After conducting some extensive field research, the organisation Mahatat for Contemporary Art launched an artists’ development project called “Face to Face” in the Damietta governorate. The project aims at helping artists develop much needed skills, as well as connecting them with their peers and the artistic society outside of Damietta.
The project is headed by two of the Mahatat founders, Heba Al-Sheikh and Mayada Said. The goals of Mahatat include the decentralisation of art and enabling artists especially in the field of contemporary art. The field research was conducted from October to December 2012. Research showed the problems artists of Damietta face are summed up in two categories: not enough exposure and the scattered nature of independent artists without a known community. The project also aims at dissipating some negative preconceived notions concerning the people of Damietta.
Participants are chosen through registration, followed by interviews conducted by workshop leaders.
The project builds on pre-existing projects including the Damietta Camera Club. Together with local organisations they try to unite the artistic society and give independent artists more resources to help them with their art.
“The project depends on face to face meetings to build relationships between the artists and the people outside Damietta,” explained Al-Sheikh when asked why they decided to make part of the project offline. They also offer several workshops, which started in March and will continue until May.
The workshops include an event photography workshop by Rana El-Nemr, a theatre workshop by Mohamed Shindy, and a visual art workshop by artist Hanaa El-Daghem and painter Dalia Refaat. The workshops are organised by Bassant Galal. Mahatat plans to launch the project website and blog within a week, which will contain information about the project. There is an online component to the project, which includes using social media websites to encourage artists’ interaction with each other and workshops’ leaders.
In the future the project will expand to include the entire Delta region. The next stage of the project is expected to include Port Said and Mansoura, which have a special connection with Damietta, with Mansoura considered the cultural hub. “Mansoura’s university is the main one, while the rest of the universities [in the other two governorates] are affiliated with it,” Galal said.
The workshops do not have rigid plans but depend on the participation of the applicants to guide it to its final form. “Photographers always feel as if they are intruding on people, so we try to make them feel at ease and show them how to make other people feel comfortable being photographed,” El-Nemr explained.
The workshops are concluded with a formal evaluation of the participants and then there is an informal follow up by workshop leaders.