The arts have never been far from the hearts of Egyptians, our history brimming with colour, expression and creativity, though in recent years there’s been an undeniable lull in these areas. Blame it on complacency towards ongoing restrictions or the lack of platforms, either way it has been severely overlooked, dismissed and deemed unimportant. Having been hit with a burst of creative energy since the start of the revolution, change is surfacing and it is starting to feel like the core of our nature has finally begun on its path back home.
Opening on the 29th of March 2012, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) is the first international, multi-disciplinary contemporary arts festival to take to the streets of Cairo. Organised by leading curators, artists and members of the cultural community, the initiative aims to revive Egypt’s culture scene and bring art back to a position of importance and relevance, just as it should be.
Running for two weeks, until the 14th of April, the festival will host musical concerts, theatre and contemporary dance performances, visual arts exhibitions, lectures, film projections and workshops. As well as the 50 Egyptian artists participating, there are over 60 international artists taking part as well. The festival will be focused in Downtown Cairo, regarded as the most true and consistent hub for artistic movements over the years. Importantly, a main purpose of the project is to dig deep into this area’s streets to re-discover and make use of old theatres and art spaces that have been idle and neglected for years.
Award-winning theatre director and playwright Ahmad El Attar is the Executive Director and Artistic Director of D-CAF and he stresses the importance of the chosen venues and the messages they convey. Opening up old buildings and unused venues to host acts is symbolic to the idea behind the initiative as a whole. It says that we should look for new ways of expression; we should broaden our horizons and elevate our standards of creativity. Attar regards the arts in Cairo today as generic, calling them ‘mass entertainment’ as opposed to being meaningful, personalised and authentic; D-CAF hopes to cure this.
Artistic Director of Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo, Mia Jankowich, is the curator of visual arts for D-CAF. The visual arts’ theme for the festival is an ‘empty’ exhibition that will carry the works of artists that were previously written off as unimportant and not considered a priority at the time of their making. Taking to the stages, there will also be eight different performances that attempt to fill in the details of these ‘empty’ art works, helping them make sense in this context.
The curator of music is musician and producer, Mahmoud Refat. The idea behind the music initiative is to continue to fuse our culturally significant ‘shaabi’ sound with more developed Western sounds. Over the past five or so years, Egypt has produced a lot of alternative music and though the movements have yet to find their own feet on a larger scale, the underground world remains substantial within itself . However, by way of this festival, and hopefully more to come, he wishes to merge and incorporate our local traditional sounds and more modern ones; because in the end, all music is relatable to each other if given the right platform and facilitated correctly.
The people behind D-CAF have worked long and hard at realising this dream of bringing culture and artistic attention back to Egypt. They feel we’ve become passive in accepting our limited role, kept outside the walls of festivities and creative initiatives. The D-CAF festival has the potential to become a yearly event and to eventually spread beyond the confines of Downtown Cairo or even Cairo itself.
Moving throughout the Downtown area and taking full advantage of all the useable spaces, the festival visits Townhouse Gallery, the Viennoise Hotel, Radio Theatre, Goethe Institute, Studio Emad Eddin and AUC’s Falaki Theatre and Greek campus.
It’s difficult to pinpoint which performances are more intriguing than others because the program is endlessly enticing. However, to highlight a few must-see performances: on March 30 don’t miss Hassan Khan and The EX in concert at the Radio Theatre. Dance performance ‘We Are Not From Outer Space’ on April 1st and 2nd at Falaki Theatre is highly recommended. Also on the April 1st, the Urban Visions program will be giving a double performance at AUC’s Greek campus. Performing for almost the entire length of the festival, GuruGuru and OK OK at Vienoisse space are definite must-sees as well. Take note however that for the former you will need to be a group of five people, while a group of four people is required for the latter.
The excitement level towards this initiative can be felt a mile away. Cairo, its artists and all the appreciators of this art couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring, uplifting and hopeful festival at a time when politics and its governments are giving us every reason to turn to a different outlet in search of expression and freedom.
Keep an eye on the Cairo 360 events calendar for a full rundown of the events.