Cairobserver

Scaring the Landscape in Sharm el Sheikh

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By Karim Maged


Since late 2013 early 2014 the South Sinai Governorate began the first steps towards a redevelopment project of the Hadabat Um el Sid (a clifftop of centuries old dried coral reefs) in Sharm el Sheikh.


Recently, a series of geological studies and construction studies were undertaken by Ain Shams University, Cairo University Environmental studies center and the Building and Housing Research Center (المركز القومي لبحوث البناء و الاسكان). This was out of the belief that there were several dangerous cracks in this natural formation which threaten the collapse of the whole cliff, its residents, and hotels. Residents welcomed the project, which was handed over to the Arab Contractors, and was to be supervised by the هيئة المجتمعات العمرانية and have المجموعة المصرية للاستشارات الهندسية as the consultant. Renovation and stabilization work started away from the residents’ homes and the coastline. Up to this point the project plans were not made available to residents who believed the project was away from the coastline and their homes.

However, on April 28th 2014 bulldozers and diggers entered the vicinity of the coast line where the cliff is located in what is known as ard el mazad and began dangerous digging. This resulted in sand particles burying the reef under the cliff which is protected by decree 2035; delineating protected marine zones of Ras Muhammed, Abu Galom and Nabq. In this case the marine coastline off Hadabat Um el Sid falls under the jurisdiction of decree 2035/1996 in the Ras Muhammed zone.

On April 29th residents wrote power of attorney letters to Sinai Reef’s lawyer who filed a police complaint. The police complaint was later followed up (تم استيفاء المحضر). A cover up soon began and the police complaint was not transferred to the prosecution as late as May 5th 2014. A telegraph template to the prosecutor general was handed out and residents sent in several telegraphs demanding the complaint be transferred to the prosecution. Sinai Reef pressed ahead so that a written legal order would be issued to halt the project. Eventually the prosecution summoned us on May 10th and several residents who went ahead and gave their testimonies.

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On April 30th Residents were mobilized and Dr Mamdouh Hamza began writing his report, which was to be presented to the prosecution. Not only was the project dangerous to the reefs but also it could potentially cause the cliff to collapse because it was structurally flawed. The LE80 million project will not stabilize the cliff but it would cause it to fall faster. The project will change the aesthetic landmark nature of the cliff by creating a stamp concrete facade. The project will also brush over the root of the problem (a leaky old sewage/water network), rather than fix it.

The governor came to the site with heavy police presence and threatened the protesting residents saying that their actions will result in consequences. He also stressed that residents and their lawyers do not have a right to have a copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment- EIA - (stark violation of law 4/1994; law 9/2009). This confrontation was captured on camera. Up to this point we received by our own efforts the EIA but no master plan of the project was provided. The EIA was a rubber stamped copy, which did not specify the exact areas under construction.

The governor verbally agreed to halt construction until the Prime Minister held a meeting to discuss; no written order out of the South Sinai Governorate was issued.

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In the process a meeting with the prime minister took place on May 6th, the South Sinai governor, Minister of Environmental Affairs Laila Eskandar (who we lobbied for her to attend since all environmental paperwork was signed by the South Sinai Ministry of Environmental Affairs representative under orders from the governor), Dr Mamdouh Hamza  and ourselves (Sinai Reef). The PM agreed with Dr. Mamdouh and halted the project while a new coordinating committee be made up and all plans disclosed and a re-study of the project be done as per Dr. Mamdouh Hamza’s new recommendations: planting Cacti, using natural support techniques, and fixing the root of the problem—the sewage system. The South Sinai governor did not formalize his agreement to the outcomes of this meeting.



Earlier this year Sinai Reef filed paperwork for licensing and was studying a project to be executed with bedouin fishermen in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, my co-founder in Sharm el Sheikh was even appointed in the South Sinai governorate environmental committee. The governorate would have financed part of our proposed project. Since the Um el Sid crisis and our success in halting construction the governor has pulled the paperwork. The two-month waiting period for licensing elapsed and according to law 84/2002 any objections, either from the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) should have already been communicated during that period. As it stands our sources confirm the paperwork is at the governor’s desk who asked for his legal council’s signature and sent it to the South Sinai Directorate of Security despite the paperwork already having the Cairo’s (central government/state security) approval. The MOSS representative in South Sinai (وكيل وزارة التضامن الاجتماعي) asked us not to send court warnings, needless to say we did and plan to litigate for our license.
 
For official statements, video testimonies of residents please see our Facebook page (the website didn’t happen because funding stopped when no paperwork was officiated)
https://m.facebook.com/sinaireef
And on twitter @sinaireef
The website under construction except for statements is http://sinaireef.org
English Media coverage:
http://www.madamasr.com/tags/sinai-reef
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentPrint/1/0/100445/Egypt/0/Coral-reef-in-Sharm-ElSheikh-at-risk-Activists.aspx

Resident Perspective: Maadi

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods. Share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Where in Cairo do you live?

Maadi. A place full of teachers and oil workers. It is greener than other areas, but still full of traffic and noise.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.

Other areas are a lot more exciting - with more local life and areas to explore. Maadi is a very easy area to live in for an Ex-pat - everyone pretty much speaks English and it is easy to buy things that you would find in the West.


How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?

Mostly taxis, sometimes the metro and as often as possible the Nile Taxi, however that gets expensive. I wish there was an easier, cheaper ferry access for the city. I know there is a ferry, but I have no idea how often it comes or where it stops etc.


How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?

It is connected well with the metro and buses. I wish there were more ferry options.


What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

1. Traffic (just too many cars on the road). 2. Garbage (there is no system for picking it up or for where people should throw it. There is also not enough garbage cans (but with no one to empty them, what is the point?) 3. Pollution (see number 1 - too many cars, see number 2 burning garbage is not a solution).


What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

What I like most about Cairo are the people, the adventures to be had, and all the corners to be explored, there is so much history! Favorite places: Downtown, Zamalek, Khan El Khalili.

Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

I don’t know the history of my area, except that it was built with keeping it more green in mind. There are beautiful trees and plants in many spots. Spring is a beautiful time to be here. I am definitely proud to live in Cairo. I believe that some people just have no idea what Cairo is really like and I am spreading the word.


Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

I don’t understand how it is managed. I think there are too many big problems happening for the government to be worried about things like traffic, garbage and pollution even though I believe these things are extremely important. The country needs some stability in order to work on these issues. It seems like having a community/district government could help bring these kinds of issues to the table.


In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Public Space: Filled with people, crowded.

Green Space/Parks: NONE (I know there are some, but you really have to look and make a day out of it).

Gated communities: Too many

Museums CLOSED, The Museum, of Antiquities is alright, I wish it had better lighting and a better layout, but with a guide it is OK. But there are countless other museums to visit, however, so many are closed. Sad.

Downtown: Love it! Full of character, great places to go out for a drink or to a gallery, every time I go there are new places to discover.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?

Zamalek, or on a houseboat! They are more central and seem to have a calmer, less crowded feel to them!

