Posts tagged art

Cairo’s Traveling Peep Show Boxes


By Manar Moursi

It’s late in the afternoon on Sunday in Manial. Spring has arrived and bubbles are blowing in the air from an ice-cream cart look-alike. Two Cookdoor (fast food chain) employees in identical orange uniforms are seen peeping through the holes of what appears to be a cart but is tinted with pastel colors with a faceted form. A performer’s voice rings clear over this untouched quiet stretch of a corniche in Cairo with the words of a mawwal of Sheikh Immam:

“Protect your candle from the wind

Whether you choose to love or not

The morning is light dear fish;

Love whom you wish”

The ice-cream cart lookalike is the Wonder Box or Sandook El Agab, a storytelling-public art and design project inspired in form and function by the ancient Sandook El Donya/raree that were in use from as far as China to Europe and the Middle East from the 15th century onward. Earlier this month, two seemingly familiar objects a giant disco ball with Islamic patterns and an ice cream cart lookalike, visited the neighborhoods of Heliopolis, Bayn El Sarayat, Shobra El Kheima, Manial, Moqattam, Zamalek, and Ezbet Khairallah to awe and inspire audiences.


The traditional Sandook El Donya often took the form of a simple wooden box with magnifying lenses and a set of prints inside, which along with the storytelling talents of the showmen that accompanied it were a medium through which the public was transported through a magical journey of stories and places they had never seen before.

Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti is credited for the design of the first raree/peep show boxes in 15th century Europe. Alberti’s innovation was a mechanism which allowed users to look at perspective views through a small hole in a wooden box. Once viewers set their eyes near the hole they entered a private space of wonder beyond the mundaneness of their daily life. The traditional Sandook El Donya traveled from Italy to Egypt and once here, was modified with a form particular to this region, with puppets and “aragozes” that personified stories relating to this context.

Mahatat, a collective which brings art to public spaces along with curator Aida El Kashef conceived the idea to revive the medium of the old Sandook El Donya with new forms and techniques in early 2013. A year later, after receiving a generous grant from the Swiss Cooperation in Cairo, they invited 9 artists from multiple disciplines including architects to storytellers and musicians to work collectively on the design, construction and animation of 2 boxes with contemporary forms and techniques. These two boxes would begin their journeys across Cairo traveling from Moqattam to Shobra El Kheima.



Storytellers Laila El Balouty and Ahmed Mostafa collected stories from taxi and microbus drivers, as they were seen as vehicles which contain and collect everyday stories and myths that circulate around the city. These stories were merged and augmented through fictional devices. El Balouty and Mostafa worked in close collaboration with musicians Shadi El Hosseiny and Abdallah AbouZekry who composed the musical backdrop to the stories. Meanwhile architects Manar Moursi (of Studio Meem) and Mohamed Hassan worked alongside the visual arts team (comprised of Maya Gowaily, Yasmin Elayat and Youssef Faltas) to coordinate and integrate their structural constraints in the design of the two boxes.

For the design aspect it was important to visit and see existing traditional sandooks here in Cairo which are currently housed at the Agricultural Museum in Dokki and the Geographical Society in Qasr El Ainy. Further research was done not only on historical forms and techniques but contemporary uses particularly in India where the tradition is still alive in small towns across the subcontinent.





The artists decided from early on that one sandook would integrate traditional techniques with cutouts and projection mapping inside it while looking more futuristic from the outside. In contrast, the other sandook would integrate more interactive techniques while appearing to be more traditional in its exterior. Both sandooks were designed for private immersive experiences for the 4 viewers that were able to look through the holes at a time. The idea was to have 3 stories per sandook and to select members of the audience who could peep through the holes per story. The stories would be repeated in each performance site in order to allow more people to enjoy the experience. An important design objective was therefore to create a strong visual statement with the outer form of the sandook that would still captivate the non-peeping audience as they listened to the storytellers.

For the design aspect of the first sandook, I was inspired by a recent visit to Mashhad in Iran and the mirrored Islamic patterns that seemed to have psychedelic transcendental impact on those who witnessed their interiors.  I found those patterns repeated in egg shops and maklas (nut and seed shops) that dot Cairo. Seeing that mirrors were also employed as animation tools in the praxinscope-like techniques used inside the traditional sandooks, it was decided that mirrors in an Islamic pattern would be projected on a geodesic sphere to reference in some way both the context and these traditional techniques.

The form of a sphere was employed because of its purity and the desire to connect visually to magic crystal and disco balls. The designers wanted Cairo to have it its own giant disco ball that would travel accompanied by two storytellers and fantastical animated illustrations inside. The end result looked futuristic, like a giant space ship had landed in Bayn el Sarayat and in front of the Bazeleek Church in Heliopolis. Traveling around the city in an open truck the mirrors reflected light in brilliant patterns along their path.


The sphere was built as two geodesic domes that fit perfectly onto each other and these domes were further broken into 2 types of triangles that were attached together by joints that could be connected and disconnected. The idea was to construct something that can be assembled and disassembled easily on-site and then stored in a compact form in Mahatat’s office for future use.

For the second sandook, the form was derived from the everyday ice cream carts that one sees regularly around the city. The ice cream cart fulfilled both functional (size of projection screen) and aesthetic requirements as it was meant to disarm the viewer who would be called at by its everyday familiar sight with a slightly different palette of colors and form only to discover a whole set of digital interactive wonders to be experienced by peeping through its holes. In this sandook, the peeps were in a two level, dual layered experience for the viewer to move through. The peeps themselves were meant to be somewhat immersive thus their inward facing facets that acted as beehives of sorts to draw the viewers in.

