On its emergence in Wuhan, China, the novel Coronavirus outbreak sounded like a science fiction movie, but as it spread to 147 countries – soon to be declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – it turned out, tragically, to be all too real. With Iran, and then Italy the hardest hit, and Europe seeing the highest mortality rate, procedures to stem the contagion have varied, with many European cities and US states instating complete lockdown.
England, France, the Netherlands and other European countries took the initiative to shut down schools and universities, banning public gatherings and public transport and, of course, museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres and other venues. Google Arts and Culture, the online platform through which Google has partnered with over 1200 leading museums around the world, responded by stacking up its interactive experiences with comprehensive virtual tours of such venues as the British Museum, showing artefacts through the ages starting from BC 2,000,000.
Such tours have since been offered by institutions all over the world: the Guggenheim in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, South Korea, Berlin’s Pergamon Museum (home of such relics as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Pergamon Altar), Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, the MASP in São Paulo and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The Metropolitan Opera in New York too offers a daily streaming through its website featuring such classics as Carmen, La Bohème and La Traviata.
Starting this month, the Egyptian authorities have taken measures to control the spread of the virus, cancelling gatherings and closing venues. The decision took place during the ninth Luxor African Film Festival, where screenings were discontinued and the closing ceremony cancelled, while juries had to see the movies in their hotel rooms.
The same fate befell the fourth Cairo Cinema Days at Zawya Art House, headed by filmmaker-producer Marianne Khoury, which was to take place in 4-30 March but was discontinued on 14 March. Zawya pioneered social-distancing alternatives by managing to provide filmmaker Hady Zaccak’s 104 Wrinkles for free through the Vimeo platform. Khoury’s own Dhilal (Shadows, 2010) was next on the virtual programme, starting on 24 March. For its part the global online film platform Mubi, supported by Creative Europe Media and co-founded by the European Union, offered a three-month subscription for one dollar.
After the Cairo Opera House too closed, Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem launched an initiative named Al-Thaqafa Bein Edek (Culture in your hands), providing online events to replace the Opera’s activities, with shows like Swan Lake, Carmen, The Nutcracker and Zorba the Greek, Arab Music Festival concerts by, among others, Omar Khairat, and stage plays like the Art House for Theatre’s Qahwa Saada (Black Coffee) as well as film screenings provided online.
The rock band Masar Egbari too gave an online concert. The phenomenal Disco Misr duo (DJ mixers of oriental sounds with funky disco beats) also gave a live-streamed concert entitled Wahshny wel Corona Hayeshnui (I Miss You But Corona Is Holding Me Back), hash-tagging it #stay_home. It was seen by nearly 5,000 viewers. Room Art Space and Café are hosting live-streamed concerts daily at 10pm.
For bookworms, the original Arabic texts of all NYU Abu Dhabi Library of Arabic Literature publication are available as free PDFs. Al-Rabei Publications is also offering readers the opportunity to read its publications for free through Rufoof application for 14 days.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly