahrah Ma’a Al Jarimah”, written by Tawfiq Al Hakim and directed by Hassan Abdel Salam, for the Modern Theatre, and “Al Zeer Salem”, written by Alfred Farag and directed by Hamdi Ghaith for the National Theatre.

He also collaborated with film director Youssef Shahin (1926-2008), from his early movie “Baba Amin” (1950), until Shahin’s death. Shaker took over the design of the decorations for some movies, as well as the design of advertising posters. The exhibition highlights many of these designs, including the work he did for “Shafiqa and Metwally” (1978).

“Nagy Shaker’s paintings demonstrate his capabilities at an early age, and indicate that he possessed a remarkable talent compared to his age at the time.”

Mohamed Banawi
Professor of mural painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University

During his last years, the artist designed advertising posters for several film festivals, including the Luxor and Sharm El Sheikh festivals for Arab and European cinema. In 2015, he won the State Merit Award in the field of arts.

The plastic artist and potter Heba Helmy paid tribute to Nagy Shaker’s role during her academic years, saying he “practiced professionalism in its true sense, and enabled his students to realize their creative energies.”.

Helmy described the eight years she spent as a member of Shaker’s team as “the most important” in her life. “Nagy Shaker had multiple talents poured into one broad path of contribution, so he inundated all of his students, and remained for them in the status of a teacher,” she told Al-Fanar Media.

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Nagy Shaker directed one experimental film, entitled “Saif 70”, in conjunction with the Italian director Paolo Isaba in 1970. It is now in the Experimental Film Library at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York.

After his death on August 19, 2018, Shaker’s students decided to establish a museum bearing his name, as part of a series of museums affiliated with the Library of Alexandria.

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By: Sayyid Mahmoud

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