In Pictures: Lebanese artist creates his Fictional Museum in Cairo

Berlin-based Lebanese artist Said Baalbaki deconstructs history in Munich, Berlin and Cairo simultaneously through his Fictional Museum running at Hotel Viennoise until 25 May — Published in Ahram Online, Video published in Medrar TV and Vernissage TV as part of a joint workshop on video production on arts in Cairo.

Within the visual arts programme presented by the Norwegian Red Zone festival, hosted by the Spring Festival in Cairo, Berlin-based Lebanese artist Said Baalbaki uses conceptual art and objects to blur the line between fiction and reality in a historical and religious context through his Fictional Museum project.

Baalbaki’s endeavour focuses on several stories, the most notable of which centres on Al-Buraq, a winged horse featured in Islamic tradition akin to the Pegasus of Greek mythology. According to the Qur’an, Prophet Mohamed made a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back over the course of one night on this creature. On this night – celebrated by Muslims as Al-Israa wal Mi’raj – he ascended to heaven and spoke to God.

The exhibition sets itself out as a museum, except Baalbaki presents narratives as facts, thus challenging the very concept of museums. “I am an artist, not a historian. I use history to present a visual image,” the artist commented to Ahram Online.

Fictional Museum

The Fictional Museum (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

“Museum spaces have always been interesting to me — ever since I [frequently] visited museums with my father when I was young. But I also found an issue, which is the credibility of museums in showcasing knowledge. Especially in our region, there is a crisis in reading history, in writing history and in the credibility of the information presented. This project has served to address all of the issues that have been on my mind since 2006, when I started working on the Buraq project,” Baalbaki said.

Fictional Museum

Fictional Museum (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

“The museum as an institution has a kind of credibility. When we enter the space, we give up a part of our objectivity. We do not question any of the information presented. This is precisely the point I was tackling: What makes us take this information for granted? Why do we not put this information under a microscope and question, or even, refuse it. Our history is not written by us. As defeated societies, we have no impact on history,” Baalbaki elaborated.

Al Buraq 1

Al-Buraq (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The artist creates a setting for the first of his three-part Buraq project, combining these details: Jerusalem, just before the outbreak of WWI, the discovery of fossils. The fossils are sent to Berlin, where they are re-assembled. Two scientists — a palaeontologist in Berlin called Hans Wellenhofer and an ornithologist in Munich named Heinrich Ralph Glücksvogel — exchange a series of correspondences on the nature of the discovery. The letters laid out in the exhibition space reveal that one scientist deems the finding to be the remains of a horse with congenital deformities, while the other leans towards mythology, believing the animal to be extinct and building his theory on the Buraq in Islam.

Al-Buraq 2

Al-Buraq (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

While the third part of the Buraq exhibition remains in progress, the artist takes a historical, rather than a religious, approach in its second chapter. As the story follows the relationship between the Hashemite Family and British colonialists in the Arabian Peninsula, the artist sprinkles some fiction over historical facts to make them more believable.

Baalbaki’s story goes thus: the British wished to offer a symbolic gift to Hussein Ben Ali, whose dream was to establish an Arab kingdom from Mecca to Jerusalem. The British wanted Ben Ali’s dream to remain merely symbolic. The symbol becomes the Buraq, since it transported Prophet Mohamed from Mecca to Jerusalem.

Al Buraq 3

Al-Buraq (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The fictional museum is being simultaneously exhibited in Munich, Berlin and Cairo. According to the artist, the Cairo version is the only one showcasing the two chapters of the Buraq. “Each version is different, but each has its specifics,” stressed Baalbaki.


I am Now Dead: Independent production back on stage after nine years

Ahram Online talks with director Hani Afifi about why his play I am Now Dead is just as important now as it was almost a decade ago — Published in Ahram Online.

Nine years after it featured at the French Institute’s Jeunes Créateurs (Young Creators) theatre festival, the black comedy I am Now Dead is back on stage at Falaki Theatre between 14 and 16 May.

There are several factors that prompted director and writer Hani Afifi to bring the production back to the stage – the grimness that fills the air in Egypt now, the current state of politics and society, which resemble the years leading up to the 2011 revolution, plus youth who are too uninspired to truly participate in the political process and the media playing its own game through propaganda and the economic crisis.

