Thursday, January 29, 2015

Short Story: Cultural Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly highlights nine independent centres of culture in Cairo, where the celebration and creation of music, films and art are part of everyday life.

Artellewa Art Space
Founded and managed by artist Hamdi Reda in 2007, Artellewa is named after its location, the low-income, densely populated area of Ard Al-Lewa, located between Imbaba and Boulaq Al-Dakrur. The aim is to encourage local appreciation of the arts and facilitate dialogue with artists on topics of interest. The space offers workshops, exhibitions and residencies as well as initiatives to improve the urban space through art.

In addition to exhibiting the work of established and emerging artists from Egypt and abroad, each year Artellewa holds the first exhibition of at least one young Egyptian artist. Artists who gave workshops at Artellewa have hailed from Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Turkey, Jordan, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and the United States. The space also holds a weekly film club curated by a resident of the community, as well as special projects aimed at the immediate environment.
13&19 Mohamed Ali Al-Osseiri St, Ard Al-Lewa, Giza

Zawya (or “Corner”) is a space for screening non-commercial films from all over the world. It was launched on 12 March 2014 by director-producer and inveterate cinephile Marianne Khoury, who also organises the by now 10-year-old annual Panorama of European Cinema, for which the new space is also used. “With my growing interest in the idea of building an audience,” Khoury has said, “I came to the conclusion that having a permanent space was a necessity. Downtown was entirely the choice of the young team directing Zawya, but eventually I came round to thinking they made the right choice.

Downtown has to be the anchor of the project, it attracts a huge number of young people who hit Downtown daily for the cafés and the nightlife and among them are cinema fans.” Plans are underway for establishing similar spaces in Tanta, Ismailia and Alexandria as well as possibly Zamalek and Heliopolis. Zawya offers more than one film a day without intermissions in addition to providing programmes focused on short and documentary films.
4 Abdel-Hamid St, behind Odeon Cinema, Downtown.

El Sawy Culturewheel
Founded in 2003 by engineer Mohamed El-Sawy in honour of his father, the writer Abdel-Moneim El-Sawy, and his five-part novel The Waterwheel, El Sawy Culturewheel is perhaps the best known independent arts centre in Cairo. Located below the 15 May Bridge in Zamalek, it provides two to four events a day all year round. The main venue in Zamalek has five stages situated in the River Hall, the Wisdom Hall, the Word Hall, the Sakia Garden and the Bostan Al-Nil. The halls are equipped with film screens and sound facilities. Three more halls are available to accommodate workshops and seminars.

El Sawy Culturewheel provides the space for students, emerging and alternative artists as well as established names to show their work, be it a performance, an exhibition or a concert. The cultural centre also hosts discussions and seminars, staging yearly campaigns on themes like dignity or cleanliness. El Sawy is the originator of the white circle promoting a smoke-free environment, which is now used by the World Health Organisation in 22 countries. In addition to a library, El Sawy offers workshops at all levels. It is now publishing a cultural quarterly and has launched its own radio station.
26 July St, Zamalek

The Culture Resource
The Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi) is a regional non-profit organisation founded in 2004 that offers support to artists from across the Arab world, also encouraging exchange between them and their counterparts in the world at large, stimulating dialogue in general and facilitating arts funding by such parties as businessmen.

Operating largely from Al-Azhar Park, the Culture Resource offered numerous concerts and performances in the last ten years. In a press release issued on 9 November, 2014, however, the Culture Resource announced that it was freezing its activities in Egypt while resuming work in other Arab countries. This is thought to be in response to the government’s clampdown on NGOs and the new NGO draft law, which may obstruct its funding.
Genaina Theatre: Azhar Park:  Salah Salem St, Darb Al-Ahmar.

Doum Cultural Foundation
According to its official statement, “Doum is a non-profit Egyptian cultural foundation that aims at increasing critical thinking among the Egyptian society. Doum plans to produce cultural and informational material that strengthens the foundations of the civil state, and paves the way, alongside other Arab cultural initiatives, for a state of enlightenment set towards greater intellectual capacity; a path paved with questions, thinking and reasoning, and strengthening cultural diversity [in the hope of] building a network of all cultural initiatives in Egypt and the Arab world.”

