art of resistance, Egypt

Alaa Al Aswany: The Automobile Club Of Egypt (excerpt).

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The following is an excerpt from Alaa Al Aswany’s lovely book The Automobile Club Of Egypt.

“The story started when a man called Karl Benz met a woman called Bertha.

In the only extant photograph of him, Karl Benz appears distracted, his mind so preoccupied by something other than the details of daily life that he has forgotten to do up the buttons of his jacket as he stands for the camera. His face appears to show a deep-­grained sadness, a look of despondency left by a hard childhood. His father, a railroad engineer, had died in a terrible accident when Karl was just two, and his mother fought hard to provide him a good education.

Still, he had had to start working at a young age in order to help support his siblings. The photograph shows his intelligence and determination, but it also portrays him as somewhat distant, as if he is looking at something on the far horizon that only he can see. Bertha’s photograph, on the other hand, reflects a special type of beauty, one not sensual but brimming with maternal tenderness.

Still, the captivating graciousness and angelic modesty of her features cannot hide a steely determination of her own and a readiness to sacrifice herself for duty.

It was July 20, 1872. In the German city of Mannheim, the church was full to the rafters with men and women in their Sunday best, so many people having been invited that some had to stand during the ceremony. Despite rebukes and reprimands, the children kept babbling and fidgeting. The smell of the freshly painted church walls permeating the hot air did nothing to relieve the stifling heat as the women muttered and rapidly fanned themselves with their patterned silk fans.

Suddenly, cries of joy went up, along with scattered clapping, as Karl Benz appeared in his elegant white suit, arm in arm with his bride, Bertha, who glittered in a beautiful gown of green French lace encrusted with small clusters of diamanté, the gown glistening and the deep round neckline showing off her exquisite skin. It was pulled in tightly to highlight her fabulous waist and below that puffed out in a bell shape like a ballet dancer’s costume.

The couple walked slowly up the aisle to the altar and then repeated the marriage vows uttered first by the corpulent priest, who, due to the heat, took a sip after every sentence from a glass of cold water placed near him and wiped the sweat from his brow with a large white handkerchief.

Karl held Bertha’s hand and spoke his vow in a staccato and rasping voice, as if he was reticent about the words. When it was Bertha’s turn, her face reddened slightly, her breath becoming irregular, and the words came out in the disjointed fashion of a schoolgirl reading out a difficult text for a demanding teacher:

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take thee, Karl Benz, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.’

A dinner for the family and some close friends followed the ceremony. Just before midnight, Karl opened the door to their new house, and Bertha paused before walking across the threshold. She thought about how one part of her life was coming to an end and a new one was beginning, and she whispered a prayer to God to bless their life together.

(…)

She knew that he was an engineer at a workshop and that he had set something up with a partner in order to earn a living. One day he came asking her to lend him a sum of money to buy out the partner. She did not hesitate for a moment but handed over the amount from her own savings, with Karl kissing her hands in gratitude.

He said excitedly that he would never forget her kindness, but within a few days he had gone back to his odd ways. He told her that he had rented the cellar of the Millers’ house in the next street as a workshop. There, he said rather brusquely, he would be able to finish what he had started in the workshop. Then he avoided answering any of her questions, smiled cryptically and left the house.

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Karl started spending long hours at the cellar, refusing to allow Bertha to see it, and when she asked him who was cleaning the place for him, he pretended not to hear. As the days passed, his behavior became more erratic.

He would settle himself down in the far corner of the sitting room, smoking a cigar and saying nothing, completely aloof from everything around him, when suddenly he’d jump to his feet and rush out of the house as if he had just remembered some urgent chore. He would be gone for hours on end and, when he returned, would carry on as if nothing was awry.

(…)

Deep down, she was afraid of confronting the truth. Anxiety over her adulterous husband had been gnawing away mercilessly at her soul, and there was only the most remote possibility of his innocence. What if she were to confront him and he confessed to adultery? What would she do then?

Should she tell her family, walk out on him? She had to think it through properly first. She decided to play for time while preparing to have it out with him, remembering that once you start out on the road downhill, there is no stopping.

One morning after breakfast, as he was about to leave for work, she was standing by the door to see him off and was surprised to hear him say, avoiding her gaze, ‘I won’t be home tonight.’

‘For what reason?’

‘I’ve got some work that I can’t put off, so I am going to work through the night in the cellar.’

Now, for the first time, Bertha could not control herself. She exploded, and her voice could be heard throughout the house, ‘Just stop it, Karl. I can’t continue putting up with your lies. What work would make you spend the night out of the house? What do you take me for? I am neither a child nor a fool. I know what has been going on. You’re cheating on me, Karl. But why live a life of lies with me? Leave me and go to her, if you’re in love.’