While Afifi’s team thought they would make significant changes in the script, they ended up altering only a few lines in the original text to bring the performance up to date.

“Now things are much worse than they were in 2005, [when the play premiered],” Afifi told Ahram Online over a cup of tea in Groppi café on Talaat Harb Street, where the world rushed past the windows. “We find ourselves having the same problems, the same issues, the same state.”

Based on several sessions of brainstorming and improvisation, along with collective work from the entire cast, I am Now Dead does not have a traditional dramaturgical structure but instead consists of a series of scenes that have been uniquely compiled and presented. The play is a personal take by Afifi and co-writer Bassem Sharaf on the state of Egyptian youth today, who find themselves caught in a myriad of social, political and ideological struggles.

“It is about the distortion we live as contemporary Egyptian and Arab youth,” explained Afifi, who says he identifies with the youth, naturally. “We are not positive or negative. We are affected by our surroundings but we don’t do anything about it. We are neither religious nor without morals. We take an extremely central stance on everything. We are not cultured but we’re not ignorant. We graduated from universities but we are not educated.”

With the scenography becoming a painting, and projections taking over the back panels, the play sits well visually.

Afifi appears in the first scene of the play, saying: “There was once a young man going through traffic, trying to catch the sun before it went down.” This signifies the hope the young man is trying to capture, but – just as Cairo’s traffic always makes us miss appointments, in turn becoming a recurrent excuse – the young man seems to fail to catch the sun each time.

There is also a scene about media distortion via the radio and TV. The main character, played by actor Yehia Youssry, is lying on a stretcher in the hospital when the doctor (Emad Ismail) says that his “case is not stable and is getting worse. Maybe when he is out of the coma, I can tell you if the case is very dangerous or if he will wake up or not.”

According to Afifi, Youssry’s character is stuck between life and death, which is why the play is called I am Now Dead  it’s impossible to talk to someone when they are dead, a theatrical implication on the state of today’s generation: they don’t feel alive, even though, somehow, they are.

The doctor continuously appears in Youssry’s head and with him, many interventions enter the character’s subconscious: a Salafist sheikh speaking to him harshly, the manipulative media, lying politicians, past presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Sadat – which, here, represent Egypt’s contemporary history – and many other images which only serve to underscore the continuity of the state of distortion in which he finds himself stuck.

While touching on important elements of contemporary society and mirroring them in the audienceI am Now Dead also carries amusing elements.

Watching the performance nine years after it premiered and realising that not much has changed, neither on the performance’s textual level nor in the country, might prove to be a heavy burden. In a subtle manner, the thought pushes itself to the forefront.

The play won several awards in 2005 and 2006 when it toured Cairo, Alexandria and Minya. It also did well at the Jeunes Créateurs Festival in 2005, picking up awards for Best Performance, Best Director and Best Actor, before going on to claim the Jury Award at the National Egyptian Theatre Festival in 2006.


The Wonder Box: folkloric art contemporised in Cairo’s public spaces

Storytelling, music and visuals dubbed ‘The Wonder Box’ in performances that revive old folklore traditions in a contemporary setting — Published in Ahram Online.

Mahatat for Contemporary Arts brings together nine multidisciplinary artists to re-create the folkloric storytelling device “the Wonder Box” in a contemporary way.

The Wonder Box is touring Cairo and Giza between 25 April – 11 May and is curated by filmmaker Aida Elkashef.


Arab, African multidisciplinary artists evoke questioning through Spoken World

In a special performance for the Red Zone Festival and Spring Festival, poets, musicians and a visual artist come together for a hybrid performance in Cairo and Beirut — Published in Ahram Online.


In a unique performance developed especially for the Norwegian Red Zone Festival, parts of which are hosted by the Spring Festival, Arab and African spoken word artists, musicians and a visual artists came together to bring audiences in Beirut and Cairo a special treat.

Between Friday 2 May and Sunday 4 May in Beirut’s Sunflower theatre and Cairo’s Falaki theatre, poets and rappers Ali Talibab (Egypt), El-Rass (Lebanon), El-Far3i (Palestine/Jordan), along with Dieder Awadi (Senegal) and musician Tibass Kazematik (DR Congo) presented a myriad of arts from poetry to rap to music, against the backdrop of Tunsian visual artist, Ghazi Frini’s images.