 

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Egypt’s Museum Websites: Out of “Site”, Out of Mind

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So you want to visit Cairo? You heard that because tourist numbers are so low lately there are great deals to come to Egypt and you thought “I can’t go to Egypt without seeing the pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, and walk around Historic Cairo, maybe explore a few museums.” Like most tourists in the twenty first century, the first thing you do to get yourself excited about the trip is you go online, do some “research” and Google some sites you might potentially want to visit. A search for the Egyptian Museum brings you to the site pictured above, “last updated May 2003.” There isn’t even an official website for the pyramids, the world’s top archeological attraction!

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Museums are public institutions, they need an audience. Without an audience a museum is nothing but a glorified storage facility. In order for museums to build an audience, local and international, they need promotion. A museum’s website is perhaps its most important promotional tool but when that website is not updated for more than a decade it can have a reverse effect.

So what should the website of Egypt’s most important museum do? It should be informative and look good. A good museum website should include information such as the mission of the museum, collections, current exhibition (assuming that the museum even curates temporary exhibitions), as well as activities/events, amenities/services, and visitor information. For a major museum, the site should be multilingual, well designed and visually appealing.

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Unfortunately the image above is a screenshot of the current museum website, which is a true reflection of the dysfunctional system of heritage management in Egypt and the total lack of any serious museology in the entire country. Not only is the site poorly organized and out of date, it is not informative and terribly designed. How can the Egyptian government be serious about increasing tourist numbers or increasing museum visitorship while retaining such dismal representation of this historic institution on the world wide web?

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The website of the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, another one of Egypt’s most important collections and which has been closed for what feels like eternity, is also a terrible website. Of course in this case the main priority should be that the museum is open to the public before even thinking about creating a beautiful website for it. The same goes for tens of the country’s museums which have been closed for years sometimes a decade and which have fallen out of the tourist map but also out of the collective memory, like they never existed, partly because there is no online presence to these museums. Out of sight, out of mind.

Even the few sites which continue to be popular and are relatively well managed, such as the Coptic Museum, also has a terrible website. Again, this is one of Egypt’s most important museums yet its website resembles a personal page done in the 1990s by a high school student. Shameful!

The Egyptian Ministry of Culture, or whichever centralized institution responsible for managing Egypt’s public museums, continues to miss the point of museums: to attract as many visitors as possible who should leave satisfied wanting to come back. By the same token, the point of a good museum website is to attract increased web traffic which should translate into actual foot traffic. For example, check out the website for Cairo’s Museum of Modern Art, the museum that should have the region’s most important collection of modern art. Now that you’ve visited the website, are you inspired to go? No? Well good, because it has been closed anyway.

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The Supreme Council of Antiquities, which had been turned into its own Ministry of Antiquities in 2011, centrally manages many of the country’s museums. Here is a list of the museums managed by that institution with some links to visitor information for a small selection of these museums. While this is an admirable improvement over the dismal web presence of Ministry of Culture managed museums, this is still a catastrophe.

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In the meantime museums around the world are not only maintaining updated well-designed websites, they are growing their web presence with blogs, advertising, virtual tours, and downloadable apps and audio tours. Not to mention that most major museums have already been utilizing social networks for years now: the British Museum has a Twitter account, Qatar’s Mathaf (Arab Museum of Modern Art) is on Instagram and every museum big and small around the world has an active official Facebook page.  This is happening while the Egyptian Museum is still requiring visitors to leave their cameras at the door like it is 1991. Museum management seem unaware that a picture taken by a happy visitor and posted on social media is free advertisement for the museum that is far more effective than all the fake tourism TV adverts the Egyptian government has paid for in the past.

Museum websites are practically an industry by now with annual conferences and meetings dedicated to the topic. There are global standards that have been in place for some time now: notice for example how the websites of Mathaf, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (three vastly different museums in different locations) share the basic visual structure. An easy to access horizontal strip with links to visitor information, exhibitions, “about us”, contact, etc.

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How many museums are there in total in Egypt? in Cairo? What about Historic Cairo, is there an informative well-designed website dedicated to that “open air museum” with information about the various monuments, events and with suggested walking tours, an up-to-date list of talks and lectures about the historic city, its architecture, culture, recent research? What could be the impact of creating a positive web presence for Egypt’s vast cultural and touristic sites?

Local talent to do the job is available but the vision and political will for those in charge is, as usual, lacking.

There are entire industries, obviously tourism and hospitality, which depend on the increased traffic to museums and other cultural sites; so perhaps private initiatives can take the lead and approach the government with a plan to create a network of websites for Egypt’s museums and historic sites. The government won’t take the lead, but then again officials aren’t losing their jobs for their incompetence or because museums are not attracting visitors. So this might be another situation where civil society needs to act sooner than later.

La Viennoise Hotel: Art From Sandouk El Dounia to DCAF

Cairobserver.com is a media partner in this year’s D-CAF. During the festival several posts will appear on the blog covering some of its venues and events.

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The building known as La Viennoise, standing at the corner of Mahmoud Bassiouny and Champollion Streets in downtown, has become a sort of an alternative art institution for over a decade. It is difficult to construct a complete history of the building, as for many others around the city, without access to municipal records and in the absence of a proper institution concerned with archiving and documenting the history of Cairo. Nonetheless there are bits and pieces of information that can begin to help us understand the origins of this property.

La Viennoise was built in the 1890s; a decade, which witnessed a construction boom in Cairo, particularly in what became today’s downtown area. According to the website of al-Ismaelia, the building’s current owner, it was commissioned by an Englishman. Based on the building’s design and façade details and on the fact that it was built during that particular period, it appears as though its architect was most likely French. Behind the eclectic neo-classical/neo-Renaissance façade of the corner building are three stories of high-ceiling apartments with generous spaces fit for high-end turn of the century downtown Cairo lifestyle. The building has two entrances, one on each of the streets it overlooks, each entrance leads to a stairwell with elevator and each floor is flanked by two apartments.

The layers of over a century of life are visible throughout this structure thick with memory and traces of its many lives, a true urban palimpsest.

La Viennoise is the host space to some of this year’s Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival’s events, namely Bill Cowie’s “Art of Movement,” video above, “a 30 minute dance work choreographed by Billy Cowie incorporating live and virtual 3d dancers.” The piece premiered at the Kyoto Experiment in September 2013. The building was also the location for a workshop by the Baladi Lab, part of their “Take a coffee with your heritage” series of meetings.

In addition to hosting art events as part of D-CAF, La Viennoise has been the site of other iconic art exhibitions and experiments in recent years, but how did it all start?


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

[Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, El Nitaq Festival, Cairo, Egypt. 2001. Copyright Lara Baladi]

The first art event in La Viennoise took place in 2001 as part of al-Nitaq Art Festival when artist Lara Baladi welcomed the pubic to view her photographic installations, which were shot and shown in La Viennoise.