The two sandooks will be traveling to Germany this upcoming July to perform at a university there. Upon their return to Egypt, the goal is to travel with both through different towns and small cities along the Delta.

Once out on the streets, the sandooks acted as transporters through time and space and purveyors of both edification and pleasure. In one story on the loss of the legendary Simon Bolivar’s sword, a drive through the city takes viewers to visit statues of the downtown midans, which come to life to startle and delight the viewers with their personal histories and contemporary stories.


La Viennoise Hotel: Art From Sandouk El Dounia to DCAF 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.


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

Spotlight on Gypsum Gallery


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.


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.


[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.


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.



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

Hassan Khan Exhibition and Kodak Passage 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.


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:

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.




*Text and Photos courtesy of CLUSTER

Virtual Egyptian Contemporary Art Museum (VECAM)


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

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.

Exhibit: Huda Lutfi’s Cut & Paste at Townhouse Gallery

Cut and Paste- Huda Lutfi

Cut and Paste
Huda Lutfi
Townhouse Factory Space
December 1, 2013- January 8, 2014
Opening reception
Sunday, December 1, 7 pm

In “Cut and Paste,” Huda Lutfi presents a psycho-geographic archive of emotions, gestures, figures of speech and images that circulated in public space during Egypt’s transitional period. All new work produced over the past two years, these collages, found objects and sculptures combine to create one impressionistic story of the recent past.

The exhibition’s title refers to the material process of making collages, as well as the archival process of collecting information from the internet. But it also refers to a certain frenetic process of history-making, in which the same events seem to repeat themselves over and over again. The works in “Cut and Paste” are highly repetitious in nature, whether because they are produced in serials, or compositionally rely on the repetition of the same phrase, text or image. They are infused with that strange phenomenon of déjà vu—an in-between, indeterminate experience that seems so familiar and banal, but that has particular significance in this political context. If we feel that we have already experienced the present moment, then we should be able to predict what is about to happen—but, as Lutfi’s work suggests, that sense of control is always illusory.

Derrida’s “archive fever” has been raging in the region since the revolutionary spring of 2011. There is a paranoia over the authorship of this as-yet-unformed historical narrative; a desire to grasp it and understand it through archival materials; and a destruction and manipulation of archival materials in an attempt to influence that narrative. There are institutionalized, consciously crafted moments of amnesia that coexist with moments of overly determined, overly present memories.

An archive of absences, “Cut and Paste” attempts to capture those fleeting moments and moods that are edited out of traditional historical narratives. The artist was attracted to these materials impulsively, because they triggered intense emotional reactions. They were not selected according to a hierarchy of perceived value, and this body of work does not pretend to be a comprehensive record of events; instead, it is highly personal, non-linear in its chronology, and blurry in its actual presentation of events. In fact, “Cut and Paste” is not a record or documentation of reality at all, but a remixing of a lived experience.

For more information please contact Townhouse at +202-2576 80 86. For press material please contact Marwa Morgan, Public relations manager at .

Curating the exhibit “Covering One’s Back”


مها مآمون والاء يونس

ما قبل

وجه مركز الجزيرة للفنون دعوة إلى المؤسسة الثقافية السويسرية (بروهلفتسيا) للتعاون لتنظيم معرض للتصوير الفوتوغرافي في صالات المركز يفتتح في مايو ٢٠١٣. لبت المؤسسة الدعوة وكلفتنا بدور القيّم الفني تاركة لنا حرية تحديد موضوع/اتجاه المعرض والفنانين المشتركين، على أن نراعي التركيز على الوسيط الفوتوغرافي، والتمثيل الموازي ما بين المشاركين السويسريين والعرب والالتزام بحدود الميزانية والمساحة المتاحة.

تطلب البحث في الأعمال ومقابلة الفنانين والمصورين العرب والسويسريين وقتا طويلا، لا سيما في محاولة معرفة كيف وعلى ما يمكن أن تلتقي المشاريع الفنية والفوتغرافية لهذه المجموعة الواسعة من منتجي الصور. وكذلك الطريقة التي تمكنهم من مخاطبة المشاهد في القاهرة التي لم تتوقف عن إنتاج واستهلاك فيضان من الصور المتمحورة على ذاتها فقط من بعد ثورة يناير.

كان السؤال: ما الصور التي نطيق النظر إليها الآن؟ وما الصور التي ستحتمل مواجهتنا؟

من هنا، بدا أن المساحة الوحيدة التي يمكن أن تلتقي بها اهتمامات المصورين العرب والسويسريين مع اهتمامات المشاهد هي المساحة التي يحددها المشاهد بنفسه، وقد أصبح بفعل ما مر ويمر به من ظرف شخصي وتاريخي، مُشاهد حادٌ، قليل الصبر على ما هو خارج إطار اهتمامه ووضعه الآني والآتي.  

الحذر والاصرار والشك والتحقق والطموح والانزواء والاستعراض والخداع والترهيب والتبرير وصون النفس، هي المشاعر التي ترافقنا بشكل يومي، الآن أكثر مما مضى. اتخذت هذه المشاعر كنقطة ارتكاز لمعرض “أمِّن ظهرك”، وكصلة وصل ضمنية بين المشاريع الفنية الثمانية في المعرض وما بين المُشاهد.