The ‘Spoken World’ performance gave a platform for each of the poets to recite their new and previously performed individual work, with music and visuals by the instrumental artists bringing together separate yet intertwined sketches.

The artists only had five days to put the performance together, and with a few individual exceptions it was the first time for them to meet and work together.

The evening at Falaki Theatre started out to the soft guitar strums of Kazematik and El-Far3i, and French poetry recited by Awadi. Merely seconds after the end of Awadi’s piece, El-Rass asserted to the audience that the performance’s purpose was to dissect the concept of revolution.

“All of us on stage believe that revolution needs to happen on an in-depth level to change the human being,” El-Rass told Ahram Online after the performance.

While the microphone shifted from one artist to another, each tackling a myriad of issues relating to freeing one’s mind and body in their own individual way, a few basic concepts knotted the show together: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water.

“This in depth level [of revolution] requires the rethinking of basic things. To symbolise the return to the original questions, we decided to question the main elements that constitute the universe,” El-Rass continued.

“We needed to open the space for the question mark or ‘the fifth element’,” he said. “Also each of us opened this question mark in a different direction while all pouring back to the simplest thing to be free.”

In the few days the artists had together to prepare for the show, each chose one of the elements and worked on it on an individual level. Artists shared their process with the others for feedback and interventions, only to find meeting points within their work.

During the performance, each of the artists captivated the audience in his own way, with the spoken word element always accompanied by Frini’s immersive visuals. The artists used music and beats to engage the audience who by the end of the evening were on their feet dancing and singing along.

Bits and pieces from Spoken World

Young talent Ali Talibab, who has been participating in different projects on the Egyptian scene lately such as El-Manzouma and Hadsa, excelled in charming the audience. As he moved swiftly on the stage, barefoot, and sometimes reciting lyrics without the microphone, he performed an excerpt from his poem ‘Qaf’ tackling consumerism saying in Arabic:

To them you are simply ink on paper
They want you an addict, a consumer, an addict to the product
So the producer produces less than your consumption
Then the price soars and he eats you
Your weakness suits you
And misery knows you by heart
But the aid goes to their weapon
Aimed from your rooftop
Their weapon beats with your help
Nurtured by your naivety
With all my respect to the peak of your stupidity
They want you as you are ignorant, numb, a murderer
They sell you air and your hand is on your wallet
You listen to everything you are told that has to be heard
You repeat everything you are told that has to be swallowed
You are simply a zero on the left
You are simply the intent of a dictator
My hand is raised with the sweat of the workers

At this point, after a one minute music break, Far3i takes the microphone, skill-fully building on Talibab’s energy with a poem on being a refugee in your own country and how the Palestinian community was breathing an air of possible freedom due to the wave of protests that shook the Arab world. El-Rass then goes on to face the audience with the double standards we tend to live in.

Never give up the fight
My brother never give up the fight
You better never give up
My sister never give up the fight
You better never give up

The musicians sing in unison, encouraging the audience to provide a rhythm by clapping along.

Later, under the element of ‘water’ which El-Rass announced in one word on stage, Talibab takes the mic again singing his popular piece ‘1772’ in which he faces his audience with important questions on the social givens and expectations people live through from authorities, whether peers, religious leaders or the state. 

The twenty-two year old artist of Nubian decent, originally studied to be a Petroleum engineer. Quickly after graduating however, he decided to pursue a different path. He has been performing regularly over the past several months, and is attracting quite a large following on social media sites. He recites to the audience:

Maybe everything goes according to order
Stand in line
Smile to the order
We dress in order
We undress in order
We work for the order
We are dragged for the order
And the price, is collected by the order
So, uh, maybe everything is going according to order

The word “order” translates to nezam in Arabic, thus representing a play on words as its meaning also extends to “the system” or the “political rulers.” The audience was entranced by this mirror of their reality.

El-Far3i strums his guitar and takes the microphone, telling the audience of life under occupation in Palestine, and the cultural imperialism he sees happening from the west onto the minority controlling ruling classes in the Arab world.

