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D-CAF 2013: Bringing Life to Contemporary Arts in Downtown Cairo

D-CAF 2013: Bringing Life to Contemporary Arts in Downtown Cairo
written by
Emily Wright

Just audible above the roar of traffic and car horns in Cairo, is the new buzz arising out of the city centre about the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF), which will be taking over the city next month. Across April, some of Downtown Cairo’s more under-utilised venues will be hosting an array of events and performances from across the globe, with the hope of firmly reinforcing Cairo’s status as an international arts city.

The concept of the festival was born when artist Ahmed El-Attar, met with Al Ismaelia real estate director, Karim Shafei, who together devised a plan to put Egypt’s capital back on the cultural map, by opening the city’s own, and first, international contemporary arts festival. The festival opened last year, which El-Attar now refers to as ‘zero edition’, as this year the festival comes with a fuller schedule, replete with the international artists and performers to make this the year that the festival dream becomes a reality.

The aims of the festival at its inception were to redress the lack of contemporary art performances taking place in Cairo and to provide a structured and formalised set up to make them happen. From touring the world’s culture festivals over the past decade, El-Attar has accumulated a list of acts he wanted to bring to Cairo. The list includes internationally groundbreaking pieces, which, in his eyes, are a necessity for Cairene audiences to see. One such act is ‘Hotel Modern’ which the D-CAF team has sourced from Holland and who are recognised internationally as a landmark in contemporary European theatre. This April, D-CAF will be showcasing their first show in the Arab World as the group perform their live animation theatre show, ‘The Great War’.

Additionally, the festival will include brand new performances from artists who have been brought to Cairo in order to position the festival at the tip of the modern arts scene globally. Among these acts is Syrian rapper DeeKay, who will be making his world debut at the festival. D-CAF intend to expose the local scene in Cairo to the outside world by working with new emergent talent from within Egypt, such as its challenge to Cairo’s young generation of dancers to ‘Make a Move’ in an exchange event with the Danish choreography company ‘SVALHOLM’, in which participants compete for the opportunity to work with the Danish team. The festival has this year focused on bringing in collaborative works between international artists and their Egyptian counterparts, such as the innovative InterLAB exhibition which connects artists from Dresden, Germany and Cairo in an exchange of ideas, the outcome of which has been an impressive feat of technological artistry and Egypt’s engagement with the wider contemporary arts scene.

Technology figures as a major theme throughout many of the events featured in the fifteen-day festival. Many of the exhibitions will be interactive, allowing audiences and artists to communicate through the pieces in ways never before experienced, certainly never in Cairo. Watch out for the SMSlingshot installation, which has been set up by German artists VR/Urban, which is sure to have even the most tech-savvy among us marvelling at the wonders of technology today.

The legacy of Cairo’s artistic history looms over D-CAF’s attempts to re-engage Egypt with its place in the global contemporary arts scene. Nowhere is the influence of Cairo’s past more apparent than in the decision to hold the festival in the ever beating heart of the city, Downtown. The festival prides itself on not only reviving the creative pulse in Cairo, but also breathing new life into some of our city’s forgotten buildings. Over the past couple of years, D-CAF – together with Al-Ismaelia – has been responsible for the rejuvenation of a number of these hidden beauties which lurk amidst the downtown maze and their transformation into world-class performing arts venues. For example, Studio Emad Edin, will host the internationally acclaimed ‘WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT’ by Iranian director Nassim Soleimanpour.

It is no coincidence that following the revolution and the reclamation of Egyptian culture which has gone with it, D-CAF is bringing its new vision out from the very centre of that event and looking to re-ignite the cultural scene in Cairo from a position which has proved itself to possess a commitment to the future of the city.  The festival hopes that by bringing the greats of the contemporary art world into Cairo, it may inspire future generations of Cairienes to embrace artistic modes of expression and help form the new emergent voice of Egypt emanating out of Downtown.

The festival will be running between the 4th and 28th of April, and it’s programme is online now. Stay tuned for a full preview of events on Cairo 360. To book tickets, or for further information, contact