إلى جانب المشاعر والمساحات المشتركة ما بين الجمهور والصورة، اهتم المعرض بإبراز أعمال من لغات وممارسات فوتوغرافية مختلفة، تبحث سواء بسواء في شكل وموضوع وسياق إنتاج الصورة واستقبالها.

حضر “جيمي شنادير” (1979) لهايني شتوكي بنظارة سوداء ووجه مصمت لا يبوح، ينظر مباشرة في الكاميرا، إلا أن مباشرته لا تشي بشيء. يحسن إخفاء ورقه. مذهل بكلا المعنيين للكلمة. ليس عليه أن يفعل شيئا أكثر ليستبقي اهتمامنا، ليهددنا أو ينجو منا. لم يأت وحده، بل مع مجموعة طاغية من الشخصيات الهامشية التي صادفها شتوكي في جولاته في شوارع مدينة برن السويسرية. شخصيات تقف على الحافة، قريبة ومألوفة لنا نفسيا برغم بعدها الجغرافي.

يليهم مقامرو سباق الخيول الذين صورهم ياسر علوان على مدى سنوات في نادي الجزيرة الرياضي القريب من المركز. يقف الرجال أمامنا مكشوفين وأجسادهم ملتوية بتنبؤات الربح والخسارة. “رغم كل العقبات” (1996 - 2001) وعلمهم بتزوير اللعبة، يقامرون على لحظة من خسارة وشيكة. كذلك يتماسك “غ.ر.ا.ه.ا.م” (2008)، وهو يحافظ على تعابير وجهه وصمته واتصال عينيه بالكاميرا، أمام أسئلة حسن خان الحثيثة ولربما المتعدية. بورتريه صامت ممتد في الوقت صُور بكاميرا فيديو.

نجد نوعا آخر من مواجهة الصعاب ومن التساؤل في ماهية الصورة الفوتوغرافية والمتحركة في مجموعة من حوارات أجراها غوران غاليتش وجان-ريتو غريدغ مع مصورين صحفيين محترفين. “مصورون في صراع” (2007)، هم أيضا يواجهون الكاميرا ويجيبون عن الأسئلة التي يوجهها الفنانين، كاشفين بعضا من أجندات خفية شخصية ومهنية للتصوير الصحفي.


 [“أراض متحركة” (2011) لجورج عودة]

ليس علينا بالضرورة أن نكون في مواجهة وصراع كل الوقت، يمكننا أن نتذاكى فنقفز عبر المستحيل. أن نعيد إنتاج ذواتنا. في “خذني إلى هذا المكان، أريد أن أفعل الذكريات” (2011)، للمجموعة الفنية “أطفال أحداث”، تختار الوجوه أجسامها من نماذج توفرها ستوديوهات التصوير التجارية في بعض البلاد العربية. لدى المرء فرصة أن يضع وجهه في الفراغ وينطلق. كن نفسك في مكان آخر، بشكل آخر، وإلى ما لا نهاية. متجاوزا كل قيود الواقع الغير رقمي.

هذه المنطقة المتحولة ما بين الواقع والنسخة المصطنعة منه هي التي يتموضع فيها “اللا حقيقي العظيم” (5-2009). مستعينين بمخزون من الحيل التصويرية والسينمائية، يخرج تايو أونوراتو ونكو كربس في رحلة برية لينتجوا صورا أسطورية جديدة لأمريكا. ما بين المرح والنقد، يأرجح الفنانان صورة أمريكا الهوليودية، شكلا ومضمونا، متجاوزان سيطرة الصور الشائعة.

بينما يقدم رفائل هفتي مجموعة صور توثق الخصائص الغير مرئية (السرعة والصوت) لفعل مادي بحت (اختراق رصاصة لوسيط) في “صورة رصاصة”(2009).  قياسات تقنية، وجدها الفنان في أرشيف شركة صناعات باليستية، أخذت بكاميرات خاصة لتقبض على صورة الرصاصة في لحظات معلقة ما بين منطلقها ومستقرها. صور علمية تقارب التجريد، منسلخة عن سياقها الجيوسياسي.

"معابر هادئة" (2009) في "أراض متحركة" (2011) لجورج عودة هي أيضا صور لفراغات تنحتها الحركة. آثار خافتة لمرور عمال / مهجرين / مهربين عبر الحدود أو في مناطق سكنية في مدينة بيروت. في عبورهم الطوعي أو القسري تتقاطع المسارات الشخصية بالسياسية.


[“خذني إلى هذا المكان، أريد أن أفعل الذكريات” (2011)، للمجموعة الفنية “أطفال أحداث”]


[من مجموعة “رغم كل العقبات” لياسر علوان]

ما بعد

مركز الجزيرة فضاء نشيط ويستقبل زوارا مهتمين بالفنون البصرية وكذلك زوار جاره متحف الفنون الإسلامية المغلق للترميم. للمركز حديقة ومسرح خارجي وقاعة سينما، ويندرج تحت إدارة قطاع الفنون التشكيلية التابع لوزارة الثقافة.