I am waking your friends
My words are knocking on your door
You open and you find no one and wonder what came over you
You go back inside but many factors have started intertwining
Egyptian revolutions everywhere as your youth diminishes

And later he continues:

You who love these countries and feel their features are disappearing
I’ve hid an Arab in my coat for you
I will bring him out when I feel the revolution’s fire could be dying
But first, revolution, you have to be purged

The performance continues with the rest of the elements, and ends on a participatory note from the audience with Kazematik, who has to this moment been only singing and playing guitar, asking the audience to get up, dance and sing along to “be free.”


Passageways redefined: Investigating Downtown Cairo’s in-betweens

Egyptian and Danish artists and architects gathered for four days to present intervention concepts for two pedestrian passageways in Downtown Cairo, raising further questions on the cracks between structures — Published in Ahram Online.

Eight young Egyptian and Danish architects and artists came together for four days through the Cairo Downtown Passages workshop, closely examining two pedestrian passageways — the Kodak Passageway and the Philips Passageway — to propose artistic and design interventions.

The workshop, which ran 27-30 April, was organised by CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research), supported by Danish organisations DEDI and CKU.

On Wednesday 30 April, as the audience gathered in one of the empty shops in the Kodak Passageway, the walls of the space had been transformed into lines and drawings. Merely days ago, the location had hosted part of the retrospective exhibition on Hassan Khan within the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF), which was also curated by CLUSTER.

Workshop participants presented three concepts for intervention: two in the Kodak Passageway and one in the Philips Passageway.

Following the Hassan Khan show which presented an alternative intervention in the shops, the two groups dreamed further still, and in a more systematic manner.

CLUSTER has been working for a year on mapping Downtown’s passageways, with a focused research particularly on these two passageways. Prior to the workshop, participants of the Cairo Downtown Passages were presented with a design brief built on extensive interviews with several stakeholders from the area: shop owners, residents, building owners, security personnel, nearby art spaces, developers etc.

“We take a stakeholder approach to design,” Omar Nagati, architect and founder of CLUSTER told Ahram Online. “It doesn’t start from an artist’s vision in an abstract way; it starts from interviewing many people in the area — trying to get an idea of what people need, and bridge gaps between the different stakeholders.”

Kodak Passageway

Kodak Passageway during the Hassan Khan retrospective exhibition (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Unlike most passageways in Downtown, the Kodak one is very quiet, spacious and uninhabited by vendors. Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that it is located metres away from the Jewish Synagogue.

As such, the participants proposed a project which uses the actual structure of the flooring to create shade, layers and spaces for different activities. The group suggested to plant vertical vegetation and place benches… Shortly, the participants took the approach of trying to retain the serenity of the passageway and render it a “haven from Downtown’s hustle and bustle”.

The Philips Passageway group had much more to work with. The L-shaped passageway is filled with vendors, street cafes, and uneven flooring. A struggle exists between the vendors — who want to retain their businesses — and the Ismailia for Real Estate Development Company which owns the building and seeks to attract high-end businesses. Not to mention the structural problems of the passage itself.

The participants spent an extensive amount of time on location, conducting further interviews with the vendors, and suggested an intervention which included colouring the floors, changing the lighting, and executing creative solutions to attract pedestrians into the passage.

Besides the participants’ presentations, the space’s walls included previous inquiries into Downtown’s passageways that have been spearheaded by Nagati and CLUSTER through work with university students and commissioned research that the non-profit company worked on.

Nagati explained to Ahram Online that the process of mapping and inquiring into Downtown’s passageways is far from over. In the next six months, they are set on choosing one or two very specific ideas to use as interventions within the limited budget they possess. “After negotiating with the different stakeholders, we hope to have a more lasting intervention not an exhibition or a screening,” he commented.

Nagati’s interest in passageways started a few years back, around the time he was looking to co-found CLUSTER. He explains that it was all part of the same idea of “in-betweeness,” a condition that the country seemed to be following after the revolution: when one order collapsed and a new one was about to begin. This grey area we live in creates a state where nothing is clear – and thus everything is negotiable. Here emerge possibilities that allow several practices to renegotiate what the new order will look like.

“The passageways is a very focused project that refers to larger questions on contestation and negotiation,” he says.

On the long run, CLUSTER is working on a website to map Downtown’s passageways, along with another website which is a walking tour of Downtown.

