In a bid to put the Egyptian capital Cairo on the contemporary cultural map, organizers from Egypt and Europe have arranged the first major arts festival since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last February.
“In the past, before the revolution, the main festivals in Egypt were all organised by the government, by the Ministry of Culture or other government bodies. And it was more a propaganda tool rather than a way of creating an artistic event and therefore these festivals never really worked,” artistic director Ahmed El Attar said.
The headquarters of Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival are merely a short walk from the epicenter of last year’s revolution, Tahrir Square. Attar says that this event will be different from past attempts.
“And one of the main problems they had, is they had no programming so in this festival we have decided, like all festivals, to have programmers. So I programme the performing arts, because that's my field, and Mahmoud Refat programmed the music programme and Mia Jankowicz programmed the visual arts programme, and they're both, this is their field. That was an important decision to make from the beginning,” he said.
The aim of the organizers is to set new standards in freedom of expression especially in light of growing concerns of censorship in the presence of the new Islamist–led government.
“I also think that now is a very important time to put landmarks in Egypt. We have an uncertain political future, people are worried of what might come. Some people are worried that it will be a very obscure time to come. We don't know. And I think now is a time to put down certain landmarks that if things get worse, at least we've started something,” Attar said.
Aside from Radio Theater serving as headquarters, there are 15 other venues which will showcase visual arts, modern dance and theater and many more performances.
Curators of the event are hoping to expand the audience’s horizons by introducing them to performers from other parts of the globe and to less mainstream forms of art such as experimental dance as demonstrated in the piece titled “We are not from outer space”.
According to organizers of this piece, who hail from Egypt, Portugal, and Germany, the dance transcends cultural, linguistic and geographic borders to portray united sentiments of doubt in political and economic systems.
When the artists got together to discuss themes of identity and humanity, it was difficult to avoid politics in an Egyptian context, says performer and choreographer Mohammed Abdullah Shafik.
“Because you see are all so different, we are from different places. So I try to figure out my identity, but finally I found that my identity it's lost; so Egypt it's lost. This is what I can say,” said Shafik.
The shows performed at D-CAF are unique, and organizers will simply tweak as they ensue rather than change the essence of the project. The creators say the piece would take a life of its own.
D-CAF boasts 150 local and international talent and will run until April 14.