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Shaware3na: Live Art Perfromances Seeping Through the Streets of Cairo

Shaware3na: Live Art Perfromances Seeping Through the Streets of Cairo
    written by
    Yasmine Nazmy

    As part of the latest spurt of the artistic frenzy that has overtaken
    Cairo’s streets in the past year, Shaware3na comes as the launch project for Mahatat;
    a newly founded arts organization that promotes art in public spaces. Shaware3na
    runs from 18 January to 23 June.

    The first of four projects under the umbrella of Shaware3na is Art of Transit. “There are so many
    people who do stuff on the Metro – some people sell stuff, some read from the Quran
    and none of these people have permits or is operating under any official
    capacity” says Mayada Said, co-founder and Fundraising and Communication
    Director. “We thought it would be a good idea to bring art to people commuting
    everyday to and from work”.

    Art of
    brings four distinct performances to the Cairo Metro wagons. The
    line-up includes a pantomime performance by Amr Abdel Aziz; Red Tomato – a clown performance by Ali
    Sobhi and Ahmed Mostafa; invisible theatre by Hara TV (Nada Sabet and Sally
    Sami); and Bussy by Mona El Shimi and
    Sondos Shabayek. Art of Transit has held
    a total of sixteen performances so far and Mahatat is considering doing a
    second edition of the project.

    Mahatat was co-founded by five women from different national and
    professional backgrounds: Astrid Thews, Heba El Cheikh, Marie Girod, Mayada Said and Myriam Makhoul, all of whom have
    worked in the arts and culture scene in Egypt. “We didn’t want another art
    space or gallery, but to operate in public spaces and to address an entirely
    different audience,” says Said. For those who frequent the theatre, it is
    common knowledge that, while these art spaces theoretically cater to everyone,
    they draw a somewhat limited audience.

    In utilising public spaces, Mahatat aims to reach a broader audience and
    give artists a different kind of exposure than the traditional gallery or
    theatre. “It’s important to have theatres and galleries for people to exhibit
    and perform in safe spaces, and these cater to a specific audience. There are
    artists that have always wanted to perform in public space but some were
    uncomfortable doing so. We thought that if we organise it for them, they would
    be more willing to go out there and we hope that they continue to do so on
    their own” says Said.

    The organisation has three components, the first being Mahatat in public
    space. The other two components include Mahatat young talents – an initiative
    that aims to encourage and support creative youths and finally, Mahatat
    networks – an effort to connect artists and specialists who work in public spaces
    from around Egypt.

    Surprisingly, Mahatat is also working on a business component to make
    the organisation financially independent. For now, however, Mahatat receives sponsorship
    per project, with the main sponsor of Shaware3na being the Danish Egyptian
    Dialogue Institute (DEDI); additional sponsors include the British Council and
    the German Embassy in Cairo.

    And while Mahatat aims to build on and connect with people already
    working in the art scene, they are also making an effort to reach out to those
    who are not part of the art community in Egypt.

    “Our target is both the passerby and people who come to see the
    performances deliberately, depending on the project,” says Said. In the case of
    Art of Transit however, performance
    times are not announced to the public since it is difficult to predict when the
    performers will be in each location. Performers literally jump in and out of
    carriages and often do little sketches in the stations in between; so slotting
    it in to your schedule may be near impossible.

    Art of Transit has been invading
    the streets of Cairo since the end of January and while audience reactions have
    been mixed, most have been positive. “A lot of people have been very
    supportive,” says Said. “We had an incident with Red Tomato where the two clowns were going up the stairs in
    slow-motion, and everyone was watching and laughing – including 10 policemen.
    We’ve actually had more problems filming the performances than we have actually
    staging them,” notes Said.

    With Bussy, however, it’s a
    different story. According to Said, some women have become emotional upon
    hearing the monologues and have wanted to share their own stories. Similarly,
    with Hara TV, which tackles the issue of sexual harassment, many audience
    members have got involved in the conversations and given the performers tips on
    how to handle difficult situations.

    After almost two months of Art of
    , Metro users are becoming more accustomed to seeing the
    performances, and the performers are quickly gaining confidence. Said also
    noted a few incidents where passengers have offered their personal support and
    encouragement to performers.

    And while Mahatat is providing artists with the opportunity to perform
    in public spaces, they are not claiming it as a right; they take the time to
    explain it to people and respect if people don’t like a performance and don’t
    want to watch it.

    “When people go to a theatre, they expect to see a performance, but this
    is not the same. We try to pick performances that are presented in a way that
    gives people the choice to watch or not to watch” says Said.

    The second project by Mahatat – Stop
    & Dance
    – brings together Egyptian, German, and Portuguese dancers; it
    focuses on site-specific dance and performances in public space, the end result
    being performances in the Metro stations.

    The third project is Public Screen
    which includes screenings of international and local video art in public
    spaces. Mahatat is also organizing a local initiative titled The Tree Project through which they will
    hold workshops for young people of the Soliman Gohar neighbourhood, designing
    trees using sound / light installations.

    So, take the metro more often- you may be pleasantly surprised. For more information on Mahatat, check out their Facebook and Twitter pages.