Baladi’s family owned the building at the time, it was inherited by five sisters from their Lebanese-Egyptian businessman father, who purchased it in the 1940s. During the period of nationalization the Egyptian government confiscated the property. It was only during Sadat’s mandate that it was returned to them. After years of lawsuits, the five daughters, in their 80s then, were able to get back, amongst other parts of the building, an entire floor, until then occupied by a hotel, the Pension Viennoise. Some of the other apartments in the building, as well as the shops, were rented by the state to tenants from the time when it was confiscated. Further lawsuits were necessary to get those individual tenants out. By the early 90s many of the lawsuits were settled and most of the building, except for the shops, was in the hands of the five daughters of Abdallah Mirshak, Baladi’s great grandfather. Thus, her choice of the building as the site and object of her installation was not ad hock. When she searched for a location to execute her Sandouk El Dounia (the world in a box) “La Viennoise was not a priori ideal, although it turned out to be, but it was accessible.”

Baladi shot and exhibited her photographic project in La Viennoise. The artist asserts, “The ‘box’ was in fact La Viennoise. My work was both the space and in the space.” The main piece was a large-scale collage upon which the viewer would stumble after losing oneself and strolling about the corridors. The collage was installed in a green room that was once one of the bedrooms in the pension. Sandouk El Dounia intentionally blurred the boundary between the space, the artworks that were exhibited, the photographs that composed the collage and the art happening orchestrated by the artist in the space on the opening day. The space was transformed into a world of its own, a backstage of an archetypal city in which unfolded a theatrically staged morality tale. Baladi arranged a mise-en-scène that involved the visual artworks mixed with the characters photographed in the space walking around and performing the photographed characters, amid the spectators. While people ambulated through the spaces and bats were flying above their heads, a street seller, who Baladi had agreed with to participate to the opening, distributed inflatable pink plastic rabbits (one of the character’s accessory), offering them a trace of the world Baladi set up in the box of La Viennoise.

This artistic intervention initiated La Viennoise as a unique space for art and exhibition. La Viennoise was and remains everything the white cube gallery space is not.

Baladi’s family offered the Townhouse the space for more exhibitions. The Townhouse Gallery managed the space for eight years when it was used for various exhibitions such as those during the two Nitaq Festivals. Nitaq Festival opened the door for artists to explore downtown Cairo as a space for reflection and artistic creation. In that period of extensive art production in the Cairo art scene, the Townhouse played an bigger role than it had until then by encouraging increased artistic production and artistic collaboration.

About Nitaq, Negar Azimi wrote: “An initiative of three independent galleries (Karim Francis, Mashrabia and the Townhouse), the downtown arts festival was unprecedented in the degree of excitement it created in the city, and importantly, the view it provided as to the tendencies of a new generation of artists working within idioms that defied prevailing notions of contemporaneity. Engineered to start on the very day of the 2001 Cairo Biennale’s opening, the second Nitaq in particular served as an “off” version in every sense of the term. While the Biennale was characterized by a reliance on tradition both in concept and curation, Nitaq would prove most unconventional, shaking up stagnant conceptions surrounding the use of space, medium and the potential for dematerialization of the art object. Like true post-modernists, the preferred avenue of expression for the artists at Nitaq was multi-media installation executed with conceptualist tendencies. A number of the Nitaq artists, Lara Baladi, Amina Mansour, Hassan Khan, Wael Shawky and Mona Marzouk among them, have since gone on to exhibit widely internationally.”

Artistic interaction with particular downtown spaces such as Baladi’s Sandouk El Dounia opened the door for artists and galleries to investigate the potential of creating art with and about Cairo’s spaces, exploring different vocabularies and mediums in ways that actively engage with specific sites in the city.

In 2001 Karim Shafei rediscovered downtown Cairo because of the Nitaq festival. Lara Baladi’s show at La Viennoise drew Shafei’s attention to the building and the urban heritage it belongs to. The neglected, dusty and decaying condition of La Viennoise’s grand interiors inspired the conception of al-Ismaelia, a real estate venture aiming to dust off properties such as La Viennoise, many of them abandoned or underutilized with little or no impact on the local economy. Al-Ismaelia for Real Estate and Development acquired the building in 2008 and has since managed it. While the company envisions refurbishing the property in a way that preserves the architecture and interiors, the scale of the building and of its rooms limits possible options for adaptive reuse. Because La Viennoise is a listed heritage building its transformation must follow strict guidelines. Given the particular grandeur of this property it will most likely be reincarnated as a nostalgic boutique hotel. However, there are no concrete plans for such a renovation and in the meantime the company has continued to open the doors of La Viennoise as a space for alternative artistic adventures.

Since its acquisition by al-Ismaelia La Viennoise has hosted several acclaimed exhibitions such as the Cairo Documenta exhibitions in 2010 and 2012. More recently the building was the home of the exhibition Studio Viennoise, a “tribute to the history of studio photographic practice in Egypt” which ran from 14 November to 16 December 2012. And in 2013, a “Museum to the Revolution” was set up in La Viennoise as part of an exhibition titled “Horreya/Kharya,” a word play on “freedom” and “shit” which in Arabic are distinguished by a dot.

While these recent exhibitions and performances such as Bill Cowie’s “Art in Movement” keep La Viennoise an active artistic space, what’s next? What is to be learned from Cairo’s singular experiment with art in abandoned/decaying architecture? Cairo is awash with other similar structures in a variety of locations, from Helwan’s abandoned mansions, to Bulaq’s unused industrial warehouses. Rather than becoming laboratories for artistic production while they await their fate to be determined, by the market or other forces, these buildings remain empty and inaccessible. While many such structures are in private ownership, many others are state-owned. Could the Cairo municipality learn from the experiment at La Viennoise and develop a strategy to open abandoned and underutilized historic structures to artists to activate them and bring attention to them? On the other hand, have artists working in Cairo approached such structures as generative elements contributing to the artistic process rather than simply treat them as new venues to show the same art that would have been shown in a white-walled gallery? Is there another fate for decaying buildings in Cairo?

Note: Thanks to Lara Baladi for her generosity and for sharing her work on Cairobserver.com

Spotlight on Gypsum Gallery

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Six months ago Gypsum Gallery opened in an apartment on Bahgat Ali Street in Zamalek. The gallery is ready to launch a new solo show by Alexandria-based artist Mahmoud Khaled and on the occasion Cairobserver sent Aleya Hamza, the founder of the gallery, some questions to help us situate Gypsum in Cairo’s artscape. For more information visit the gallery’s website and “Like” its Facebook page to stay connected.

Gypsum is located at 5A Bahgat Ali Street, apt 12 (third floor) in Zamalek

Tell us about Gypsum, what kind of gallery is it?

Gypsum Gallery is a Cairo-based gallery with a focus on contemporary art. The vision of the gallery is to take the progressive, dynamic and investigative art practices associated with non-profit spaces in Egypt into a commercial gallery context. Gypsum represents 8 mid-career artists who live and work between Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman, Tehran, Basel and Berlin with a program of solo shows and participation in art fairs. I am absolutely committed to forging long-standing relationships with our artists, to taking calculated risks, and to building a rigorous platform for the production, exhibition and collection of contemporary art.

Tell us about the physical space of the gallery, was it difficult to find a space suitable for exhibition and what did it take to transform a residential apartment into an art Gallery.

