Egypt's arts and culture: The best of October 2014

Ahram Online, Sunday 2 Nov 2014

Ahram Online highlights the artistic achievements, important cultural events and new initiatives that took place in Egypt in October 2014

The best of October 2014

Two independent initiatives colour Cairo

Two independent initiatives recently sprouted out of the grim Cairo's reality to attempt a change to the grey city: a student-run initiative calling itself 'Colouring the Grey City' and one founded by an American resident artist in Cairo dubbed 'Cairo Dish Painting Initiative'.

Set to graduate in 2017, a group of students studying interior design at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan University were dismayed at the state the city had reached. They decided to take to the streets to change that. The students have already painted staircases, walls and lamp posts in several neighbourhoods and are planning several more to come.

On the other hand, an American resident artist at Artellewa, Jason Stoneking, was taken by the view of satellite dishes which has become an icon of the Egyptian capital. While most would look at these dishes as dusty, depressing objects in the Cairo skyline, Stoneking saw them as an opportunity for colour and self-expression. After painting one rooftop in Ardellewa, Stoneking has been invited to paint more dishes in Ardellewa, and more recently in El-Marg .

While these two initiatives are laudable, one hopes they will manage to spread into real movements to fill the city with colour.

Read more about both initiatives here and check the photo gallery here.

Colouring Cairo
Photo: Rowan El Shimi

Mahatat for Contemporary Art brigs art to public spaces across four cities

Between 9 and 12 October, Mahatat for Contemporary Art, a Cairo-based art initiative that hosts artistic projects in public spaces, held its first tour across four Egyptian cities: Mansoura, Damietta, Port Said and Cairo. The tour is part of a Mahatat's long-term project entitled Art of Transit, involving professional artists who perform in public spaces as a form of artistic intervention.

Another Art of Transit tour is set to take place in December in the same cities, and the next planned one will be in March in collaboration with Hakawy Festival for Children. Mahatat hope these tours will be taking place quarterly over the next three years.

Mahatat's initiative is driven by the belief that art should open and decentralised, and this belief informs most of their projects. Damietta was an obvious choice for the new tour, as the crew's 2013 project was centred there. Dubbed 'Face to Face', the project features workshops that aim to build the capacity of local artists and art managers. Face to Face will continue between November and January 2015 in Damietta with a creative writing workshop run by published author Mohamed Abdel-Naby.

Read more about Mahatat's initiative here, check their first tour here and the photo gallery here. Check our interview with Nassef Azmy, puppeteer and founder of El-Kousha puppet troupe here.

Photo: Rowan El Shimi

Third edition of international circus festival, CirCairo

Spearheaded by Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (The Culture Resource), between 17 and 26 October, ten troupes from across Europe and the Arab world took part in the third edition of the international circus festival, CirCairo, which run on select stages across Cairo.

While the first day opened with large scale performances combining all the troupes in Al Azhar Park, the second day, 18 October, moved the spectators to the stages of Falaki theatre where Gandini Juggling from the UK and Lumen from Switzerland presented shows that combined acrobatics, gymnastics, ballet, and theatre, topping the performances with a large dosage of imaginary elements.

Moving between traditional and contemporary circus – the latter one being highlighted by troupes from UK and Switzerland – the festival is an important feast for all artistic tastes, all generations and the aesthetic preferences of each spectator. With the classical circus performances, the audience is left with admiration of acrobatic skills. In its turn, the contemporary circus troupes provide a different layer of depth, and without taking away the element of entertainment, they manage to touch on our most refined senses.

Check photo gallery from the opening day here and our review of the festival's second day here.

Photo: Mai Shaheen

Marcel Khalife performs with Rami and Bachar Khalife in Cairo

Internationally renowned Lebanese musician Marcel Khalife performed with his two sons, Rami and Bachar, on 24 October at Al Azhar Park, in a concert organised by Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This was Khalife's first appearance in Egypt after eight years of absence.

Born in 1950, Khalife is one of the biggest stars in the Arabic region, equally recognised by large audiences internationally. Composer, singer and oud player, Khalife's music career goes back to 1976 when he launched Al Mayadeen Ensemble performing compositions to poetry of the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish. Rebellious in spirit, Khalife is known for many touching compositions whose lyrics express profound sentiments of nationalism and revolution.

It was in 2011 that his music experimentations coupled with equally creative minds represented by his two sons, also musicians, resulted in the formation of a familial artistic collaboration that goes under the name of Marcel, Rami & Bachar Khalife. The trio is a showcase of unprecedented musicianship, testimony to the artistic skill of all three musicians and a journey through their memories.

Read Ahram Online exclusive interview with Marcel Khalife here and more about the concert here. Check photo gallery from the trio's rehearsal and concert in Cairo.

Marcel Khalife
Photo: Ati Metwaly

Helmi El-Touni's retrospective at Sharjah Art Gallery

In the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Helmi El-Touni’s graphic design career, the Sharjah Art Gallery displays a selection of his works, honouring 50 years of designs and illustrations.

Curated by Nagla Samir and Bahia Shehab, head of the AUC’s graphic design department, the exhibition that opened on 12 October and continues until 17 November, shares the El-Touni’s legacy. Being displayed at a university, the exhibition also addresses students allowing them to explore and be nurtured by El-Touni's art process. As such, for the first time, the artist reveals the backstage of his craft, showcasing his pencil sketches, mockups, and the side notes he wrote when working on designs.

While presenting El-Touni's graphic design, the exhibition commendably succeeds in  drawing the viewer into the fantasy of folklore, an otherwise dying art form, with a fresh perspective, renewed appreciation, and a rare look behind the scenes of the creative process.

Now that the artist has effectively become a household name, adorning the shelves of many Egyptian homes, El-Touni intends to give in to the luxury of the classic medium and re-prioritise painting.

Read review of the exhibition and interview with the artist here.

Helmy El Touni
Photo: Soha El Sirgany


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