Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Egyptian artist Sami Rafi dies at 88

Rafi designed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Anwar Sadat's resting place

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Egyptian artist Sami Rafi was completed in 1975. Alamy
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Egyptian artist Sami Rafi was completed in 1975. Alamy

The Egyptian artist Sami Rafi has died at the age of 88. Rafi was a celebrated public artist whose work graces Metro stations throughout Cairo, and who created the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates the War of Attrition against Israel of 1967-70 and the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

Rafi studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo and pursued a scholarship in Vienna before returning to Egypt. His work was influenced by Egypt’s Pharaonic past, contemporary forms of Arabic calligraphy, and the daily life of Egyptians, and often straddled the divide between visual art, architecture and design.

He worked at the Egyptian Opera House as a stage designer for a number of productions, and his work graces around 15 Metro stations in Cairo, with images of weavers and sailors; Muslims and Copts embracing in expressions of religious tolerance; and – at the university stop – books that transform into pigeons taking flight.

Rafi’s best-known project is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, in north-eastern Cairo, which he completed in 1975. It consists of four concrete slabs, clad in block-like calligraphy, that form a hollow pyramid. The centre of the structure, where a pharaoh might have been interred, is left open to the elements and the visitors who pass under the structure.

The project was commissioned by then-president Anwar Sadat at the end of the Arab-Israeli Warand became Sadat’s resting place after he was assassinated in 1981.

Rafi was also the brother of the celebrated surrealist painter Samir Rafi, who used his artwork to focus on the everyday plight of the people, and also often adapted Pharaonic emblems to new ends.

Updated: May 16, 2019 12:06 PM

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