D-CAF launched in April 2011, just months after the uprisings that saw Egypt’s then-president Mubarak step down. The festival points to the turbulent context of its inaugural edition by focusing on public space and performance, with venues this year including Horreya garden, the Egyptian stock market, local cinemas, theatres, shops and cafes. “The festival is about being in the city and bringing art to the urban environment—taking back the space not just politically but also creatively,” El Attar says. The festival’s wide range of venues can in part be attributed to D-CAF’s co-founder and main corporate sponsor, Al-Ismaelia for Retail Investment, which has been buying property in downtown Cairo since 2008.
D-CAF has an ambitious three-week programme this year that spans contemporary music, film, visual arts and, for the first time, literature. Unlike previous years, no events will be taking place in other Egyptian cities, but parallel shows will be held in Lebanon. The performances in Beirut are designed to include Syrian performance artists who are routinely denied entry into Egypt, despite the festival’s efforts to include them in their programming.
The Coptic community of Zaraeeb have been given the name zabaleen (or garbage people) because of their profession — collecting and sorting by hand the daily rubbish of Cairo. But the recycling work they carry out is not only highly profitable — it is a vital service in a city that produces around 14,000 tons of solid waste daily. For this reason the people of Zaraeeb don’t see themselves as the dirty ones — the real mess is Greater Cairo. It’s a matter of perception.
“We aren’t the zabaleen, they are — the rest of Cairo is.” This reported sentiment stands out in eL Seed’s discussion of his new self-funded project Perception in the Zaraeeb neighborhood in Cairo’s Manshiyet Nasser district.
Perception is monumental — an anamorphic artwork that covers more than 50 buildings, involved a team of 22 people, and took three weeks to paint. The large circular design, painted in the “calligraffiti” style eL Seed is renowned for, can only be viewed in its entirety from one specific point at the top of the neighboring Mokattam mountain.
As with many of his works, Perception uses a quote as the basis for an elaborate, interlinking Arabic design, this time from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “Anyone who wants to see the light clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Adding to the visual spectacle of the work, but also demonstrating the importance of the community in the creation of the project, the image was painted with fluorescent white paint that was illuminated for one night only when it was completed — a gift to the neighborhood that has given so much to Cairo.
Six multi-generational characters, three interconnected stories, one overarching theme that binds them together… Sounds familiar? New Egyptian film Cairo Time(Betawqeet El Qahira, 2014) is a classic multiple-storyline film. It’s a winning combination that is increasingly used in popular contemporary film, showing a cross section of life in one place, at one time, and the inextricable connectivity of life in our modern world. It can be found in the seamlessly interwoven British film favourite Love Actually(2003) and in Arab films such as Merzak Allouache’s The Rooftops(Les Terrasses/Es-Stouh, 2013) and the cult classic The Yacoubian Building(Omaret Yacoubian, 2006). Such an approach to film-making has the ability to highlight the spectrum of a human and societal difference as well as a variety of pertinent issues and concerns.