Taking the metro (underground) on a Friday morning, passengers were not expecting to see a man with white paint on his face, mimicking their movements, waving to them and making them laugh.
A pantomime artist went from one metro wagon to another to hold short performances and silently communicate with the city dwellers.
Some passengers laughed, while other pointed at him trying to figure out what he was doing. Some criticism was also directed at him, mostly from the older generation.
“Why are you doing this to yourself,” one old man commented in exasperation. “What have the youth these days come to?”
The performance is part of a project called Shaware3na – roughly pronounced Shawareana and means "Our Streets". The group aims to bring different contemporary art forms to the street.
Shaware3na is the launching project of the newly-founded organisation, Mahatat (Transportation stop) for Contemporary Art, which was founded by five women from different cultural backgrounds.
Mayada Said, a German/Syrian sociologist and one of the founders of the project, told Ahram Online that currently there are enough art venues and they always bring in the same crowd of people.
“We wanted art to be available on the street,” she said “We also try not to focus on the usual artists,” she continued.
According to the founders, people confuse "street art" and "art performed on the streets."
“Street art is the type of art that is mainly done in the street, like graffiti for example” she clarified, “while what we are hoping to achieve is bringing out any form of art, which usually takes place indoors, outside.”
Shaware3na, which started on 18 January and will continue until 23 June, will be carried out in four public spaces.
The first part is called Art of Transit holds artistic performances in metro wagons. This has already started and will continue until 7 March. As part of this series, pantomime artist, Amr Abdel Aziz; the clown duo Kouta Hamra (Red Tomatoes) by Aly Sobhy and Ahmed Mostafa; a short theatre performance by Hani Taher; Dina El-Sayed and Maha Monieb as well as feminist monologues by the Bussy project take part.
“There was a study conducted whether frequent small performances or one large event draws in more audience,” Astrid Thews, a cultural anthropologist and one of the founders, began. The conclusion?
“The study shows that several small performances gain a wider scale audience.”
“If you’ve missed the festival, then you have missed the opportunity to watch it,” Said chimed in.
The second part of the project is called Cinema Sky, which will screen short films in the streets.
The third part, Stop and Dance, will have contemporary dance in the street.
Stop and Dance will hold workshops for non-professional dancers by well-known modern dancer, Karima Mansour (Egypt), Paulina Almeida (Portugal) and Birgitt Bodingbauer (Germany). The groups would then perform breakdance, the Brazilian martial art and dance, capoeira, and parkour in public spaces.
The last part is The Tree Project, which will be a workshop for designing trees in the neighborhood of Dokki (where the office of Mahatat is located).
“On the long term we aim to expand the project to different governorates in Egypt,” Thews said. “We also want to create connections with other artistic institutions in the Arab World and Africa.”
Mahatat also wants to focus on starting artists that did not have a chance to display their works.
However, despite the aspirations, performing in Cairo has its many challenges.
“At first I had no idea how people would take it,” Abdel Aziz said “but the response was surprisingly good.”
They did, however, discuss why attendance in their fourth performance on Friday 10 February was so low.
“Perhaps it is the political situation that is making it hard for people to laugh,” one member mused.
Abdel Aziz, who is 22 years old, has attended several workshops in acting, dance and pantomime and held solo performances during shows in El Sawy Culturewheel and Cairo Opera House.
“It is very different performing indoors,” said the pantomime artist Abdel Aziz “In the metro station I get to communicate with people.”
Through the ride he takes an earphone from someone listening to his Ipod and mimics drumming movements, gets his picture taken with passengers and even one small girl threw him a kiss through the window as he left the wagon.
“I think pantomime is a very powerful art because silence can say so much more than words,” Abdel Aziz said.