Gypsum is located in beautiful, well-lit converted apartment on the third floor of a residential building in Zamalek. The main exhibition space consists of two large interconnected rooms with hardwood floors and high ceilings. One room has a large window with an expansive view giving on a lush garden, one of the perks of Zamalek being an island on the Nile. Two rooms, an office and a multi-purpose room (black box, bar, inventory) make up the rest of the space.  In a dense urban center like Cairo, it is practically impossibly to have a purpose-built space unless it is located on the peripheries of the city, or it’s public sector. This explains why the majority of art spaces are converted, whether it’s an apartment, a villa, a factory, a garage or a storefront. As much as possible, I tried to recreate a versatile white cube environment in which the works take center stage while maintaining a personal atmosphere in an accessible location that caters to a wide range of audiences.

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How does Gypsum fit within Cairo’s network of galleries?

In a way, Gypsum Gallery is the bastard child of the commercial galleries of Zamalek and the non-profit spaces of Downtown and Garden City (and now Agouza). Perhaps the most striking difference with the commercial galleries is that we are not exclusively focused on Egyptian art or limited to a particular medium such as painting or sculpture. Our geographical location inevitably shapes the program and of course its natural that I’m drawn to artists that work with familiar questions, but the gallery is part of a larger network of spaces that operate within a global circuit.

How would you describe the art scene in Cairo at the moment and what role can a space like Gypsum play in that scene

I think it’s a very stimulating and intense moment. There is a certain shift in the level of self-awareness that is taking place across the board from artists and galleries to audiences, and I believe that this is critical for building a solid art scene, and I’m very excited to be part of that. I see Gypsum as an adventure. Our role is to set up this model in a turbulent historical junction, to remain resilient and to have an understanding that change does not happen overnight.

Egypt is still producing some of the Arab World’s most sought after artists, yet their market is mostly in the Gulf, how do you explain this uneven distribution of where art is produced and where it is consumed

The arts infrastructure in Egypt is dysfunctional. Non-profit spaces have been stepping in to provide the educational needs that art schools are battling with. Established international Egyptian artists rarely show in Cairo because their galleries are elsewhere, and there is almost no market for the works that they produce in Egypt. Once we establish a new system of patronage with an awareness of contemporary art, things will change.

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[Installation of Gypsum’s inaugural show, photo courtesy of Gypsum Gallery]

Tell us about the artists you currently represent

What connects this group of exceptional artists is singularity of their vision, and their commitment to pushing their practice to its absolute limit. Since the gallery opened its doors almost six months ago, it has been an incredible journey working with each and everyone of them, the majority of whom I have work with or known for more than ten years. I’m always overwhelmed by their faith and generosity.

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What is the current show and what comes next in the short and long run.

Our current show is a solo show by Alexandria-based artist Mahmoud Khaled called Painter on a Study Trip. This ambition and pensive show spans photography, sculpture, painting, text, video and installation to reflect on artist’s own classical training as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Alexandria and its complicated relationship to the language and values of contemporary art. Khaled’s series of interrelated new works is designed with the Gypsum Gallery space in mind. The show is the gallery’s biggest production since our inaugural show and is as beautiful and poetic as it is conceptual.

The season ends with two more shows: A solo by Amman-based Ala Younis who will present a new body of work that closes the third installment of her trilogy about Arab Nationalism. UAR is research-based project centered on Nasser, the hero and the myth, and Younis has been invited to participate with it in the Kamel Lazaar Foundation Projects. Following is the first solo show by Taha Belal (of Nile Sunset Annex) in which he takes on a formal and physical investigation of media images. We restart next season in June with two highly anticipated solo shows: a new ground breaking painting exhibition by Mona Marzouk, and a show by this year’s Abraaj Prize winner Basim Magdy.

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[Current show at Gypsum Gallery. Photos courtesy of Mahmoud Khaled]

Kafein: Global coffee culture fused with the taste of Cairo

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To the pleasure of many seeking a delicious coffee downtown in a friendly and laid-back space, Kafein is a new café that is quickly becoming a meeting point for friends like it has been there for years. Dina and Nadia, the entrepreneurs behind the new venture, are clearly doing something right. Cairobserver sent them some questions to introduce us to Kafein and the concept behind it. Make sure to stop by Kafein, where not only can you consume delicious coffees and tees but also read the latest Cairobserver print magazine. Visit Kafein’s Facebook page and “like” it to stay connected.

Kafein is located at 28 Sharif Street in the pedestrian alley behind McDonald’s

Tell us about Kafein, what is the concept, where is it, what’s on offer

Kafein is brand new café/gallery space in Downtown; actually it is technically located in Abdeen. We serve a wide selection of artisan coffees and premium loose-leaf teas, seasonal juices, and will soon have a small selection of tasty sandwiches and treats on our menu. The walls of Kafein also serve as a gallery space for local artists to exhibit their works. Our vision is to add a new element to the café scene in Cairo—a particular seriousness about caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages paired with a commitment to creating an atmosphere that inspires thinking, creativity, new friendships, and dreams. The concept behind the space is to really fuse global coffee and tea culture with the spirit and tastes of Cairo.

How does it fit in Cairo’s café culture?

Cairo’s café culture is very rich and diverse; there are literally cafés in every nook of this city. As café frequenters, we tend to avoid or actually boycott the chains for political reasons. On the other hand, we regularly go to particular ahwas in our neighborhood in Abdeen as well as more up-scale cafés in Zamalek and occasionally other areas of Cairo. As customers, we were frustrated by the lack of cafés in Downtown, the absence of affordable and good quality spots in general, and the gap between ahwas and the overpriced joints in Zamalek and other areas.

The politics of Kafein are informed by our personal likes and dislikes with Cairo’s café culture. Kafein is also a burgeoning art gallery, which we think is important in order to enhance the visceral experience of being in the space as well as to have art be part of one’s mundane activities, such as grabbing a coffee. Our first exhibition, “The Visual Meal,” was curated by Art On The Go and featured works by Menna Genedy, Amal Salah, and Amy Arif, who also helped in many stages of the café’s preparation.

Egyptian ahwas are both an inspiration for the design of Kafein and helped to inform our decisions about our menu. By using several items from the Egyptian vernacular in a modern composition, we aimed to create an atmosphere that is simple, oddly familiar, and a little quirky. We thus combined unstained wood, recycled steel chairs, water pipes, tawate2, wedding-like strings of lights with labeled jars of tea and coffee, hand-stamped paper items, chalk-board menus, etc..

In terms of the menu, Egypt has so many herbs that it grows itself such as chamomile, hibiscus, sage, anis, lemon grass, mint, etc.. You find some of these items in their loose form at ahwas and some cafés sell tea-bag versions. While we have imported a range of hand-blended artisan black, green, and herbal teas, it was important for us to also feature these local products. For example, we serve al-‘aroosa tea in an enamel-painted teapot from Aswan with dried mint from Siwa. We also offer what could be considered the summer drink of New York City—cold-brew iced coffee.

The other way in which we are trying to break the boundaries between ahwas and cafés is in terms of accessibility. We want Kafein to be a space that anyone can go to; this was a priority when we set our prices. While we understand that not everyone can afford to pay five pounds for a cup of tea, we hope that having regular ahwa items such as tea and Turkish coffee at the same prices as neighboring spots will help to make the space more inclusive. We are also really excited about the fact that people who do not normally come to Downtown are making the trip to sit at Kafein, and thus our space is actually bringing people to this area.