Doum Cultural Foundation features activities such as Assir Doum, a research-based performance blending poetry, song, narrative and scholarship, as well as the weekly Sabt Al-Funoun (or “the Sabbath of the Arts”), which has no specific topic. The foundation also incorporates a Caricature Academy for young cartoonists, a multi-disciplinary symposium-based series of books named Bikhtissar (or “Briefly”), and a recycled art workshop named Patchwork (which also involves Wire Sculpture).
13 Al-Fardous St, Al-Agouza, Giza.

Townhouse Gallery
The Townhouse was established in 1998 in the heart of downtown Cairo as an independent art space aimed at making the contemporary art and culture accessible to all audiences and encouraging creativity as well as connecting local talent with the contemporary art scene worldwide. The Townhouse stages exhibitions, educational initiatives, residencies and outreach programmes; it supports curators and writers as well as artists. Its large-scale initiatives have included the Nitaq Festival in 2000 and the PhotoCairo Festival in 2002. Since its launch the Townhouse has organised workshops for children and adults including special needs and marginalised communities, acquiring several spaces in the vicinity of its original venue.

Outreach programmes developed by the Townhouse have included the Friday Workshops for Working Children, which was later transformed into SAWA (in Arabic the word means “together”), a fixed Saturday workshop that provided a creative space where child labourers could express their individuality, build peer relations and develop their communication skills, bringing them a confidence and self-esteem that might be applied to their daily lives. The workshops encompassed instruction in visual arts, animation and theatre; they included day trips to places outside the children’s immediate locale as well as literacy classes and sessions on topics relating to children’s rights. Recently, SAWA’s programmes have included photography workshops, oil painting instruction by the well-known Egyptian artist Ibrahim Al-Tanbouli and a six-month fashion school project from September 2014 to March 2015.
10 Nabarawi St, off Champollion St, Downtown.

Gypsum Gallery was founded in 2013 by Aleya Hamza, one of Egypt’s pioneers in the curatorial field, who earned her MA in History of Art at Goldsmiths College in 2001 and gained experience at the Townhouse Gallery and the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo.  According to the official statement, “The gallery is committed to presenting an international, cross-disciplinary programme of solo and occasional group exhibitions, limited artist editions and is in the process of launching a publishing arm. Eight artists living and working between Alexandria, Amman, Basel, Beirut, Berlin, Cairo and Tehran are represented by the gallery including Doaa Ali, Mahmoud Khaled, Maha Maamoun, Bassem Magdi, Mona Marzouk, Tamara Al-Samerai , Setareh Shahbazi and Alaa Younis.”

In other words, this is where some of the most exciting and globally connected names on the contemporary scene, all of whom have links with Egypt, can be seen. Gypsum’s work has been featured in such prestigious publications as Artforum, Modern Painters, Harper’s Bazaar Art and Metropolis M.
5A Bahgat Ali St, Zamalek.

In the tradition of engaged bookshops pioneered locally by the Diwan chain but stretching back perhaps to San Francisco’s City Lights, Kotobkhan (an archaic word for “bookshop”) has recently acquired a larger space in Maadi, its original birthplace since it opened in May 2006. A quiet spot for reading and browsing, it is also an active hub of book-related activities. 

Over the years Kotobkhan has perfected the concept of “reading as a lifestyle”, adding such facilities as a mini-cafe and free wifi the invaluable service of creative writing workshops often followed by publication, and careful to provide not only world titles but the best in contemporary Arabic writing as well as a larger than usual selection of children’s books. As well as book launches and seminars, activities include film screenings, story-telling sessions for children, lectures and workshops.
13 St, 254 Maadi.

Al-Fann Midan
Launched within two weeks of the 25 January Revolution, Al-Fann Midan (“Art is a Square”) was arguably the Cultural Resource’s most successful event. Held at Abdine Square in downtown Cairo and touring Minia, Assiut, Luxor, Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, it hosted young performance artists from all over the world. Al-Fann Midan aimed to bring art and culture to the Egyptian street and to generate cultural and political awareness through this process.

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