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February 10, 2014

Coptic childrenOne of Abbas’ brilliant photos, titled simply, “EGYPT. Deir El-Adra, copt village near Minya. 1997”

Abbas is an Iranian-French photographer who has dedicated himself to documenting the political and social life of societies in conflict. In his major work since 1970 he has covered wars and revolutions in Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid. In 1981 he joined Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative owned by its photographer-members, with offices located in New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, and in 1985 he became a member.[1]

One of his photographic projects is “Egypt, Christianity”, which he executed in 1997, and is now available in the Magnum Photos website. It contains some beautiful and interesting photos of various aspects of Coptic life in Old Cairo, the Red Sea Monasteries, and from Minya in Upper Egypt (mainly from the Monastery of the Pulley[2]). The reader can view the photos here (three pages). Some photos are non-Coptic but the majority are of Copts.

I consider the photograph reproduced above as one of the best of Abbas’ collection, “Egypt, Christianity”. It shows poor but happy and lovely Coptic children. On the wall is a drawing of Jesus Christ and a writing, “God is love”. It seems to have been drawing by an amateur Copt by the name of Baulis Guirguis. There are palm marks and a cross made of blood of a slaughtered animal, which is often done to feed the poor in Coptic “mulids”.  The village, near the Convent of the Pulley, is mostly inhabited by Copts.

[2] The Convent of the Pulley (Deir el Adra or the Monastery of the Virgin Mary) at Gabal al-Tayr, Minya Governorate, Upper Egypt. For more on the Convent of the Pulley, read the relevant articles, Part I, II, III and IV.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. greekasianpanda permalink
    February 11, 2014 4:51 am

    I was so surprised when I saw this because I recently discovered Abbas’ work only some weeks ago! There was something I was wondering about that particular photo: isn’t the Sacred Heart usually Catholic imagery? I suppose theological niceties don’t matter to poor villagers, but I found it mildly peculiar.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      February 11, 2014 5:55 am

      Thank you. The Sacred Heart indeed does not feature in Coptic art but the peculiary Catholic imagery is found in many Coptic homes and places, in urban and rural areas, rich or poor. Western imagery of Saint Mary are also popular. I don’t think Copts see in them theological significance – they simply adore the images. Thank God there has not been a theological fight about them. Despite their popularity, traditional, Orthodox religious imagery still dominate, and so those who want to retain and promote traditional Coptic iconographic art feel relaxed about them.

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