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Kafein has a sister establishment nearby, Dina’s Hostel, how did you go from the hostel to the café?

Dina opened Dina’s Hostel in December of 2009, since then the hostel flourished, starting with four rooms and growing to eighteen. Due to the political unrest in the country, however, tourism has suffered; thus we decided to create a new business. More significantly, however, we wanted to create a space that we felt was sorely missed in Downtown. Kafein is in many ways an extension of the philosophy of Dina’s Hostel Art Space, which is founded on the belief that we need more spaces in Downtown and elsewhere for people to gather.

Why did you choose to open your café in downtown over other parts of the city?

We come from two very different places. Dina is from Alexandria and Nadia is from New York. For the past four years Abdeen has been a home to both of us. Thus we both had the feeling that we wanted to create a particular kind of space in our own neighborhood. Downtown of course has its own historic establishments in addition to the ever expanding cafés in the streets surrounding the Borsa. Yet investors and business women and men alike seem to be flocking to more residential and more affluent places like Zamalek, Maadi, and newer areas outside of Cairo in 6th of October and New Cairo. As entrepreneurs, however, we wanted to create a space to bring people once again to Downtown.

This space is a labor of love, how did you go about the design, the branding and all the elements that make up Kafein

The initial inspiration for the design was to mix different elements of particular New York City cafés and Egyptian ahwas, both spaces we are intimately familiar with and love. Using this as a starting point, we began to design the space, menu, and concept of Kafein. All of our friends helped with their expertise. We are especially indebted to the very talented Valerie Arif who brilliantly designed our logo and worked with us in creating the identity of Kafein. And to Angela Smith who offered her expertise in Australian cafés to help us to create and standardize the drink menu for Kafein. It’s a new place, so we are still actually creating the brand and developing its own distinctiveness. Prior to opening our doors and during this “soft opening” period we have received so much great feedback and assistance from family, friends, guests, and passerby’s, and we are extremely grateful for everyone’s generosity and support.

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What was the most challenging aspect of getting the place up and running?

Instead of using a contractor or engineer, we did all of the construction work on our own with individual craftsmen and laborers. In hindsight dealing directly with laborers is extraordinarily difficult. Further, while we have familiarity with the field of hospitality, this is a very new business for both of us and there is a huge learning curve. From small decisions about what size and shape cup a latte should be served in and whether a cappuccino should have chocolate powder on the top to learning how to train and manage café staff in order to offer the quality of service that we envision, we have our hands full. It’s an ongoing process and we are still working out the kinks.

Why do you think young people haven’t been able to translate their creative energies into more spaces such as Kafein? Is it the finances? Red tape?

There are probably hundreds of reasons why one would not want to open a business such as Kafein. If we were to specifically speak about “Downtown,” there is a great deal of stereotypes about what you can and cannot do or what would work in terms of particular types of businesses in this area. While some people, including guests, have commented that Kafein is out of place, we think it’s actually in the perfect space. When we took the place we did not do the classical business plan and research the location, calculate a forecasted profit, hire consultants, etc.. We saw potential in this old-clothing shop and decided to go for it. Our neighbors are mostly men’s clothing shops with interesting-styled displays that are irregularly frequented since Shawarby Street is no longer the shopping center that it once was. In some senses it makes sense not to put a café/gallery in the midst of such shops, but we rather like the idea that Kafein is in the middle of all of this. Each day we have pedestrians stare at the café and the guests sitting in our open-air space. Shouting out and telling them that they are welcome, “etfadalou,” however, breaks down the initial shock from the unfamiliarity of the space and actually changes their entire interaction with it. This interface and the slight discomfort accompanied by the meeting of spaces and people is actually a bit exciting.

What are your plans for the future?

We are actually currently working on opening up a second branch in Zamalek. We did not intend to open two cafés, but by chance we found an amazing spot in Zamalek that could not be left. The space there is a bit larger and we will have a descent-sized kitchen, which will allow us to have a full food menu beside the beverage one. We know that Zamalek is overburdened with cafés so we are designing the space to be both a café and a particular type of cultural center. We also hope to be producing more of our own products such as bakery goods and juices in the near future. For Downtown, we are looking forward to our upcoming art exhibitions and a continued engagement with our community.

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Hassan Khan Exhibition and Kodak Passage

Cairobserver.com is a media partner in this year’s D-CAF. During the festival several posts will appear on the blog covering some of its venues and events.

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A historical perspective and urban context*

Pedestrian passageways are a prominent feature of downtown Cairo, having been influenced by the Parisian arcades of late nineteenth century.  Today many of these passageways and gaps between buildings have been transformed into back alleyways, housing multiple activities and uses that are often invisible from the street. Coffee-shops and bars, restaurants and food-stands, crafts and small workshops, mosques and prayer corners, stationary shops and bookstores, galleries and antique stores have taken up occupation, while many passageways remain closed, uninhabited or dilapidated.

Kodak Passage is both an exemplary and exceptional space. What used to be a narrow dead-end service alleyway between Adly and Abdel Khaliq Tharwat Streets, through a 1920s art deco ensemble (now owned and managed by al-Ismaelia), was turned into a pedestrian passage as part of a larger experiment of pedestrianized zones Downtown during the 1990s. Kodak store, labs and garage/warehouse used to occupy the western flank of the passage, while Café de Brasil occupied the central bay of the eastern side, and remains today, though shuttered.  Surrounded by a number of emerging art, film and design spaces (CIC, Cimatheque, and CLUSTER), the passage was identified by CLUSTER as a rare opportunity to introduce to this end of Downtown a pop-up gallery space, and to engage art interventions that may serve as a catalyst for urban development and revitalization of surrounding buildings, shops and passageways.

The current exhibition space occupies four different storefronts along the western side of Kodak Passage, ranging in their size, clear height and physical conditions. Setting up these spaces required major architectural renovation and upgrade of the infrastructure, in addition to installing the necessary exhibition walls, lighting system and other audio-visual elements. The exhibition curation, design and architectural renovation were undertaken by CLUSTER and the project was produced by Orient Productions and Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF). The two-month long renovations included the input of different national and international installation crews, as well as direct input from the artist. The Hassan Khan exhibition was designed and curated by CLUSTER to present a procession of exhibition spaces, interjecting the artist’s ouevre amidst the public and pedestrian activities of the arcade.

Hassan Khan exhibition opening: March 30, 6pm

Exhibition schedule: March 30 - April 26, 12pm – 8pm

Koday Passageway, 20 Adly Street, Downtown Cairo

For more information: http://d-caf.org/event/category/visual-arts

The Hassan Khan exhibition is part of this year’s D-CAF Festival. D-CAF has over the past two years worked diligently to reinvent public space, changing perceptions, and as a result drawing in the public for a renewed interaction.

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*Text and Photos courtesy of CLUSTER

Zawya: a downtown screen for arthouse cinema

Cairobserver.com is a media partner in this year’s D-CAF. During the festival several posts will appear on the blog covering some of its venues and events.

