Den egyptiske Revolution:

Dekaffineret kunst i Kairos gader

KAIRO (22.04.2013): D-Caf her i Kairo er ikke dekaffineret kaffe - noget pjask med farve og duft, men uden koffein. Det har slet ikke noget med kaffe at gøre, men er tværtimod navnet på Kairos Downtown Contempory Arts Festival, som netop er overstået. Efter at de daglige gadekampe i området omkring Tahrirpladsen ophørte, har unge egyptiske kunstnere ført revolutionen videre. De indtaget gaderne i det centrale Kairo, og fortsætter herfra opbruddet på deres egen facon.

Den britiske avis The Guardian skriver, at mange egyptiske kunstnere føler, at de i øjeblikket befinder sig i en overgangsfase, men at de frygter, at nye restriktioner venter omkring det næste gadehjørne.


Jeg mødte den unge Patrick Kingsley, som er den The Guardian's nye korrespondent i Egypten, ved en reception hos den danske ambassadør i Kairo for et par dage siden. Trods sin ungdom - han ligner nærmest en konfirmand, så er han en fantastisk talentfuld og seriøs journalist (han har bl.a. skrevet en fantastisk bog om Danmark "How To Be Danish: From Lego to Lund" efter kun en måneds ophold i Danmark), som på rekordtid har sat sig ind i forholdene i Egypten. I artiklen her beskriver han, hvordan egyptiske kunst- og kulturaktivister til stadighed udfordrer myndighederne og den almindeligt accepterede opfattelse af, hvad der er politisk korrekt i det egyptiske samfund.

Den egyptiske revolution er hverken overstået - langtfra, eller en fiasko - selvom det ofte godt kunne se sådan ud. Den fortsætter, men har blot ændret udseende og scene. Den har blot ændret karakter. Nu er det kunstnerne, der kæmper.

Hele tiden støder de ind i grænserne for, hvad der er lovligt, eller for hvad det meget hudløse og nærtagne Muslimske Broderskab anser for acceptabel og anstændig opførsel. Mange bliver anmeldt til politiet og arresteret, men det stopper dem ikke. Tværtimod. I stedet for at sidde blandt byens andre intellektuelle på caféerne og diskutere begrænsningerne i ytringsfriheden, så prøver disse aktivistiske kunstnere grænserne af i praksis, og viser i al offentlighed – på gaderne, hvor grænserne går, så folk med egne øjne kan se, at der ikke er kommet frihed i Egypten, blot fordi man har væltet Hosni Mubarak.

Omvæltningerne er ikke overstået. Revolutionen er hverken en fiasko eller et nederlag – den er bare fortsat i gang. Lige nu er de råbende og skrigende demonstranter i gaderne bare skiftet ud med kunstnere, happenings, optrædener og udstillinger.

Gadens parlament er blevet til gadens teater og gadens galleri.

* * *

Læs Patrick Kingsley’s artikel i The Guardian.



Artistic revolution
follows 2011 uprising in Egypt

Egyptian artists find new freedom after fall of Hosni Mubarak – but some fear more repression is around the corner

By Patrick Kingsley
The Guardian
April 22, 2013

Earlier this month, three artists could be seen dancing in a street in downtown Cairo. It was not just any street. This was the pavement outside the Egyptian stock exchange – the very spot that, a day later, would be the meeting point for demonstrators protesting against Egypt's government. The dancers were part of the second annual Downtown contemporary arts festival (D-Caf) and in an area more often associated with protests, teargas and police brutality, they wanted to show that downtown, and the act of free expression, could be about more than just political demonstrations.

"We're trying to occupy the streets in a different way," explained Ahmed el-Attar, the festival's director. "As artists." It was important for the dancers to be outside the stock exchange, Attar said, "because the people of that part of town have [now] seen two very different ways of expression and of using the public space that are both valuable and both necessary."

For many in Egypt – particularly the thousands who regularly protest in places such as central Cairo – the 2011 revolution is far from over, with most of its goals unmet. But for some artists and cultural figures, one small progression can be seen in the way it has become slightly easier to organise and gather in public spaces.


D-Caf's artistic director, Ahmed el-Attar, explains why it is important for artists to reclaim public space in Egypt

"We have reclaimed the squares," said Basma el-Husseini, one of the founders of El-Fan Midan, an arts festival set up without state permission in the weeks following the 2011 uprising. El-Fan Midan – which means "Art in the Square" – sees musicians, puppeteers and artists take over a square symbolically close to one of Cairo's presidential palaces every month. As the festival has grown larger, it has become a slightly more formalised entity. But still no performer has to ask the police for permission – unthinkable in the Mubarak era.

"We don't have to tell state security any more," Husseini said.

"This is something we took by force," said Islam el-Sharqawi, a sculptor who performed a politics-themed puppet show at El-Fan Midan last month. "Before the revolution, you weren't allowed to congregate without permission. Afterwards, the people agreed we would take this square and we will come here every month."