يمكننا أن نقول أن حضور المعرض جاء ناجحا جدا. وفد الزائرون في الافتتاح بأعداد كبيرة، ما بين طلاب الجامعات، ومزج من رواد مركز الجزيرة للفنون المتابعين لفعالياته ومن رواد الفضاءات والمؤسسات الأخرى التي نأتي نحن (كمنسقتان/فنانتان) منها. قليل ما يتقابل مثل هذان الجمهوران. بالنسبة لنا، كان من المثير أن نرى الوجوه المألوفة في وسط عديد من وجوه غير مألوفة، ونسمع الأسئلة أو التعليقات أو الضحكات أمام أعمال فكّرنا أيضا أنها طريفة. ربما تعودنا على التقسيم الموجود اليوم في وسطنا الفني: الفن الفلاني في الأماكن الفلانية، وانقسام الجمهور تباعا.

تكررت الأسئلة يوم الافتتاح: كيف أتيح لكما المكان؟ كيف كان التعامل مع العاملين فيه؟ ج: كانوا متعاونين جدا وراغبين في المساعدة وربما مكتفي الأيدي في كثير من الأحيان إزاء قلة الامكانيات المتاحة من القطاع والإجراءات الطويلة والصراعات الوظيفية على امتداد السلم الوظيفي. س: كيف نستطيع أن نعرض فيه؟ ج: تم الاتفاق ما بين مؤسسة بروهلفتسيا ومركز الجزيرة قبل ظهورنا في الصورة، ولكن المكان نظريا (بقاعاته ومسرحه وسينماه) متاح للحجز وبالمجان. س: ما هي معايير أو شروط القبول؟ ج: لا نعرف! ولكن عليكم أن توفروا بأنفسكم غالب المعدات وأن تتكفلوا بمصاريف الإنتاج وبأجور الأوقات الإضافية للنجارين أو النقاشين (المتاحين ولكن الأضمن أن تأتوا بعمالكم نظرا لضيق الوقت وبيروقراطية الإجراءات) وبأثمان الطلاء لو حاد عن اللون الأبيض وبالالتزام بإعادته إلى لونه الأصلي بعد انتهاء العرض. واعلموا بأن وحدات الإنارة عمرها قصير وأن المخزن تنقصه الموارد فعليكم أن تستعدوا بلمبات إضافية حتى لا تظلم أجزاء من القاعة خلال مدة معرضكم، وأن الأجهزة التي يوفرها القطاع عليها طلب كبير لذا قد لا تتوفر طوال مدة العرض. وأن الطلب على العرض في هذه القاعات كبير جدا لذلك قد تختصر مدة المعرض إلى اسبوع واحد أحيانا أو تضغط مدة تركيب وفك المعرض إلى يوم أو نصف يوم مهما كان حجم المعرض، مما سيؤثر قطعا على جودةالعرض والعمل الفني المعروض. س: هل هذه المعلومات منشورة في مكان ما وأين؟ ج: لا نعرف. س: لمَ تظل هذه المعلومات غير معروفة لعامة مستخدمي ورواد المركز وقطاع واسع من الفنانين المبتدئين ومن المحترفين الذين يعملون في هذا المجال وهذه المدينة منذ زمن طويل؟ ج: للعلم، يسري هذا الوضع على شبكة عريضة من الفضاءات التابعة لوزارة الثقافة.

في حوار على الإذاعة المصرية، س: لماذا اخترتم فضاء خاصا يخاطب فئة معينة ومحدودة من الناس؟ ج: هذا فضاء عام تابع لوزارة الثقافة، ونظريا زيارته متاحة للجميع. لو أحيط، أو غيره، بهالة “النخبوية” فإنما هو انعكاس للفجوات بين عموم الجمهور والسياسات الثقافية للدولة. س: هل يمكن تنظيم هذا المعرض في مركز للشباب مثلا؟ ج: يمكن تأهيل مثل هذه المساحات لتوفر ما تتطلبه طبيعة الأعمال الفنية من تقنيات وظروف عرض متخصصة، ولكن من يقوم بهذا الدور، بينما، ربما، من الأولى أن يعاد تأهيل وتفعيل دور وقصور الثقافة المنتشرة والشبه متوقفة عن العمل الحقيقي.

Artists as Urban Catalysts in Downtown Cairo


Last December the Geothe Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “Artists as Urban Catalysts in Downtown Cairo.” The event was organized by Beth Stryker and Omar Nagati (Cluster) and supported by the Ford Foundation. Invited panelists represented two types of stakeholders in downtown: property owners (Karim Shafei, CEO of Al Ismaelia Real Estate Development, and Bruce Ferguson, Dean of the School of Humanities representing the American University in Cairo), and representatives of cultural organizations (founding member of the Contemporary Image Collective Heba Farid, Townhouse Curator Ania Szremski, filmmaker and co-founder of Cimateque Tamer El Said). The panel was moderated by Mohamed Elshahed (Cairobserver).

The panel aimed to bring together the above mentioned representatives in an open public discussion to re-examine what the organizers called “the classic appropriation of artists as catalysts for urban regeneration by real-estate developers seeking future gentrification,”  asking how things might play out differently in Cairo. However, a key word in that sentence is difficult to translate into Arabic: Gentrification. Although the discussion was held in English (with Arabic translation available), it was important to note the untransability of the conversation’s central concept. The unavailability of a direct translation of the term/concept doesn’t mean the processes of gentrification do not exist in Cairo but it points to the need for analysis and theorization grounded in the Egyptian context.

AUC’s downtown campus, much of which is no longer in use, could potentially act as an anchor for cultural activity downtown and provide much needed space for independent artist organizations as well as to its own students to maintain the link between the now suburban university and its downtown urban past. The university has not taken an active role in realizing that potential, however it has made its Falaki Theater available for public performances and events. Al-Ismailia on the other hand is actively engaged with arts and culture in downtown; not only do several arts organizations rent space from the company, Al-Ismailia is also the main sponsor and organizer of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival.