She said all of this, standing with her hands on her hips, her hair disheveled, a look of fury on her face and her greenish eyes exuding bitterness and anger. She was raging, ready to fight it out, but then she burst into tears. Karl looked at her calmly, in a state of incomprehension. He knitted his brows and said nothing but tried to embrace her. She pushed him away forcefully, sobbing, and she shouted, ‘Get away from me!’

Then, suddenly, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door as she cried out, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Come with me.’

He grasped her hand more tightly and pulled her outside.

The autumn sky was dull, overcast and threatening rain. Karl strode forth while Bertha tried to wriggle out of his grasp, almost falling a few times; they were such an odd sight that some passersby started giving them sidelong glances.

When they reached the Millers’ house, he led her down to the cellar and unlocked the door with his right hand while keeping hold of her with his left. The door screeched open in response to his kick. He pulled her inside, finally letting go of her hand to turn on the lamp.

Rubbing her now freed wrist, she looked around. The space was full of strange objects, machines great and small, bicycles of various sizes lying on the floor, a large blackboard covered with scores of equations, technical drawings hanging on the walls, a wooden workbench with engine parts on it with countless nails and screws in containers nearby.

Karl sat her down on the only chair, and he leaned against the old wall covered in flakes of paint as he started to explain. As she listened to him, she started to put the whole picture together, and her sullenness turned into astonishment. When he’d finished explaining, she asked him a few questions, to which he gave straightforward and complete answers.

Finally, there was nothing left to say, and a pregnant silence fell over them. Karl knelt down beside her, kissed her hands and knees and said, ‘Bertha, I love you. I will never love another woman. I am so sorry that my work has kept me away from you, but I have been working for years to achieve the dream I have been living for. I am trying, one day, to invent a horseless carriage. A carriage driven by a motor.'”

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art of resistance, Egypt

eL Seed & Perception In Cairo’s Garbage City.

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/photo © Perception, eL Seed/

In a new scope of work, French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed explores the topic of perception by exploring how outsider judgment and misconception can unconsciously impact a community. This is a beautiful, important and powerful piece of art.

Here’s the story – in the neighborhood of Mokkatam Mountain in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb has collected the city’s trash for decades, developing one of the world’s most efficient and highly profitable recycling systems. Yet the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.

The Zaraeeb community is not – as public conception has suggested – poor, but rather isolated; not marginalized, but rather pushed away. They are a reflection of the society: they don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city.

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To bring light on this community, in his new project called Perception, eL Seed created a massive, anamorphic piece covering almost fifty buildings – visible in its entirety only from the mountains above.

The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first”.

The project uses the context of Zaraeeb to question our perception of the people who were once part of the general community, and despite thriving beyond comprehension, are still looked down upon.

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eL Seed stated that the project in Zaraeeb neighborhood was one of the most amazing human experiences he ever had.

“They have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people), but this is not how they call themselves. They don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city. They are the ones who clean the city of Cairo”, eL Seed wrote.

//all photos © eL Seed//

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For more on eL Seed and his work, visit his facebook page.

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art of resistance, Egypt

BuSSy: A Place For Untold Gender Stories.

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BuSSy is a performing arts project that has been slowly changing Egypt for the last ten years. It aims to empower men and women to express themselves and talk about the things that are “not to be talked about”. Through storytelling, they raise awareness about social issues that are crippling Egypt nowadays. To find out more about BuSSy and their efforts, I talked with Nadia Elboubkri, BuSSy’s project manager.

When and how did the BuSSy project start? What was the motivation behind it?

In 2005, the American University in Cairo hosted a performance of the Vagina Monologues. Many female students felt the performance was daring but irrelevant to Egyptians. And in reaction to that… BuSSy was born! In 2006, a group of female students started The BuSSy project – an annual performance of true stories of women in Egypt. The very first BuSSy performance was a collection of stories submitted by women in response to a flyer that read: “If you have a story about yourself or a woman you know, please pick up a submission form and share it.”
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The monologues, which were written and performed by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided for the first time in Egypt, a space for free expression on issues that society often failed/refused to address.

Despite  being constantly subjected to censorship attempts from both the private theaters and state owned ones, BuSSy was able to carry on and expand further. In 2010 the project developed its scope to include stories of both women and men. Both genders are invited to share their personal experiences during the workshop and later on stage.

In 2012, we began working on a larger scale, instead of one workshop and one performance. We started conducting several workshops around Cairo to produce different performances each year that include stories of both genders. Some of the performances and workshops revolved around specific timely/relevant themes such as harassment incidents during protests and domestic violence.

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You’ve been holding performances on stages all over Egypt for the last couple of years. What are the biggest obstacles you faced on your way?

