On Saturday 5 January, an event marking the culmination of four workshops held since 2011 at the Townhouse Gallery in downtown Cairo revealed that art is not an individual sport and that art and politics are inseparable in the aftermath of revolution.
The four workshops, which tackled issues such as human rights, the concept of freedom, iconography in contemporary society, short story writing and challenging sexual harassment through creating mobile phone videos, were enriching experiences for both leaders and participants.
Cornered (literally, for the art space is located in a street off Talaat Harb Square, minutes from Tahrir Square) by the unfolding revolution, the workshop series suffered from logistical and emotional hardships against a backdrop of political turmoil.
Artists Yasser Gerab and Huda Lutfi, filmmaker Tamer Abdel-Hamid and activist Ahmed Bakr, led participants on an exploratory journey, probing the changing definitions of freedom of expression and human rights, with arts and culture as a platform for political engagement.
At the celebratory event last Saturday, Abdel-Hamid explained to a packed audience at the Townhouse library how he led a workshop revolving around how to tackle sexual harassment, an ugly phenomenon pervading Egyptian streets, through shooting videos using mobile phone cameras. Most of the participants had no experience when it came to making short movies. But all of them had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in one of its many forms.
“Personally, I learned more about the psyche of the harasser and that the phenomenon is an emotional state, not a moral or religious dysfunction,” Abdel-Hamid explained.
One of the participants produced a one-minute film in which her red lips are zoomed in on, recounting an episode of harassment she experienced in a supermarket.
Another interesting workshop, led by visual artist and professor Huda Lutfi, discussed the meaning of political jargon circulating in the media, on the streets and in households in the aftermath of the revolution.
As a result, the group produced A Pocketbook Dictionary of the Revolution, composed of short definitions of 18 political terms, including liberalism, Leftist ideology, the civil state, the constitution, harassment and religious government, all in colloquial Arabic. Caricature illustrations accompany each definition, created by the talented cartoonist Kandil.
“It wasn’t about producing something, it was about the process and discussion,” said Lutfi.
Kandil told the audience on Saturday, in a rather witty and intriguing presentation, about adding a visual element to the concepts in the dictionary. He explained that Egyptian culture, due to the staggering percentage of illiteracy, is more concerned with “the image” that the word.
Stories From Our Generation was a workshop dedicated to unleashing the writing abilities of the participants, under the umbrella of discussions about human rights and the revolution. Another workshop centred on breaking down the symbols and preconceptions of pop culture in contemporary society, through performances, stand-up, role-playing, and other techniques.
The speakers at the event emphasised that art’s place in post-revolutionary Egypt is indisputable. The commitment of participants throughout the months, despite the growing pains experienced on the political scene, was inspiring.
An exhibition displaying the results of the four workshops is currently on at the Townhouse Gallery. Kandil’s cartoons appear with the accompanying dictionary terms, and short films tackling sexual harassment are projected across the space. The Pocketbook Dictionary of the Revolution and a compilation of short stories produced during the course of the Stories From Our Generation workshop can also be picked up from the exhibition.
The exhibition runs until 16 January
Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art
10 Nabrawy Street, off Champollion Street, Downtown Cairo