The three arts spaces represented (CIC, Cimateque and Townhouse) while they rent the spaces they presently occupy, their relatively short-term leases mean insecurity and potentially being forced out of their premises due a variety of economic factors. In other cities, particularly in Europe, similar arts organizations were able to negotiate deals with municipalities in which long-term leases were granted, sometimes with no rent, which has helped such organizations thrive by focusing their funds into their creative activities while catalyzing the regeneration of their urban contexts (which municipalities are interested in). Such a process is not possible in Cairo as the state; the governorate (the closest Cairo has to a municipality) does not seek artists as catalysts for areas it manages where underused buildings could be transformed into cultural centers. Nor does the Cairo governorate have a development plan or vision in which independent culture plays a key role in transforming the city. Thus, Cairo’s independent artists and the cultural organizations they establish depend on their relationship to private property owners when it comes to establishing a space. The three speakers on this side of the debate explicated the opportunities and challenges they face in this matter.

It is important to note that Egypt has a massive centralized Culture Ministry with an immense budget and numerous spaces including nearby downtown at the campus of the Opera and in downtown such as the National Theater. However these spaces are often inactive and unwelcoming not only to audiences but also to artists. The ministry’s budgets mostly go into paying wages, not into programming.

Two competing voices emerged from the audience; on one hand some applauded the work of Al Ismailia and its support for the arts in downtown. One audience member argued that as artists “no one owes us anything” and that artists must find ways to establish their spaces without relying on support from private interests. On the other hand, others voiced concern with those sentiments and argued that in the Egyptian context when contemporary art lacks cohesive institutional support, private developers and property owners have an increased responsibility to support artists with affordable spaces.

The panel discussion revealed the need for a mediating entity between the various and sometimes conflicting interests of stakeholders. As moderator I suggested the need to establish a “Downtown Arts Council,” an independent body that incorporates members of the various stakeholders on its board and which acts as a mediator, organizer, advocate and promoter of the arts in the district. Such councils have been established as non-profit organizations in cities around the world for several decades and they have had a key role in the stimulation of cultural and artistic life in those cities. An arts council for downtown Cairo will allow artists to focus on their creative work and not be burdened with logistics while acting as a buffer between the two co-dependent yet unequal (in financial terms) main players in this scene: the artists and the property owners/developers. The institutional structure of arts councils differ around the world and their relationships to the states and ministries of culture also differ and range from direct support by the state to parallel operations and autonomy. Cairo’s downtown arts community and other stakeholders will need to sit down on many occasions besides this panel to decide on which model works best for Cairo’s context.

To this end the organizers staged the panel around the critical questions: “How is Cairo different from other cities, such as New York and Beirut, where such cycles of gentrification have taken place? What role may the underutilized AUC campus play in providing a  cultural anchor Downtown? What are the advantages and downsides of private sector partnerships between real estate stakeholders and independent artists and arts organizations?” They created this initial forum seeking “to explore potential local strategies for sustaining artists’ access to the generative contributions they make to urban development.”

The arts can be an engine for urban regeneration and development while urban development and investment can enrich the arts, but striking this balance without repeating the mistakes of other “creative city” experiments will be difficult. This panel discussion was an important first step in starting a meaningful conversation. Cluster organized the panel discussion as the first in what they are developing as an ongoing series of stakeholder meetings related to the arts and urban development in Downtown Cairo. Maintaining that conversation, evolving it and reaching useful conclusions and outcomes will be work that the stakeholders will have to carryout for themselves and in cooperation with one another, otherwise such panel discussions risk becoming ephemeral one off events with little tangible impact on the issues discussed therein.

For more information and for a video of the discussion click here.


Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

Brooklyn Arts Council

Reviewing the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival


The second edition of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) kicked off earlier this month. The program lasting over three weeks includes performing arts, visual arts, music, film, edutainment and “urban visions,” a program of free contemporary dance and theater events in public spaces. Festival organizer Ahmed El Attar is clear about his intentions: “to highlight that public space is the space for the exchange of values and practices between people, and that while politics and protest have paved the way in the last two years, art is another legitimate means of engaging with the world.” This is not just another urban renewal cultural event; there are specificities here that make this seemingly familiar concept of employing culture as a driver for urban development different in Cairo in 2013. The Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival is making space “for ideas to be discussed and projects to be planned, for audiences to be inspired and provoked.” While the political landscape continues to be illegible, and while clashes continue to sporadically erupt and while many are waiting by the sidelines to decide their next move, and while questions surround the future of the arts and freedom of expression D-CAF rushes in to actively become part of the conversation and of the process shaping the future of downtown Cairo and beyond.