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Zawya is a brand new screen in downtown bringing an exciting program of films that would not be showing at the city’s commercial multiplexes. This year Zawya is also a venue for some screenings that are part of Downtown Contemporary Art Festival’s program. The screen is located in the back of Cinema Odeon off Talaat Harb Street. Look out for the entrance with colorful zigzag lines superimposed with neon lights depicting Zawya’s beautiful logo designed by Valerie Arif. The entrance and lobby were given a makeover designed by Yazaan El-Zo’bi. Cairobserver sent Youssef Shazli from Misr International Films some questions to get a sense of what the Zawya space is about and how it fits within the city’s cultural landscape. 

Tell us about the concept of Zawya, how did it start and what is it about.

The idea was there a long time ago but the execution started roughly a year ago. Marianne Khoury’s dream was to have a permanent space to screen alternative films all year long. A lot of people might not know but there was a first attempt a few years ago called Cinemania in City Stars. It was basically the same idea but wasn’t very successful. Maybe the timing wasn’t right, neither the location. But with 6 successful editions of the Panorama, we felt like it was finally time to give it another try. The idea was to have a permanent space operating all year long that screens films that do not have access to the commercial market. The goal is simply to have these films seen on the big screen and to encourage people to start going to the movies again. We started with one screen - Cinema Odeon - but are hoping to expand in the future and have many Zawyas across the country.

Tangier has had a great success with Cinematheque de Tanger, is it on your radar at all as a reference or is Zawya trying to establish a different model?

I don’t know much about Cinematheque de Tangers to be honest. But from the little I know I’d say we have a slightly different model. We are just a cinema with the sole purpose of having films screened whereas cinematheques in general are multipurpose spaces and offer other services related to the cinema. I’d say maybe that what Cimatheque is doing in Cairo is closer to that.

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How did you end up in Cinema Odeon and how does Zawya as an initiative tie into the cinema’s regular program/space

When we decided to really make this happen, the first step was to find the right space for it. We felt that it was very important for us to be based Downtown, at least in the beginning. The first venue that came to mind was Cinema Odeon. When I went to re-visit the space, I immediately saw the potential. The fact that we could have our own space, cafeteria, ticket booth and entrance/exit was a great plus. So we tried convincing the owners to give it a shot and it worked. We did a few renovations and tried to create an atmosphere that could go well with the nature of the project. We also tried to make it look like there aren’t two other screens operating on the other side. In terms of programming, our screen acts independently from the two others. We have our own program and they have theirs. 

Tell us more about the physical space in the cinema run by Zawya 

The space we are using was completely untouched for years. It was supposed to act as the cinema’s secondary cafeteria but was not running. The entrance/exit doors we are using were originally the cinema’s emergency exits but were locked for years. As I said, we did some minor renovations to change the general feel of the space. But there were a lot of constraints (financial) but also because we do not own the cinema and there are things that we weren’t allowed to change. The theater we run has a capacity of 170 seats, which is decent. Bigger theaters can be intimidating sometimes.

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Zawya comes to downtown at a time of increased cultural activity, you’re already partnering with several others such as D-CAF.. How does Zawya fit within downtown’s transforming arts and culture landscape and what future plans or ideas for further collaborations do you have

We are trying to partner up with as many spaces/institutions/initiatives/groups as we can. D-CAF came at a great time and will hopefully be the beginning of a long term partnership. As much as downtown spaces have been contributing significantly to the theater, visual art and music scene, we hope that Zawya can do the same for the film scene. Aside from our own program, our theater can serve as a venue for many others, which is something very much part of our plan. We are also working closely with similar initiatives such as Cimatheque who are planning to open soon.

Downtown has many unused cinemas, particularly the Emad Eddin area; do you think alternative programming could be one way to salvage these unused historic structures?

It might be too early to answer this question. I’d wait and see how it goes in Cinema Odeon before reaching any conclusions. But what is sure is that as opposed to multiplexes, some of these old cinemas are beautiful (as opposed to Odeon which was renovated in the 90s) and would serve as great venues for arthouse cinema. The problem is that it would be very costly to renovate and equip these theaters with the latest digital technology.

Tell us about the program for the coming period, what should we expect this year?

The program is basically split in two: we have the theatrical releases, which is the main bulk of our program. It basically means that films are screened on a regular basis for a minimum of a week and a maximum of three weeks (depending on the box office) as regular cinemas operate. The second part of the program is dedicated to special screenings/events. These would normally see film screened once or twice and are usually followed by a discussion or a Q&A session. We also have our Education & Cinema program, which encourages schools and universities to attend our screenings and adopts a more pedagogical approach (workshops and masterclasses are always an option). We are trying to create a balance between local/Arab and international films. We are also planning for 2 or 3 big events, which we are very excited about.

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To learn more about Zawya visit the site of Misr International Film and “Like” Zawya’s Facebook page to stay connected.

Urban Visions program brings contemporary dance to the streets

Cairobserver.com is a media partner in this year’s D-CAF. During the festival several posts will appear on the blog covering some of its venues and events.

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PRESS RELEASE

23.3.2014

Consistently one of D-CAF’s most popular programs, Urban Visions returns this year, bringing new choreography to public spaces in Downtown Cairo and Alexandria. Working to increase the visibility and appeal of contemporary dance in Egypt, the program aims to engage the general public by placing contemporary art within an everyday urban landscape. Unsuspecting passersby become curious audience members, who are presented with work that challenge their ideas of what contemporary art is, and where it fits in our modern lives.

The program kicks off this year with a performance choreographed by Egyptian dance studio Ezzat Ezzat. Invisible Boundaries toys with the idea of a third dimension, and deals with the abstract, literally invisible boundaries that we confine ourselves to, or sometimes create for ourselves.

Back for the second consecutive year, Dutch duo The100Hands have created a new, site-specific piece, Running Nucleus, which deals with the concept of resilience and looks at communities, connection, and dependency. The piece will be performed along with Egyptian dancers, who have been rehearsing with The100Hands during the weeks prior to the festival.

Dealing with the intricacies of love, Remind Me, Choreographed by Lotte Sigh (Denmark) expresses the humanity, brutality, and tenderness of the relationship between a man and a woman. The piece features two dancers, and premiered in 2008 at Dansecenen in Copenhagan.

A more complex performance follows, with Ex Nihilo’s Mashy (France), about a group of men and women who become involved in a game of challenges, pulling in passersby who become part of the performance. The show is a co-production of Ex Nihilo and Nassim El Raqs, and has been created with the cooperation of the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center (CCDC) and the Institut Francais Egypt as well as the Institut Franceais/Ville de Marsaeille.

The final piece of the program, an Egyptian- American collaboration titled I’ll Dance While You’re Dancing and We Will Have Danced Together,  uses handheld technology to allow the performers to respond to one another’s movements across time and space.

This year’s performances will take place in front the Egyptian stock exchange (Borsa), one of last year’s popular locations, as well as Alfy Bey street, and the American University in Cairo’s GrEEK campus on Mohammed Mahmoud street. For the first time this year, these performances will also travel to Alexandria, where they will be performed at the statue of Ismail, beside the Roman Theatre.