“It’s much more pleasant to experience downtown through passageways,” Nagati asserted.

His words sound very true once we realise how the chaos of traffic, vendors, pollution and Cairene shoppers can turn a simple walk through Downtown’s streets into a nightmare. The passageways present an escape from the overwhelming reality and allow for faster movement through the neighbourhood.

Nagati also hopes that this inquiry into the passageways will not just help map them, but create a dialogue of what the actual purpose of these passageways may be in light of the development of Downtown as a whole.

“You can almost look at Downtown passageways as alternative spaces for development: book fairs, vegetable markets, bike lanes, all happening in these little cracks without compromising traffic or security,” he said, admitting that these ideas are, for now, only dreams but could one day become a reality.


D-CAF third edition: On performances, public space and the future

As the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival’s third edition comes to a close, Ahram Online reflects on the event’s celebrations, challenges and aspirations — Published in Ahram Online.

The third edition of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) came to a close on Friday 11 April in Shehrazade with La Voix est Libre, a multidisciplinary performance — or mini-festival, rather — which reflected the event’s very essence.

Translating to The Free Voices Festival, La Voix est Libre began in 2005 in Paris’ Bouffes du Nord Theatre. In Cairo, the French artists worked with their Egyptian counterparts putting on shows at the Falaki Theatre, the French Institute in Alexandria and, finally, the Shehrazade Nightclub.

With that evening bringing this year


Children of Egypt’s Darb Al-Ahmar share their stories through arts

Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School presents the stories and aspirations of its children and youth through a circus musical on El-Geneina Theatre — Published in Ahram Online.
In a new theatrical performance, the children and young people of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School bring Lost and Found to Cairo audiences. The play was performed at El-Geneina Theatre on 3, 4 and 5 April and debuted in February on the American University in Cairo’s Falaki stage.

With the scenography by renowned Luxor-based artist Ammar Abo Bakr, the troupe showcases its theatrical abilities, brought to life by director Hanan Haj Ali to a crowd left in cheers, laughs and tears.

The script of the play is a result of a storytelling workshop hosted a year ago, during which the children shared their day-to-day struggles, expressed their emotional connection to the political situation and other burning questions.

As such, the characters’ personal stories, dreams and troubles are unveiled in Lost and Found through the story of Sara, a young girl who runs away from home on a quest to find other youngsters.

The performance begins with a narrator introducing the characters to the audience in jubilant traditional circus fashion. We then learn that Sara, the protagonist played by 10-year-old Fatma Ibrahim (known as Atouta), is mistreated by her parents and has no freedom – a reason of her escape from home.

Her brother, cousins and other neighbourhood children embark on a mission to find her, taking the audience through traffic, on to Tahrir Square, and exploring the city’s cafe culture. In the meantime, deciding to impersonate a boy, Sara cuts her long hair and has her own adventure.

The children sing, perform circus stunts, and even dance to shift through the layers of the story, unveiling a social issue at every turn and tackling themes of domestic violence, inequality, police brutality, revolutionary woes and secret romantic relationships.

Lost and Found
‘Lost and Found’ by Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School. (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

As we walk through the story, the young actors engage the audience by stepping off the stage and reappearing in the various corners of the auditorium, at times even sitting among the viewers. At one point colourful flyers drop from the sky onto the crowd to aid them in finding Sara.

“This play was made to achieve our dream, we are very happy with it,” Atouta tells Ahram Online. “The stories in the performance are part of us; we are the ones who wrote it.”

According to Atouta, the production of Lost and Found was based on a collaborative effort, from the storytelling workshop onto the theatre stage.

A recurrent motif throughout the workshop pointed to girls wishing to become boys in order to experience freedom. Naturally, this idea became the point of departure of the entire piece, with the other stories fitting into the mould.

Lost and Found
‘Lost and Found’ by Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School. (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

Lost and Found is the first play ever prepared by Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School. Although the students have performed several times in Egypt and abroad, their performances were limited to circus tricks and percussion shows.

For over five years Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi (The Culture Resource) has been working with the community of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar, by providing education through percussion and the circus arts school for its children and youth. The community resides in the vicinity of El-Geneina Theatre, a well-known stage in Al-Azhar Park and an open air theatre that hosts many of Mawred’s music performances.