The issues that BuSSy often discusses in our workshops are often taboo in Egypt, rarely spoken about publicly, and often women are shamed and considered dishonorable if they are sexually violated, let alone if they speak about it in public forum.
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BuSSy gives women a space to discuss these stories, whether anonymously or with their own names… Though many choose to remain anonymous. We hold workshops in cities all over Egypt, and invite women from all walks of life to come and share their stories with us. Then, we put the stories together into a performance, and the women [if they so choose] go on stage and share their stories.
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This all sounds a lot easier than it is… Often we are faced with community backlash – community members heckle the storytellers on stage, some women are forced to hide their identities, we can’t feature some of our storytellers on film, or publish their pictures on social media.
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We are also subject to government censorship. Most recently we were forced out of a government venue [the Cairo Opera House] because a performance we were invited to give there discussed issues that were deemed “immoral” by the government, such as masturbation and sexual education.
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Because of this, we are now crowdfunding for our own space, because we promise a safe and judgment-free environment for our storytellers, and that has become increasingly difficult to find…sometimes we hold workshops in unsafe neighborhoods, or rehearsals in parking lots, and even our own living rooms, because we can’t find a space to work.
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Gender issues are in the focus of your activism. Through your stories, what are the big issues Egyptian women and men face in relation to gender roles and expectations?
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Many of the common issues that Egyptian women and men face are related to the high rates of sexual violence, which has its roots in the occupation of public space and culture-based gender dynamics. A common thread in our workshops is street harassment, and women feeling scared or ashamed to go outside in public, often spending excessive time deliberating about what to wear, where to walk, etc.
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For men, similar issues arise, there exists harassment of males, though it isn’t always discussed. Our workshops help both genders find connections with others who have had similar experiences, and show them they are not alone, which empowers them to step on stage and tell others,thereby raising awareness about the issue.
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Having this space to express often hidden stories from all parts of the society is of incredible importance to many. What were the reactions of people when BuSSy project started and how did it change throughout the years? Were they scared in the beginning? And do you have bigger support now?
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Bussy is fortunate to have a large and loyal support base in Cairo, when we hold workshops and performances they are almost always sold out. However, we still have our fair share of difficulties in addressing the public. Many audience members are shocked during our performances, people have walked out during a show, or addressed us afterwards to tell us their thoughts.
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However, many of our audience members are the opposite too–cheering us on, or wanting to join us in our next workshop and performance. In cities outside of Cairo, because we are very new to them, it takes longer to thaw the ice. Our workshops have been a great way to connect with the community, and after getting to know the storytellers, we find that they also become willing to step on stage and speak about issues that have never been publicly addressed in their communities. They are breaking ground in their communities!
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You’ve mentioned the cooperation with other theatres – private and state owned ones. What was the case most of the times – were they ready to cooperate with you or were there censorhip efforts?
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Ever since it’s birth BuSSy has been facing a lot of difficulties finding spaces to hold the workshops and rehearsals.
We have held workshops and rehearsals in school court yards, garages, flats, public cafe, rented rooms, bookshops…
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For BuSSy to continue to share with the world the remarkable histories of our storytellers, we need a safe and open space to hold our workshops, create other activities that would help sustain the project on the long run, and help it operate independently away from censorship and content-controlling funding – which is commonly practiced by hosting venues.
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It depends on the circumstances, the legality, and the independence of the venue. But, anytime we are asked to submit a script for review or to censor our language, we respectfully decline holding our performance in that particular venue. It is one of our most important principles to share the stories exactly how they are told to us.
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BuSSy is currently crowdfunding to create a space for women and men to speak up about their untold gender stories. What would be your hope and dream for the future?
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Our crowdfunding campaign is not only aiming to acquire our own space to hold workshops and events, but we are also seeking to become self-sustaining within the next few years. We plan to hold regular storytelling workshops, open-mic events, mini-performances, and more in our new space, and hopefully, over time, we can support our own activities, particularly our activities outside of Cairo.
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/all photos © BuSSy/
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The Croatian version of the interview can be found on Libela.
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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, travel

Cinemas of Morocco and Egypt.

maroc081,large.1422288691/Cinema Al Falah, Casablanca/

Stephan Zaubitzer started photographing movie theatres in 2003. Twelve years later, he has an impressive cinema collection in his portolio, from the United States and Romania, to Brazil and the Czech Republic. Among the cinemas he discovered and captured in his photos, there are many that can be found in Morocco and Egypt – from Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangier to Alexandria and Cairo.

Zaubitzer was fascinated by the dark interiors with their outlandish decorations, and by the exteriors, which always stand out from their urban surroundings. His photos allows us to take a tour around the magical world of movie theaters in Morocco and Egypt.

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//all photos © Stephan Zaubitzer//

• • •

For more, visit Stephan Zaubitzer’s official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Yusuf Idris: An Aimless Sort of Running (The Aorta).