All performances will take place on several nights, allowing for more exposure of the general public to these works.

For more information on our programs, visit our press website, d-caf.org/press

Main website: D-caf.org

Facebook: Dcaf.egypt

Blog: D-caf.org/blog

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Virtual Egyptian Contemporary Art Museum (VECAM)

SCROLL DOWN FOR ENGLISH

في ١٧ مارس أطلقت مجموعة من الفنانين البصريين والأدائيين والعاملين بقطاع الثقافة المصرية البيان التأسيسي  لمشروع

متحف الفن المصري المعاصر الافتراضي
(Virtual) Egyptian Contemporary Art Museum

كانت الفنانة هالة القوصي قد أطلقت دعوة على صفحات الفيسبوك لجموع الفنانين البصريين والأدائيين والمهتمين بالفنون في مصر للتفاعل مع فكرتها والتي تتلخص في إنشاء متحف للفن المعاصر في الفضاء الافتراضي كفعل نقدي لأداء المؤسسة الثقافية الرسمية في مصر. في ما يلي ما جاء في البيان

إيمانا منا

بأن الثورة ثورة خيال في الأساس وأن الفعل الثوري ليس قاصرا على الشوارع والميادين وإنما يمتد منها إلى أماكن العيش والعمل؛


وأن أي حديث عن أحقية المثقف أو نخبوية مركزه هو حديث بالي ولا يعبر إلا عن موقف متعالي وليس من روح التغيير في شيء. فالأحقية تكتسب ولا تملى على أحد؛

وأن للفنان دور مهم في المجتمع الذي يعيش فيه؛ تزداد أهميته في فترات التغيير الجذرية كتلك التي نمر بها الآن؛

وأن على الفنان واجب أن يقود بالقدوة وأن يبادر بإعمال معاول التغيير في سبيل تحقيق مناخ مجتمعي قائم على الحرية والتعددية وتكافؤ الفرص والشفافية

وتصديقا على 

أن الثورة قامت في مقام أول على الفساد المؤسساتي وسوء استخدام الموارد العامة؛

وحيث أن كل محاولات لإحداث تغيير حقيقي وملموس على مستوى المؤسسات تعثرت في خطواتها الأولى؛ و أهدرت طاقات عظيمة في شجب ونقد وغضب وحنق وتبرم واستياء ومقالات وعرائض وشكاوى دون أي تغيير مأمول؛

فإستوجب أن نعيد التفكير بشكل مختلف ونعمل الخيال


هذه الدعوة دعوة عامة لجميع الفنانين المصريين وغير المصريين المقيمين والعاملين في مصر في مجالي الفنون البصرية والأدائية إلى الإنضمام إلى مبادرة إنشاء

متحف الفن المصري المعاصر الافتراضي
(Virtual) Egyptian Contemporary Art Museum - VECAM

سيضطلع المتحف بكل أدوار متحف للفن المعاصر؛
كفعل ثوري نقدي لأداء قطاع الثقافة الرسمي وذلك في المقام الأول

لتحقيق أعلى قدر من الشفافية والمحاسبة والنقد الذاتي؛
وإرساء مفاهيم المعاصرة والقيمة والاستحقاق وتكافؤ الفرص؛
والتأريخ بشكل منظم وشامل لحركة الفنون البصرية والأدائية المعاصرة في مصر

من خلال نظام قائم على العضوية العامة لجموع الفنانين البصريين والأدائيين وفي الأساس على الإنتخاب الشفاف من خلال قوانين ولوائح معلنة  وعلى نظام دوري لتقييم للأداء والفعالية

سيقوم المتحف ككيان إفتراضي بتفعيل شراكات مع مؤسسات ثقافية محلية وعربية وعالمية لتبادل الخبرات والموارد


سيعزز المتحف مفهوم الدعم المحلي الخاص والشعبي للفنون
سيخلق المتحف مساحة نقاش مجتمعي حول دور الفنون البصرية والأدائية في المجتمع
سيقدم المتحف عروض متجددة من مجموعته الإفتراضية والتي سيضاف إليها سنويا بشكل إفتراضي بعد دعوة عامة لجموع الفنانين بالتقدم إلى معرض المقتنيات السنوي العام
 سيكون للمتحف مكتبة إفتراضية ومحل وحلقة نقاش مفتوحة حول المعاصرة في الفنون ومساحة للمشروعات الجديدة

سيتواجد المتحف مبدأيا على صفحة في الفيسبوك وسيلي ذلك نقله إلى موقع إليكتروني منفصل مع الإبقاء على صفحة الفيسبوك للتواصل

في مرحلة متوسطة سيشترك المتحف دوريا في فعاليات خارج الفضاء الإفتراضي في ضيافة شركاء محليين وعالميين


في مرحلة متقدمة يصبو متحف الفن المصري المعاصر (الإفتراضي) إلى التواجد بشكل مادي كأول متحف قائم في الأساس على الدعم الشعبي

وقد تكون منذ جمع ما يزيد على المائة توقيع على البيان الأساسي مجموعة عمل مفتوحة على الفيسبوك

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1458276234389186

وقد بدأ أعضاء المجموعة بالفعل في النقاش والتداول حول شكل الهيكل التنظيمي للمتحف. ويتوقع المشاركون في المشروع أن يفتتح المتحف فعليا في نهاية بدعوة لجوع الفنانين للتقدم بأعمال لمعرضه العام الأول


Abandoned building said to be a former hospital, Helwan
film still © Hala Elkoussy

Old NDP headquarters, Tahrir Square
© Hala Elkoussy

[It is not a far fetched dream to see the Museum housed in one of Cairo’s many abandoned buildings. The images are to fire up the imaginary only and are not concrete suggestions for venues.]

On the 17th of March, 2014, group of visual and performing artists together with active members of the Artistic Community in Egypt launched the founding statement for the Virtual Egyptian Contemporary Art Museum (VECAM).

Artist Hala Elkoussy started up an open call a week before to artists and workers in the Cultural field in Egypt to react to her idea that centers around the creation of a virtual contemporary museum as a critical act against the workings of the institutional cultural sector in Egypt.

According to the Founding Statement, the virtual museum will function like a real museum. It will hold exhibitions, build up a collection, provide a platform for discussion on the role of the Arts in a changing society and support interesting artistic projects.

In a medium stage of its existence, the museum will be hosted by real regional and international institutions.

In the long run, the Elkoussy foresees a real museum built up with the support of fundraising events and of Egyptian philanthropists and patrons of the Arts, for it to become the first institution totally funded by the public.
 
Over a hundred signatures were gathered and since then a working group has been set up on an open Facebook page where interested parties can take part in the discussions that are well underway. First on the agenda this week is the administrative structure of the virtual institution.

Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival: Press Release

Cairobserver.com is a media partner in this year’s D-CAF. During the festival several posts will appear on the blog covering some of its venues and events.

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Bringing in artists from all over the world, unearthing local and regional talent, and featuring six diverse programs, the third edition of the Downtown Contemporary arts Festival (D-CAF) promises to fill the three weeks between 20th March and 11th April with an eclectic selection of independent art events catering to all tastes.

