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02/06/2014 | Created by Darla Martin Tucker

An Egyptian artist whose clients have included the United Nations, The Franklin Mint, and The Bradford Exchange will exhibit his first U.S. show in Riverside this month.

Egyptian cultural artist and historian Nageh N. Bichay brings a replica production of mummy portraits to Brandstater Gallery
An image from Nageh N. Bichay's exhibit, "The Likeness of the Souls."

Nageh N. Bichay, a cultural artist and iconographer, museum curator and technical director will exhibit a replica production display of mummy portraits at La Sierra University’s Brandstater Gallery beginning Mon., Feb. 10. His show is titled “The Likeness of the Souls” and will continue through Thurs., March 13.

An artist’s reception will be held at the show’s opening from 6 - 8 p.m. Admission is free.

Mummy portraits, or Fayum mummy portraits, date to the Coptic period and are naturalistic portraits painted on wooden boards attached to mummies. The portraits covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial and usually depict a single person, showing the head, or head and upper chest. Fayum portraits are among the largest bodies of art to survive from the classical tradition of panel painting with about 900 such portraits known to exist. Such portraits are most commonly found in the Faiyum Basin in Egypt.

A specialist in handmade iconography and cultural art, as well as an experienced curator and Egyptian historian, Bichay’s work incorporates many areas including Coptic textiles, papyrus painting, architectural 3D models, colored and stained glass, watercolor painting, iconography art, archaeological artifact restoration, set design, Arabic language and writing, and many other areas.

For more than 20 years, Bichay managed operations and contributed artistically to The Papyrus Institute and the Pharaonic Village, a 35-acre reproduction of an ancient Egyptian village. He is renowned for his work as a cultural artist and has been commissioned to produce special certificates, official documents, invitations and portraits on papyrus for the United Nations, the Vatican, Cairo University, the Egyptian Presidential Office, the American Embassy in Cairo and other foreign embassies.

He developed and oversaw the five-year Tutankhamen papyrus hand-painting project for The Franklin Mint, and created a limited-edition series of 12 collectible plates in the Amarna style for The Bradford Exchange. The series was based on “Young King Tutankhamen and His Princess, 1323 b.c.”

Bichay earned a bachelor’s degree in expressive arts from the Helwan University of Fine Arts in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, and completed master’s coursework there.

Bichay grew up in Cairo, Giza City, just 10 miles from the Great Pyramids of Giza. His exhibit at La Sierra, along with his many and varied endeavors that draw upon Egypt’s rich history, culture and art, derives from a deep love of his country.

“As a young boy I was surrounded by vast monuments and many civilizations which today still dot the countryside of my native land,” Bichay says in an artist’s message. “I felt a deep eagerness to know and to learn more about my country, fascinated by all kinds of art forms.” His upbringing within the Coptic Orthodox community expanded his exposure to other art forms and expressions through contact with synagogues, churches, cathedrals, monasteries and mosques.

His passion for art took root in early childhood. When he was 6 years old his older brother challenged him to draw the sun setting over the mighty Nile River. With his brother’s watercolor paints, brushes and special watercolor paper board, the young Bichay produced a work of art that secured his brother’s appreciation. “He awarded me a professional color set from England, one that came in a metal box,” says Bichay in an artist’s message. “These colors I continue to use and treasure even today.”

Bichay moved to the United States in 2003 to join his brother and family. He lives in San Luis Obispo where he engages in social programs and community organizations, including producing art projects for the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa where he now serves on the mission museum committee. He also taught art at San Fernando Valley Academy in Northridge from 2007 – 2010.

La Sierra’s Brandstater Gallery is located in the Visual Art Center 112, Building 1. Gallery hours are Mon. – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sun., 2 – 5 p.m. La Sierra University is at 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside. Admission is free. For additional information call 951-785-2170.