Something comparable is happening on the streets of Alexandria, a northern city on the Mediterranean, where a group of musicians organise what they call Mini Mobile Concerts – unsanctioned gigs in poorer districts.

But the most visible sign of this progression is in the graffiti that now sprawl across the walls of many Egyptian city centres. Before the 2011 uprising, street art was hard to find in central locations. But the fall of Mubarak redefined people's attitudes to public space, and gave graffiti artists greater confidence to work in the streets.


"The only thing that I have seen really change after the revolution is art," said Zeft, a graffiti writer who made his first work soon after the uprising. "The revolution crushed the fear in us. We felt we had the right to act freely."

Husseini argues that the uprising made it easier for people to break taboos. Husseini is also the managing director of el-Mawred el-Thawqafy, a cultural NGO, which for years had wanted to invite a Lebanese singer called Yasmine Hamdan to Cairo. But it never dared to, for fear that Hamdan's risqué music would rile Mubarak-era authorities. "I hesitated because if there was one act that would close the theatre, Yasmine would be the one," Husseini said. "But last Ramadan, we brought Yasmine Hamdan to Egypt. It was packed."

In a comparable moment earlier this year, in the Photopia gallery near Cairo's presidential palace, the photographer Bashir Wagih exhibited a provocative series of photographs entitled "A7a" – a transliteration of the Arabic equivalent of "fuck". "The fact it's taking place in this part of town and the owners have had the guts to put on this show – that's a product of the revolution," said Wagih.

"It's a metaphor that shows we're not scared of anything any more," said Photopia's co-owner, Marwa Abou Leila, who said she left her old job and set up the gallery after being inspired by the 2011 uprising. "We're not scared of bullets and we're not scared of calling our exhibition A7a."

Many also argue that this increased freedom did not simply spring from nothing in 2011. They feel that – like the revolution itself – this was a process that began several years ago. "These things happened before," said Hassan Khan, a renowned Egyptian artist who premiered a short feature film at this year's D-Caf. "I see a continuum. I don't see it as a break, or a rupture."


For instance, the pioneering Townhouse Gallery – hiding down an alley in a rough-and-tumble part of central Cairo – has been promoting art in non-traditional contexts for over a decade. In its wake came galleries such as Art el-Lewa, a small space set up in 2007 in its unlikely namesake, Ard el-Lewa, an isolated, rundown area in north-west Cairo. "The spaces where we can see art have been changing – not starting from the revolution, but over the last 10 years," argued Art el-Lewa's founder, the photographer Hamdy Reda, who said that on a personal level, "the revolution started a bit earlier – when I decided not to move to where most of the intellectual elites are".

Reda is also one of several artists who draw a distinction between the act of exhibiting and performing art – which most people agree has recently become easier – and the act of creating it in the first place, which some say has become a more vexed process since 2011. But for some artists, the lack of clarity about what Egypt's ongoing revolution will turn into has stifled their creativity. "When you are inside something, you cannot see it," said Reda. "And if you say that you can see it, you're faking it."

"I've stopped painting for some time," said Gamal Lamie, a painter, and chair of the art department at Helwan University. "The artist is a sensitive person and if you don't feel secure and happy and satisfied with what is around you, you can't produce something faithful and related to truth."

"I have political issues with the idea of speaking about [art] in relation to the revolution in general," said Hassan Khan, who said it was glib to map artistic progression to the contours of a political event that was still very much in flux. "It is very easy for the media to make connections that are ultimately, if sometimes unintentionally, questionable. I think it's an issue that is still in process."


Recent interviews with Egyptian artists conducted by the British Council suggested that not everyone feels as torn. "Some said they were still processing everything so they couldn't create anything of worth," said Cathy Costain, head of arts programmes at the British Council in Egypt. "But other people were saying: let's do a piece of theatre while our emotions are still raw."

Many on both sides of the argument would nevertheless agree that this transitional period may yet end in less artistic freedom, not more. "There's a fear that this may be a temporary window," said Basma el-Husseini. The government was preoccupied with other things for the time being, added D-Caf's Attar. But, he warned, cultural repression might not be too far away. "We know it will come. We're waiting."



Læs de øvrige artikler, der kom ud af min efteruddannelsesrejse til Egypten for at lære om kunst og kultur i kølvandet på Den Egyptiske Revolution:

Besøg hos den egyptiske kunstner Khaled Hafez: ”Jeg hader politisk korrekthed”.

Introduktionen til en ny bog, der er på vej, om revolutionens kunst: ”Opbruddets graffiti set fra elfenbenstårnet”.

En af mine britiske kollegers artikel om noget af revolutionens kunst: ”Dekaffineret kunst i Kairos gader”.

Mødet med Mohamed Abla og Hany Rashed: ”Rapport fra den kunstneriske ø i det egyptiske hav”.

Mødet med den egyptiske vice-kulturminister: ”Ministeriet for Ingen-som-helst-kultur”.

Frygtløse kulturaktivister i Kairo: ”Frihedens kulturelle frontlinje”.


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