One of the most successful aspects of the festival is the appropriation of space in downtown in new ways (dancing, theater and performance in public space), reusing spaces that have been closed for years (film screenings in Cinema Radio), or reimagining the uses of already functional spaces (concerts in Shahrazade Cabaret).

image [The Great War by Hotel Modern (The Netherlands) - April 16 - Falaki Theatre - Photo by Mostafa Abdel Aty]

One of the performances we attended was The Great War by Hotel Modern, a Dutch visual arts group (four persons) that combines puppets, theater, music, film and performance. The group performed twice in Falaki Theater, part of the downtown AUC campus. Using miniature sets placed on stage with small cameras transmitting images onto a projection, the group narrates World War I in less than an hour combining top down narrative (using a map of Europe with symbols for monarchs and armies) to the scale of individuals taking part in the war and a detailed retelling of soldier’s experiences on the war field. The stage set included various miniature sets for different scenes including a water tank for the scene of a sinking ship and another with dirt, herbs and paper cutouts for scenes involving distant cityscapes and battlefield fighting. All the sets, including the dirt, were shipped from the Netherlands. Making such a performance available in Egypt to a public audience is in itself new. The entry ticket for this event was 20 LE (Students: 10 LE).

image [SADAT (Egypt) - April 18 - Shahrazade - Photo by Mohamed Elshahed]

Another event we attended was a concert by SADAT (Egypt-Shaabi) and El Rass & Munma (Lebanon-Hiphop) at the famed Shahrazade nightclub on Alfi Street. SADAT is a popular Shaabi singer; a genre that crossed into the mainstream in new ways after the revolution and which now has an expanding audience crossing through Egyptian society. The concert was electric. The venue made for a perfect location for this kind of event. On most nights Shahrazade, one of downtown’s older nightlife establishments, hosts belly dance performances with a few tables for a predominantly male audience. The audience at the concert was diverse across the spectrum and the place was full. Currently there are few venues in downtown that host concerts or dance parties regularly; such events are often located in more exclusive venues with strict monitoring of those entering (males must be accompanied by females, or if you look not “classy” enough you may be denied entry, and often there is a high minimum charge). None of these obstacles were in place for this party/concert, which may explain the genuine fun that was visibly had by the audience. The entry ticket for this event was 30 LE.

The majority of the festival events are free of charge such as the play Alice by Sawsan Bou Khaled and Hussein Baydoun (Lebanon), which was performed in the Viennoise Hotel. The building, once a hotel but  closed for decades, has been used recently by a variety of art events such as the recent photo exhibition Studio Viennoise and the annual Cairo Documenta, adding a new and different kind of venue to the geography of arts and culture in Cairo.

Other free events include the InterLAB/Tele-exhibition hosted in Hotel Viennoise and Medrar Space in neighboring Garden City. Augmented Airspace is another free visual arts installation by Dia Hamed (Egypt) and Lot Amoros (Spain) located in Elwi St, behind the Egyptian Stock Exchange. Face the Vitrine is an installation by Ganzeer & Yasmin Elayat (Egypt), which takes place in a public storefront on Mahmoud Bassiouni St.

The festival’s film program focused on contemporary West African Cinema, an important contribution to the context of Cairo where arts and culture, including cinema, typically look north to Europe and North America, creating a bilnd spot that encompasses the artistic and filmic expressions of the rest of the world including African cinema. The film program is entirely free of charge and the screenings are hosted in the Goethe Institute and Radio Cinema. Films include Blind Ambition by Hassan Khan (Egypt, 2012), Underground/On the Surface (Egypt, 2013), Ai Weiwei: Never sorry (USA, 2012), Burn It Up Djassa (Ivory Coast, 2012), and Hope Travels (Burkina Faso, 2011).


image [100Hands (The Netherlands) - April 5 - Borsa - Photo by Mostafa Abdel Aty]

A particularly important aspect of the festival is its Urban Visions program which brings contemporary performances to public spaces and buildings in downtown Cairo but also to Hadaeq El Nil Club, El Badrasheen, Giza and the Ahmed Bahaa el Din Cultural Center in El Doweir Village in Assiut. The program’s performances use “non-traditional sites such as historical buildings, storefronts and alleyways as sites for performances, thus engaging audiences and performers with the city in a new way.” All performances in Urban Visions are free of charge.

Overall this festival is an important intervention in Cairo’s spatial and intellectual public space and it comes at a critical time when questions over arts, expression, and public space are most pertinent. In the absence of a coordinated effort by the state to use its infrastructure, its finances and its institutions such as the Culture Ministry to promote arts and culture, D-CAF contributes to adding to the complexity of downtown’s and Cairo’s arts and culture landscape. The learning curve the organizers have shown since last year’s edition of the festival is commendable.


image [TRAFFIC by Tomeo Verges (France) - April 5 - Mahmoud Basiouny - Photo by Mostafa Abdel Aty]

There are critics out there who choose to not take part in these activities, or complain that some events require ticketing or that there are too many corporate sponsors, some are even complaining they don’t like the name because it brings to mind the kind of coffee pointless in drinking. However, self-righteous sentiments such as these might be cool in Brooklyn or East London where other options might be available and where a variety of independent institutions often with sizable budgets organize events, concerts and festivals year round. D-CAF is creating space for Egyptian artists and audiences and providing Egyptian audiences access to international artists who otherwise would not perform in the country. While there are alternative events taking place such as Hal Badeel Festival, they are not competing events rather they are complementary and belong to different calibers.

The Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival goes on until 28 April; catch a show before you have to wait for next year’s festival. You can find the program here.

C.Scapes by Maia Gusberti

C.SCAPES from maia gusberti on Vimeo.

By Maia Gusberti

C.Scapes emerged of my curiosity and will to understand more about a multi-faceted, highly controversial and contested public space in Cairo. It was realized between 2007 and 2009, when no one believed in the changes happening now since 2011, lots of them in public space.

