It is now ten years since I first travelled to a small community on the southern edge of Luxor with a view to making a series of portraits of the people I met, and of those families I got to know very well through my time with them.
Little did I know when I first submitted a travel proposal almost exactly a decade ago of the opportunities that would arise from that first tentative discovery visit to make a series of portraits and that the work would continue for a few years to come.
With this most recent visit, I was once again asked where this interest in Luxor came from and how my series of portraits began. Although I had first travelled to Cairo and the Nile Valley many years earlier, the light, people, and history of this amazing country stayed with me. During the spring of 2006 two things had happened to make this project possible.
A friend had moved to the village of Alawamia to the south of Luxor earlier in the year and she often told me of how willing people were to sit for a drawing. It is to her that I thank for the many introductions that I made during my first two stays. Living within the community gave me the most insightful introduction to Egyptian life, customs and of how the local people live, day to day.
It was with this in mind that I wrote and submitted a proposal for the BP Travel Award 2006. It was during this year that my painting Contemplation was accepted for the prestigious annual international competition at the National Portrait Gallery, London. As a result shortlisted artists are eligible to submit a travel proposal to travel anywhere in the world to develop a series of portraits, and to collect information for future work. With my interest in Egypt and her people, along with the knowledge that my friend found it easy to find models and people to sit for her that I began to draft my proposal to make a series of portraits of everyday life within this community.
The proposal was well received and resulted in being shortlisted and interviewed for the award. Alas it was not to be that year. The concern and disbelief in particular of one of the all-female panel that a young female artist could go and work in such an environment I’m happy to say was wrong!
But as with all ideas that develop and grow, time being devoted to writing and research, the project becomes believable, that it could happen, so later that Autumn I set out to Luxor with a case packed with oil paints, sketchbooks and other materials to keep me going for the two week visit.
At the time, little did I realise how captivating and absorbing this series of works would become, the exhibition opportunities which would arise and of how different ideas and mediums would grow with each visit.
I will publish accounts of events, experiences and groups of portraits from time to time as I continue to draft this Portrait Journal.
The resulting portraits have been included in a number of exhibitions; Faces of Egypt, From London to Luxor & Luxor: People & Places – all at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, A Portrait of Egypt – Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery, Print Open – Royal West of England Academy, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Egypt Exploration Society conference – SOAS University of London, Egypt in it’s African Context Symposium at Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, Putney School of Art & Design and West Dean College.
Numerous lectures, talks and workshops have accompanied the exhibitions at some of the above venues and I was thrilled to be able to spend a day with the students at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Luxor talking about the project, techniques and processes alongside a display of portrait etchings.