"East-West: The Art of Dialogue" Aiming to Create a Tidal Wave of Understanding: Shafik Gabr, the Egyptian Investor, Art Collector and Philanthropist Has Set Up a New Foundation to Foster the Art of Dialogue, with the Aim of Allowing Each to Understand "The Other"

By Wells, Rhona | The Middle East, December 2012 | Go to article overview

"East-West: The Art of Dialogue" Aiming to Create a Tidal Wave of Understanding: Shafik Gabr, the Egyptian Investor, Art Collector and Philanthropist Has Set Up a New Foundation to Foster the Art of Dialogue, with the Aim of Allowing Each to Understand "The Other"


Wells, Rhona, The Middle East


S A YOUNG MAN, GABR TRAVELLED FROM Egypt to Europe, then on to India and Africa. He feels strongly that although we communicate, and in the modern world we do communicate constantly via Twitter, face book and emails, we still do not always understand each other. It is with this in mind that he established the Shafik Gabr Foundation, with the aim of promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of the Middle East, Europe and US through dialogue and the exchange of ideas. "As gaps in understanding between East and West open up at many levels, there is a need for significant bridge building and new platforms for people-to-people communication, perhaps more than any other time in modern history"

Next spring, Gabr's philanthropic foundation in conjunction with an independent US-based human rights organisation, Humanity in Action,

will sponsor exchanges between young and emerging leaders in the arts, sciences, law, media, business and social entrepreneurship drawn from the Arab world and the West. The selected 'fellows' will participate in two-week exchange programmes. Gabr hopes it will be the beginning of an endeavour that will result in other East-West exchanges over years to come. The aim is to develop from a small ripple to a huge wave of cultural understanding.

"I have a very strong feeling about the importance of bridge building," Gabr said. 'I've had huge concerns as I've witnessed the world spiraling into more conflict, that there would be more misperception, more conflict and clashes between East and West. The Orientalists inspired me. I call them early globalists."

The initiative is being be launched at a series of panel discussions held in London and Washington-accompanied by the publication of a new book "Masterpieces of Orientalist Art: The Shafik Gabr Collection." These panel discussions will be followed by events in 2013 in Paris, Cairo and Istanbul.

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The inaugural event in London on 15 November included a conversation between Gabr and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as panel discussions involving leading figures from the diplomatic, art, business and media worlds chaired by the journalist and television presenter Nik Gowing. Panelists included Sir Sherard Cowper Coles, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, Lord Poltimore, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby's Europe and Hussein Fahmy, actor and former President of the Cairo International Film Festival. The panels discussed the influence of the Orientalists on the art of dialogue as well as the East-West challenges the world currently faces.

The Orientalist painters were early communicators, offering the West images of the East; however, their depiction of the East sometimes led to increased stereotyping. Art is a social engagement that opens up new horizons and the traffic of ideas, according to Dr Anthony Downey, Director of the Masters' Programme in Contemporary Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art.

"Orientalism is the most extensive record of East-West relations and all art can be reinterpreted in today's world. …

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