“In 2005, when El-Geneina launched its activities, we were not paying so much attention to the neighbourhood,” Basma El-Husseiny, founder and director of Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi told Ahram Online after the Lost and Found performance. “After a while, we started noticing that the youth and children were climbing on the fence, shouting from the building rooftops, cursing and throwing things at us. So we tried to engage them through workshops of painting, mask making, puppetry. It didn’t work at first and the relationship continued to be rocky.”

This is when El-Husseiny and the team started to reconsider their strategies in running the activities and invited the children from the neighbourhood to come to the theatre.

“We thought that the best thing was for us to go into the community instead of asking them to come to us,” El-Husseiny explained. “We decided to open a school which we called Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School.”

Launched in 2010, the school offers three focal points: percussion, circus arts and brass instruments. Through a two-year curriculum spread over 15-20 hours a week, all the children take percussion classes, but then they specialise in one of the three main branches. The school also offers English classes, computer studies and cultural courses, all topped with excursions.

Today, Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School has now gained recognition, with 47 graduates from the community.

“Some [of the graduates] work commercially in weddings, birthday parties or shop openings. It is really important, since it becomes an alternative income source for these young people,” El- Husseiny asserts.

Following its success with the Cairene audience, Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi hopes to take Lost and Found on a tour throughout Egypt’s governorates.

Violence Liontaine

Violence Lointaine: Performance captures the aesthetics of violence

D-CAF hosts the world premiere of the audio-visual dance performance ‘Violence Lointaine,’ a co-production of artists from Egypt, Congo and France, this weekend — Published in Ahram Online.

Upon reading the title ‘Violence Lointaine’ (Distant Violence) — part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) programme — one is not necessarily inclined to make it all the way to Talee’a (Al-Talia meaning avant-garde) Theatre in Attaba. “Why would I go see a performance about violence when I am surrounded by it in Egypt, where bombings and violent dispersals leave hundreds dead, let alone the everyday harassment and struggle that infuses Cairo’s dusty streets?” These thoughts crossed my mind.

However, artists Omar Ghayatt (Egypt), DeLaVallet Bidiefono (Congo) and Maxime Denuc (France) manage to present an alternative side to violence through their audio-visual dance piece. Through movement, sound and minimal text, ‘Violence Lointaine’ transcends the cliches associated with the concept of violence and allows the audience to experience “violence” in an entirely novel way. Through exploring the violence we don’t seem to notice, the creators strive to find beauty in a new aesthetic concept.

The 60-minute performance takes us to the morning after a party, as we find a messy floor, filled with confetti, empty bottles, and chairs and other objects thrown around. Denuc, a composer, electronic musician and sound artist, disseminates loud sounds and the three performers start running back and forth on the stage, until one by one they fall. Contemporary dancer Bidiefono is the last one to drop to the floor.

The performance then goes on to show the audience glimpses of the party we seem to have missed. The three artists use dance, a reading of the constitution with a muffled microphone, a gradual invasive sound, and other methods to invite the audience to find their own interpretations of violence.

“Violence is aesthetically beautiful,” Ghayatt explained to Ahram Online after one of the dress rehearsals. In a small yard outside the theatre the invasive sounds from Attaba market murmured loudly in the background. “You reach aesthetics if you exclude the negative side of violence or its results,” he clarified quickly.

‘Violence Lointaine’ is a point of departure for a collaborative project between three artists who came together through a programme hosted by the French Institute in Brazzaville. The artists decided to work on the theme of “distant violence” as they sat in a protected French compound in the Congo while civil war raged a few hundred metres outside.

When working on the play, the creators had in mind Western audiences, which consist of viewers to whom violence can seem very far and whose only relation with it is manifested through watching and listening to the news or seeing action films. The artists wanted to explore those minds and reveal that, in fact, distant violence hits extremely close to home.

In the scenes where the artists run back and forth, they dissect the competitiveness of the capitalist system dominating most Western societies. For the artists, this exhaustion of the body through the simple act of running is an act of violence, an act that is only stopped on stage when — without being tied to a specific agreed upon timeframe — they simply feel too exhausted to continue running.

