Taking art to the streets

Chitra Kalyani
6 Min Read

A fusion of colors, sounds and scents promises to lure streetwalkers as Danes and Egyptians run joint workshops in the “Streets of Cairo.”

Starting June 10, the 10-day event organized by the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI) will feature joint workshops between 24 artists, musicians and chefs.

The event will make its way into the heart of Cairo, hosted in venues like Townhouse Gallery, Contemporary Image Collective, and even the meaner streets of Artellewa. Sawy Culture Wheel, another affordable art venue, is also one of the hosts.

The event aimed to “democratize art by having it outside,” project head Michael Irving told Daily News Egypt.

The event entails “more public engagement, not just art for the sake of art,” said Muhab Wahby of the DEDI program. The aim is to attract a wider scope of audience.

Already, the event is encountering criticism, as seen by responses at the website of Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabae. Since the publication of Prophet Mohamed’s cartoons in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, relations between the two countries have been strained.

Yet Wahby, governance program officer at DEDI, said the event had no relation to the cartoon controversy, nor any religious or political agenda.

“We’re just using art as a tool for cultural exchange and dialogue, aimed at change and commentary. We believe that change is inevitable in any society,” said Wahby about DEDI’s stance, adding “We only provide platform for that change.”

Graffiti art around the streets is one such event that will engage the public in a dialogue with participating artists. Danish artist who goes by the moniker Armsrock, known for his life-sized graffiti of “people at the periphery” will be among those coloring up streets outside Townhouse Gallery with Aya Tarek, who founded Alexandria’s first graffiti group.

Budding photographers featured in the event will also gain experience in producing a portfolio and exhibiting their work, said Irving. They will collaborate at workshops conducted at the Contemporary Image Collective. Art workshops for children will also be held at Artellewa with Danish artist Kenneth Balfelt.

Revealing how the participants were chosen, Irving said, “We wanted highly qualified people with experience with global context.” The project highlighted socially responsible artists, who were aware of and global issues, and produced work of a high quality. Artists chosen also had experience in working outside institutions.

Egyptian artists featured include photographer Tarek Hefny whose work depicts urban landscapes or codification of locations through color-coded cabs. Another participant is rooftop studio artist Karim Lotfy, exploring paradox by using provocative words for his calligraphy works. Independent artist Aalam Wassef, who has previously showcased his art installations at local businesses around Cairo’s El-Khalifa area, will also be featured.

In addition, the event will introduce Danish photographer Charlotte Haslund-Christensen, author of a pictorial study on her home country called “Natives: The Danes.”

By studying daily Danish life through an anthropological approach, Haslund-Christensen “questions the whole history and approach to the other in a very eloquent way,” said Irving.

“Music is also communication,” said the project head, pointing to another area of collaboration. “That’s also dialogue,” Irving added, noting the trend of world composers borrowing creative ideas from each other to make new and original songs.

Danish and Egyptian composing DJs will collaborate in producing music in a studio to learn from each other. The venue — an old edifice in Mahmoud Bassiouny Street called the Viennoise — will be open to the public to enter and observe the artists at work. The DJs — including Denmark’s Katrine Ring — will have performances at Cairo Jazz Club and El-Sawy Culture Center.

In sharing their experiences and ideas, Wahby said the artists “would see what others take for granted.”

Sharing of ideas will also take place on the “Critical Run,” an event in which invited participants will walk and talk around the setting of the Pyramids.

One potentially mouth-watering experience that DEDI aims for people to share is food. “There is nothing like food in bringing people together,” said Irving, since it “makes people happy.”

Danish chefs Kille Elna and Rene Bolvig will explore the Egyptian cuisine — from the vegetable and spice markets to Cairene kitchens.

Citing food as a perfect tool for dialogue, Irving says the cooks will produce “a fusion between Nordic and Middle Eastern cuisine” for the first few hundred arrivals at the Townhouse next Sunday, and at the Sawy on June 17. “Better make it early,” said Irving.

For more information on the “Streets of Cairo” event visit: http://www.dedi.org.eg/



Featured graffiti work will include the work of Danish artist Armsrock.

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