I first came to Cairo as an artist in residence in 2006. The streets and public spaces of Cairo instantly draw my interest because of its contradictions: its ever changing multi-layered use, the spontaneous inventions, its livelihood vs. its unwritten rules and regulations, the social restrictions, the emergency law — all these complexity I couldn’t understand intrigued me to study it. It became an intensely instructive artistic and personal approach towards a city and its people I wouldn’t miss ever. While working on C.Scapes I felt diving into a topic much more complex I’d ever imagined. It opened door after door, question after question. I conducted interviews with people from different socio-economic backgrounds in Manial, Maadi, Ard el-Lewa, Rehab City, Heliopolis, Wust el Balad, etc. In the film the presence of the interviewees is indicated through their voices only. I filmed from the confines of private space; from behind windows, curtains and from rooftops, instead of filming on the streets. Initially, this choice was a reaction to restrictions on filming — but to work around the constraints, to find alternative angles and perspectives to approach public space inspired me and were finally deeply influencing and enhancing my project. My aim was a dialog between the inside and the outside, between imagination, reality and the image, between myself, the interviewees and the audience.



Rewatching C.Scapes now obviously uncovers that people in my film precisely pointed out the role of the street as a highly contested, sensible social and political space. They commented — sometimes quite direct, sometimes between the lines, on its role as a lively room, a symbol for freedom and expression and their descriptions became a barometer for the underlaying implications of control and oppression, of a paralyzed society’s hopes, demands and dreams — beneath the daily struggle in this densely populated, multi-layered, segregated city.



Many things changed since I worked on C.Scapes.— I can only talk about from a distance, after following the upheavals, some success and lots of drawbacks from afar. I only visited Cairo a single time since 2011. Egyptians reclaimed the street, reclaimed what should be public, are filming and documenting daily confrontations, struggles and conflicts with all means handy. Camera and public domain are now tools and means of negotiation and resistance of awakened, conscious and politicized citizens.


When watching C.Scapes now, I feel joy — about the liveliness and awareness of people, about their strength to take back what’s instantly theirs: the public space (and lots more). Having in mind what happened since I collected interviews in 2007/08, C.Scapes becomes a so much more complex document than intended. There are comments in C.Scapes touching me deeply, make us thoughtful, make us reflect on what’s happening … It’s the experience of the dense reality about which we’re being told — to realize: it cracked, it’s in process, people demand their space to breath —  they protest, live, even dance — express their life in the streets, in the public sphere that is legitimately and evidently theirs. C.Scapes was intended to be an ongoing dialogue between the interviewees and audience. And its interesting to listen and remember what was phrased and dreamt about aloud before the seed was planted for change …



C.Scapes  a project by Maia Gusberti

37:00 min, Video HD

Concept, image and editing: Maia Gusberti

Sound: Mahmoud Refat

Interviews, translations, assistance: Shahira Issa

Locations:Yasser Naeim & Shahira Issa
© Maia Gusberti 2009

supported by Pro Helvetia Cairo, BMuKK Austria


Video-Preview o C.Scapes Video


more Information and texts o C.Scapes Info


Exhibitions, Screenings

Kino im Kunstmuseum Bern (CH) 2013

Connect, Art between Media and Reality, Shedhalle Zürich (CH), 2011 
Swiss Art Awards, Art Basel, 2010 

Aeschlimann-Corti Award, Kunsthaus Langenthal (CH), 2010

Where are you, Pro Helvetia, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo 2009

C.Scapes, Stadtgalerie, PROGR, Bern 2009

Event: Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, 4-28 April, 2013


Press Release:

D-CAF is coming back to Downtown Cairo,

opening its doors to the public from 4-28 April 2013

Egyptian contemporary artists and performers will be joined by leading international names in a month-long calendar of independent music, performing arts, film, visual arts, street performances and workshops.

For information on D-CAF 2013 program please visit:

and d-caf blog:

image [Alice, a play presented as a world premiere in this year’s D-CAF, by the Lebanese Sawsan Bou Khaled and Hussein Baydoun]

The Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) opens its doors to the public for the second year, from 4-28 April 2013. After the successful launch of the festival last year, D-CAF is back with a rich program of contemporary performances and visual arts to be shown in historic locations and outdoor spaces in downtown Cairo.  D-CAF is currently Egypt’s largest international contemporary multi-disciplinary festival and, throughout the month of April, Cairo audiences will enjoy a wide variety of independent theatre and dance performances, music concerts, visual arts exhibitions, film screenings and workshops.

D-CAF 2013 will feature some of Europe’s leading independent acts who will perform in Cairo - many for the very first time - alongside artists from Egypt and the region.  For organisers this broad diversity of art forms and performers is what makes this festival unique: ” At D-CAF, we’re not presenting a single art form or a single trend. Rather, we’re trying to give Cairo audiences a snapshot of what is available, worldwide, in contemporary art today,” says Festival Director, Ahmed El Attar. “We’re trying to make the experience as varied as possible to cater to the widest possible audience”.

As a result of this focus, D-CAF’s month-long program of events will this year encompass around 130 international and Egyptian artists presenting work in a variety of art forms: this includes the D-CAF performing arts program which will include several internationally acclaimed acts such as Algerian Director, Kheireddine Lardjam’s play “End/Igne” performed by Compagnie El Ajoud and Anatomia Publica, a contemporary dance piece choreographed by renowned French choreographer, Tomeo Verges, who will also stage two original dance creations with Egyptian performers specially created for D-CAF. Dutch Theater Group, Hotel Modern, is also among acts featured and will bring their iconic theater piece “The Great War” to Egypt and the Arab world for the very first time. The D-CAF music program this year celebrates modern sounds representative of the streets and the revolution in a series of Thursday night concerts, throughout the duration of the festival. A star-studded line up of music acts will include America’s celebrity DJ Khadafi Dub, Tunisia’s Emel Mathlouthi and Egypt’s Dina el Wedidi and SADAT.

image [The Dutch company Hotel Modern’s piece: The Great War.]

