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Return to Minya

Date Added: March 04, 2010 09:47:17 PM
Author: Administrator
Category: Arts & Humanities

Return to Minya

Author: The Art Ministry

Internationally acclaimed for her paintings of Egyptian Tombs and Temples, Judi Barrowman’s work is fresh and compelling. Her passion for Egypt and ancient Egyptian art knows no bounds. Based in England, Judi spends the half of her time trawling the deserts of Egypt in search of new images amongst the ancient ruins. Judi studied Fine Arts at the Reigate School of Art and at Alliance Francaise in Paris.

A visit to Egypt in 1985 struck a cord when Judi embarked on an extensive trip across the desert exploring ancient tombs and temples. The places she visited inspired her to pursue an unusual creative direction. She decided to re-capture and interpret what the ancient Egyptian scribes and artists were trying to achieve, she explains that “the paintings in the rock-cut tombs at Luxor speak directly of their owners’ lives, showing an idealised version of what they had achieved in this life and what they longed for in the next – modern life, contemporary aspect of art, and how they mingle with and are influenced by the ancient – this is what fascinates me”.

In this article, Judi Barrowman writes with energy and great sense of adventure about her return to Egypt under armed guard and how it captured and inspired her.

“There is no tourism in Minya” said the man, a passenger, on the Alexandria to Minya train, “Then why are you going - there is nothing interesting or of value there? Nothing at all”. As before, heads were shaken in disbelief, when I announced my intention to visit the area for the first time in 1999.

During the 90s, Middle Egypt had been ‘off limits’ to foreigners for several years, since the introduction of military law to quell blood-lusting activities of Gema’al Islamiyya. Names like Mallawi, Dayrout, Samalout, and almost all districts of the Egyptian governorate of Minya became known for their political violence. By the end of the 90s the situation was more stable and although I had steered clear of the area, researching in tombs further south, now seemed ‘as good a time as any’ to set aside those debilitating suspicions of popular bias and head for Middle Egypt.

The old town of el Minya, my base for a few days, was known as the Bride of Upper Egypt because of her close proximity to the south. The town had suffered badly during these troubled times; she was but a shadow of her former glorious self. Her fine ‘turn of the century’ buildings, once homes to wealthy Greek and Egyptian cotton magnates languished, in a state of terminal decay and the bellicosity of military occupation. Outside Minya I discovered areas of extraordinary beauty, a richness and plethora of archaeological sites second only to Thebes and a cultural heritage harking back to Predynastic Egypt (c.4000 BCE).

Driving out at sun-rise to ‘off the beaten track’ tombs was and still is the biggest adrenalin booster I know. Here, a Pharoahnic temple just a stone’s throw away from the remains of a Roman city and early Islamic cemetery. There, an early Christian Basilica built on the foundation of a Pharaohnic city with modern life encroaching all around, depictions of which wouldn’t be out of place on the tomb walls.

Apart from the odd itinerant traveller or committed Egyptologist, most foreigners (and many Egyptians) avoided Middle Egypt ‘like the plague’. When they did venture to the region they were immediately scooped up by an officious military who accompanied them everywhere and I mean everywhere! “It is for your protection Madam” said the Egyptian ‘Maigret’ (French detective), as he stood guard outside the lavatory door in the monastery compound. A curfew, also hampering the movement of foreigners, was set just before ‘turning out time’ for the Egyptian workforce (5.p.m). During this time archaic trucks or ‘cane crates’ as they are affectionately known, piled high with sugar cane, would groan, often two abreast, along the busy highways, making driving a harrowing business.

Equally harrowing was the stressful business of driving in a police convoy, not least for the hapless taxi driver charged with transporting the foreigner. The sometimes belligerent paramilitary, itching for action, would speed up in the crowded streets, two guards perched precariously on the back flap of their blue military pick-up, fingers on triggers as they scanned the buildings for snipers. Compelled to keep as close to the rear of the pickup as possible, was a difficult and frenzied task for the taxi driver and one that surely advertised the existence of ‘the foreigner within’, to the ever-present militants.

Five years on, with the abandonment of military rule, the illuminated mountains of el Minya light up, ‘Hollywood style’ and invite one to view the city from high up. The beautiful old buildings with their faded elegance are still crumbling yet it is clear to see that the life blood and character are slowly returning to the town. A kind of normality, mixed with optimism and pride now prevails and it is possible for a foreigner to walk along the corniche or even into town, without the outward presence of a military guard.

The man on the Alexandria to Minya train was right there is no tourism in Minya - but why not? The area is simply bursting with interest and value, and has all the ingredients to satisfy any hungry non-conformist traveller or artist in search of inspiration and adventure.

For further information on Judi Barrowman visit her website and view her full collection of paintings and photographs depicting tombs and temples of ancient Egypt.

© 2007 Judi Barrowman/The Art Ministry. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Based in London, England The Art Ministry sources and commissions original works of art and collections to meet specific customer tastes and market trends and to supply the growing demand for life defining and inspiring products.

In addition to creating a viable and supportive environment in which artistic talent can flourish and reward committed artists with tangible success, both creatively and financially.

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