“We use running as a metaphor for the ongoing human struggle,” Ghayatt explains. This struggle is not only on the societal level, as “violence on the state level is rooted in competition, in a struggle to be the most powerful, in a struggle to control,” he continues.

In another scene where Ghayatt runs from side to side and Bidiefono dances on stage, Ghayatt changes his posture, belly size, and clothes. As such the artists confront the audience with the internal violence we place on ourselves and that is placed on society through our perception of our body image.

“I notice that people do sports not just for enjoyment but also due to their consistent stress that they have to have a certain look because other people are the ones who set the standards of beauty and thus fashion,” Ghayatt comments. “Especially young people are always striving to have this ideal figure that someone else decides for them.”

“And so people are always running, hoping to get closer to this ideal of beauty,” he concludes.

While the artist admits that these forms of violence might be more relevant to European society, they are also connected to the lives of a significant number of people in Cairo. The constant stream of advertising in Egypt plays a role in setting those same standards of beauty that are inflicted upon people in Europe. It is even to a point where it goes beyond weight-loss and ideal figures; it is also about selling people the idea that their skin colour needs to be lighter to be considered more beautiful. Naturally, this highly competitive sensibility is also found within young professionals in several fields, especially the corporate world.

One of the most interesting — yet problematic — elements of ‘Violence Lointaine’ is the stage it takes place on. Talee’a Theatre is located in Attaba, an area congested with street vendors. In fact, Ghayatt finds that this setting serves the purpose of the performance. “It is hidden violence,” he says. “Many questions arise in just the few metres it takes someone to walk from the metro station to the theatre. If I had an artistic dream this would be it; that the audience have this experience before experiencing our performance.”

This, along with the performance itself, makes it worth the hassle of going through the market to get to the world premiere of ‘Violence Lointaine.’

‘Violence Lointaine’ is an independent production on Talee’a Theatre’s main stage. Talee’a Theatre itself operates under the Department of Theatre of the Ministry of Culture, and as its name indicates the original aim of the theatre was to present avantguardist performances and introduce texts by experimental playrights. As the years passed, the theatre hosted a mix and match of theatrical productions — classical and experimental — performed by both independent and governmental troupes.

As such ‘Violence Lointaine’ is an interesting revival of the core mission of this theatre.

Photo by Mostafa Abd El Aty

Dutch, Egyptian dancers take on Downtown Cairo, Alexandria

D-CAF’s Urban Visions programme brings dance to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria; Dutch troupe The 100Hands return with a new performance featuring Egyptian dancers — video published on Ahram Online.

In Cairo’s Alfy Street, and in a passageway next to Alexandria’s Abo Ragab Cafe, Dutch troupe The 100Hands, presented their newest performance, ‘Running Nucleus,’ as part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival’s (D-CAF) Urban Visions programme bringing several contemporary dance performances to public spaces.

Returning for a second year, The 100Hands once more work with Egyptian dancers to produce the piece. This year they are performing with Mohamed El-Deeb, Mohamed Yousry (Shika) and Shaymaa Shoukry.

Art Dubai

Art Dubai Coverage | Photography & Video

Two videos produced during my stay in Dubai to attend the 8th Edition of the Middle-East’s biggest art fair Art Dubai — published in Ahram Online


The 8th Art Dubai, hosted in Madinet Jumeirah, features works by over 500 artists estimated to be worth $40-45 million.

The works on display are divided between Modern, Marker and Contemporary halls.

There are more than 70 galleries exhibiting new works in the Art Dubai Contemporary exposition hailing from the world over. Marker, a dynamic programme of invited art spaces that is dedicated to showcasing a different theme or geographical location each year, and which focused on West Africa in last year’s edition of the fair, zooms in on art from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Markeris curated by Slavs and Tartars this year.

This year’s fair programme features an unprecedented showcase of Middle Eastern and South Asian modern art dating back to the twentieth century. Art Dubai Modern,features 11 galleries, includes Cairo’s very own Karim Francis gallery, which showcases the works of painter Hamed Abdalla and sculptor Adam Henein.

The photography coverage I produced was a set of 20 photos of the event, published in Ahram Online.

This is a one shot video retimed to give a glimpse into the main contemporary hall of the fair

The second is a walk-through the non-profit section of the fair with the curator of the Art Dubai Projects