Building on the success of last year, D-CAF will once again present its Urban Visions program, a rich calendar of contemporary dance and performances taking place in the streets around Tahrir Square. These include the Netherlands Dance Group, 100 Hands who will be performing in Egypt for the very first time.

The festival’s visual arts program is this year curated by Cairo-based independent arts institution, Medrar for Contemporary Art, who will be exploring the digital frontier of contemporary visual arts through a series of collaborations between Egyptian and international artists.  The D-CAF film program will explore underground and resistance cinema with a special focus on Contemporary West African Cinema. Meanwhile, the Edutainment program will offer a series of public seminars and workshops, including workshops for artists and for children delivered by Britain’s renowned Bootworks Theater Collective.

According to Ahmed El Attar: “We want to use D-CAF as a platform to attract, into Egypt, regional and international performers who are shaping the world of contemporary art but whom Egyptian audiences rarely get to see. The Festival also hopes to create opportunities for collaboration and cross-fertilisation between these international names and Egypt’s own thriving independent arts scene.”

Event: Artists as Urban Catalysts in Downtown Cairo

Goethe Institut [5 El Bostan Street, Downtown, Cairo]
December 8, 2012
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm


Tamer El Said, Filmmaker, Co-founder of Cimateque

Heba Farid, Artist, Founding member of Contemporary Image Collective (CIC),
Project Coordinator of the Photographic memory of Egypt program for CULTNAT

Bruce Ferguson, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the American University in Cairo

Karim Shafei, CEO of Al Ismaelia Real Estate Developments

Ania Szremski, Curator, Townhouse Gallery

Moderated by: Mohamed Elshahed, Founder and Editor of Cairobserver.

This panel discussion explores the role that artists and arts organizations are playing in the development of Downtown Cairo. A direct dialogue between representatives of Al Ismailia Real Estate Developments and The American University in Cairo with artists and cultural organizations currently staking out cultural outposts downtown (including Townhouse Gallery, Cimateque, and CIC), the panel re-examines the classic appropriation of artists as catalysts for urban regeneration by real-estate developers seeking future gentrification. How might things play out differently in Cairo? How is Cairo different from other cities, such as New York and Beirut, where such cycles of gentrification have taken place? What role may the underutilized AUC campus play in providing a cultural anchor Downtown? What are the advantages and downsides of private sector partnerships between real estate stakeholders and independent artists and arts organizations? Through critical conversation this forum seeks to explore potential local strategies for sustaining artists’ access to the generative contributions they make to urban development.

This program is curated and organized by Beth Stryker and Omar Nagati/Cluster with support from the Ford Foundation and the Goethe Institut. It is part of a series of activities sponsored by the Ford Foundation that aim to provide a platform to facilitate communication and learning among Egyptians working on issues affecting the urban environment.

الفنانيين كمحفز للعمران

معهد جوته: 5 شارع البستان – وسط البلد

السبت 8 ديسمبر، 2012

من الساعة 6 إلى 8 مساءا


تامر السعيد، مخرج، الشريك المؤسس لسيماتيك

هبة فريد، فنانة، عضو مؤسس مجموعة الصورة المعاصر و منسق مشروع ذاكرة مصر الفوتوغرافية

بروس فيرجسون، عميد كلية العلوم الإنسانية والاجتماعية، الجامعة الأمريكية في القاهرة

كريم الشافعي، الرئيس التنفيذي لشركة الاسماعيلية للتطوير العمرانى

انيا سريمسكي، المنسق، تاون هاوس جاليري

تحت إشراف: محمد الشاهد، مؤسس ورئيس تحرير كايرو ابزرفر

تسعى هذہ الجلقة إلى خلق حوار نقدى ما بين مطور العمران ومؤسسات مالكة لأرصدة عمرانية (الإسماعلية و الجامعة الامريكية) من جهة، ومؤسسات ثقافية وفنية ذات مواقع متقدمة فى عمران وسط المدينة (تاون هاوس جاليري، سيماتيك، مجموعة الصورة المعاصرة) وذلك لإستكشاف الدور الذى يلعبة الفنانون فى تطوير وسط المدينة، وتطوير رؤى بديلة ومستدامة للإطر المؤسسية والمالية للساحات الفنية والثقافية (منهم من يتعرضون لخطر الإنتقال خارج وسط المدينة بنهاية عقودهم الإيجارية قصيرة الأجل). وسوف يتم التعرض لأمثلة إقليمية ودولية بمدن أخرى من خلال رؤية مقارنة لدراسة دور الأرصدة االثقافية والإقتصادية فى تطوير الثراث العمرانى لوسط المدينة.

ينظم هذہ الجلسة كلا من بث ستريكر وعمر نجاتى بدعم من مؤسسة فورد ومعهد غوته. وهى جزء من سلسلة من الأنشطة التي ترعاها مؤسسة فورد والتي تهدف إلى توفير منصة لتسهيل الاتصال والتعاون بين المصريين العاملين على القضايا التي تؤثر في البيئة الحضرية.