A production of Studio Emad Eddin, D-CAF works to reinvigorate Downtown by bringing all genres of arts to its street corners, entering and revitalising spaces and venues that have been neglected for years, and acting as a catalyst for the creative energy increasingly emanating from this part of the city.

This year’s inaugural event will feature a screening of Salma El Tarzi’s film “Underground/On the Surface,” which shows glimpses of the lives of Shaabi Musicians on the rise, Okka and Ortega, followed by the first act of D-CAF’s music program, a performance by Dutch-South African duo Skip&Die.

The festival’s six programmes – Performing Arts, Music, Visual Arts, Film, Urban Visions, and Special Events, will feature world premieres, international collaborations, as well as a special visual arts survey show.

Curated by D-CAF’s artistic director, Ahmed El Attar, the Performing Arts segment of D-CAF 2014 brings dynamic international and locals performances to the Falaki Theatre and Hotel Viennoise, amongst other venues. These include the dance installation Art of Movement, which will prompt audiences to question their perceptions of reality and C’est du Chinois, a performance that challenges language barriers. Stemming from the region, It Happened Tomorrow by Syrian theatre company, Damascus Theater Lab (DTL) will show at Talee’a Small Theatre, while Violence Lointaine, directed by Omar Ghayatt (Egypt) will make its world premiere at Talee’a Large Theatre. Egyptian choreographer, Mohamed Shafik, will also present his piece An House Empty of Hospitality for the first time in the Arab world.

On the hunt for musicians who draw on different music structures and genres to create new sounds, D-CAF’s music curator, Mahmoud Refaat, has compiled a music programme that offers experimental, psychedelic, new pop and electro shaabi concerts. Kasr El Nil theatre, once a platform for such renowned singers as Umm Kulthoum, will host this year’s music program highlight, a concert by Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, followed by the sounds of vocalist Fayrouz Karawya and music producer Ismael, who will be debuting their new collaborative project. The theme of collaboration features heavily in this year’s music program, with a concert by London’s RINSE.FM and Cairo’s 100Copies, performing under the name ‘Cairo Calling.’

Internationally celebrated Hassan Khan dominates the Visual Arts programme this year, with a major survey of his work exhibited within the Kodak Passage on Adly Street, which underwent extensive renovations by CLUSTER in preparation for its debut as an exhibition space. Curated by Beth Stryker, the exhibited works range from the start of Khan’s career in the mid 90s until today. The exhibition, which opens on March 30, exemplifies what D-CAF strives to accomplish; bringing art into public spaces and, through that process, applying new perspective to the streets of Downtown Cairo.

The shorts film programmer at International Francophone Film Festival of Namur (Belgium), Hervé Le Phuez, will curate D-CAF’s 2014 film program; his selection of strictly francophone cinema, made up of five features and nine shorts, hail from a number of countries including Romania, Switzerland, Canada and Portugal.

Bringing site-specific dance performances to Downtown’s streets, the Urban Visions programme has been a unique, and highly successful, feature of D-CAF in past editions. This year, the festival welcomes back last year’s Dance duo, The100Hands (Netherlands) debuting their collaborative piece, Running Nucleus. D-CAF also happily welcomes contributors to the 2012 edition, Ex Nihilo (France) with their piece, Mashy. The programme will also feature the choreography of local talent, Ezzat Ismail, who will present his piece, Invisible Boundaries.  Taking place in front of El Borsa (the Egyptian Stock Exchange), on Alfy Bey Street and at the GrEEK Campus, most of these performances will also be presented in Alexandria. 

Finally, the Special Events programme offers a mash-up of events ranging from a concert by the French group, Jazz Nomads, titled La voix est libre, to a four part discussion series under the banner of Is Art Important? (Iraq/Syria).

In a bid to encourage local aspiring filmmakers, D-CAF’s smART Mobile Film Festival will showcase the culmination of a series of workshops held in four cities across Egypt, where participants produced one to three minute films. A selection of the best films will be screened in special booths around Downtown during the festival.

D-CAF’s final week will bring the focus back to regional artists. Dubbed ‘Middle East Focus’ the week spanning 3-7 April will feature Arab artists from all over the region with the purpose of showcasing regional talent in all its forms to international festival programmers, who have been invited to D-CAF expressly for this purpose.

On the brink of its third edition, D-CAF continues to engage with, and contribute to, the independent arts scene both locally and regionally, and for the three weeks of its duration, it will transform Downtown Cairo into a cultural buffet of visual art, music, dance, theatre, and film, waiting to be consumed by eager audiences.

You can find further information on D-CAF through our online platforms:

Main website: D-caf.org

Facebook: Dcaf.egypt

Blog: D-caf.org/blog

Twitter: @dcafFestival

Instagram: DCAFFEST

Lara El Gibaly

PR Officer

Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF)

20th March - 11th April 2014

Cairo on the toilet: a brief history

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[Advertisement from 1939 for a company selling and installing modern bathrooms]

Domestic space, in Egypt and elsewhere, underwent enormous transformations for a larger segment of urban society from the beginning of the 20th century. While innovations in modern plumbing began to become available to the elite in their palaces and residences in the mid to late 19th century, the majority of society still had to do things the old way (bucket of water for washing and go outside for #2). However, within the span of a decade in the beginning of the 20th century modern plumbing was accessible to more people. Already buildings built during the boom of 1897-1907 in Cairo were equipped but those were not where the majority of Egyptians lived. By the 1920s things pick up quickly and pipes were added to older homes across the city while newer buildings built by and for the middle and working class began to have more access, still it was considered a luxury. Remember that the hammam was still an important feature in the city and every neighborhood had several such spaces.

Improved hygiene at home and rational domestic space appear in the popular press and popular culture as evidence of good manners and class. For example, advertising for modern bathrooms proliferates in the 1930s onwards. At the same time popular magazines were saturated with advertising for household items as well as personal hygiene products such as Nabulsi Farouq, a popular soap named after the king. In a popular ad circulating in the 1940s, Egypt’s two leading performers Muhammad Abdel Wahab and Om Kulthoum are pictured along with testimonies to the product at hand: “Naboulsi Farouq is an enjoyable and surprising product that attests to Egyptian industry,” a signed statement by Om Kulthoum reads.

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In a 1944 film, “Bullet to the Heart,” Abdel Wahab performed one of his most famous musical scenes entirely in a modern bathroom as the star undressed and sang in the bath. That particular scene and song are essentially a celebration of modern plumbing. Yet this was a celebration of modernity as afforded to a particular class inhabiting a particular kind of dwelling. Middle and upper classes were to desire and therefore pay for such amenities and perhaps hire an architect along the way to provide the plans for such spaces. A modern bathroom was a sign of social refinement and class mobility.

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In the early 1950s modern sewage and plumbing were still not available to vast segments of society particularly outside big urban centers. During that decade the state invested heavily in sanitation, sewage and water infrastructure. Housing projects across the country built by the state introduced many to the modern bathroom for the first time. The state also  manufactured toilets, sinks and other household items for the modern Egyptian family. Such products were sold at reduced prices in showrooms across the country. The toilet became a national project and a symbol of developmentalism.