Yusuf Idris was a great Egyptian writer of short stories, plays and novels. Here is an excerpt from his short story The Aorta (the story can be found in Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East). It was translated from the Arabic by Trevor J. Le Gassick.

Yusuf_Idris_portrett/Yusuf Idris, photo via wikimedia/

It wasn’t important that there was running; what mattered was that it was happening all over the place as if Doomsday itself had come. A very peculiar type of running it was, not like someone in a hurry, or fleeing in terror, or racing to save a life. No – an aimless sort of running, as if those doing it were trying to find some spot from which to actually begin their running and hurrying.

And so no one knew the goal or purpose of the others, all being in a state of watchful anxiety, concerned that one of them would find his own point of beginning which would then, no doubt, define their own. That’s why you saw people running so madly, crazily, and trying so desperately yet unsuccessfully to watch where the others were heading. Whenever anyone appeared at all hesitant and slowed down, or became more purposeful and increased speed and so seemed about to discover his goal, then dozens would rush toward him, hoping to arrive before him, to be the first to set off after a clearly defined objective.

This whole activity made the place, if viewed from high above or far away, seem to pulsate with sudden throbbings that then dispersed and subsided, it all happening at more than one place at a time. You would have thought the square paved with smooth veneer, if it had not been for those sudden pulsations occuring here and there that alone gave signs of life. You would have thought it all veneer of stone, or the human b eings gathered there lumps of multicolored rocks. No one knows whether blows were struck or not. Well, actually, I personally was struck by more than one blow, vicious painful blows. But it was impossible to know who was doing the striking because one had no constant neighbor and the continous fluid movement prevented you getting so much as a glance at the hundreds passing you or whom you were passing. In any case there were, most certainly, blows struck.

And what a surprise then! How could I ever have guessed that turning next moment to the person right beside me – the very first close neighbor whose features I had been able to properly examine – I would find, to my shock and amazement, Abduh!

But even as food Abduh was completely unappetizing, disgusting even; he was thin and weak. He never showed a glimmer of defiance, never faced up to anyone else to assert or defend his own existence.  He was ‘good’, that weakly, negative sort of goodness, as if he had a double hernia or something, and he sang sweet songs when by himself. He seemed ‘foreign’, out of place wherever he was, as if he’d never found his own country. When things got too much for him, he’d cry. His eyes would suddenly fill with tears. But there’d be no redness in them; the flush would gather into his nose, which would seem to swell and fill with the secretions.

Yes, for three whole days, morning, noon, and nights, I’ve been looking for you, Abduh, turning over the pavement stones in Cairo, breaking into houses, asking, demanding, pleading for help in finding you, searching every road, every street, every alley. My strength finally sapped, I fell asleep only to wake up in a rage of despair at finding you: my dream, my nightmare, and the pain of my hours awake or asleep is the thought of truning around sometime and finding you there, Abduh! 

‘Where have you been, Abduh, and where did you hide the money?'”

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art of resistance, Egypt, travel

Egypt, a Love Story.

Denis Dailleux is a French photographer who has spent last two decades photographing Egypt (Cairo mostly). Fascinated by the city and the spontaneus kindness of its people, Dailleux keeps on discovering new stories and capturing new faces. I already presented a lot of his work – From Mistress of Cairo to Martyrs of the Revolution, Sudan series, and Mother and Son.

I recently read Naguib Mahfouz’s The Coffeehouse (his last novel), a lovely little novel about friendship, life’s little pleasures (like the coffeehouse Qushtumur) , memory and loss.  Translator Raymond Stock notes that the novel is: “Fittingly final, as it is really a work of literary nostalgia“. Somehow, the novel brought the same feeling I have when I go through Dailleux’s photos of Egypt. As Mahfouz writes:

“Qushtumur the coffeehouse saw us take leave of our youth and our first steps into manhood. We spent our lives between work, culture, and evening conversation.”

So, I went through Dailleux’s photos again. The following ones are a mixture from his series Egypt, my Love, On the roofs of Cairo, Cairo (book selection), and On the footsteps of Oum Kalthoum, photos taken over a twenty year span (from 1992 to 2013). These photos are a testimony of love, love of life and human beings, universal love, beautifully captured in time and space.

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//all images © Denis Dailleux/Agence VU//

For more on Dailleux and his photography – viist his Agence VU profile, and his official website.

 

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art of resistance, Egypt, travel

Cairo’s Souq El Gomma: A City within a City.

Jason Larkin is a photographer whose work I already introduced writing about Cairo Divided – The Escape of the Elites. He has done a lot of projects in Egypt, Cairo particularly, but each one of them seems so fresh and inspiring. His work never feels worn-out, it never screams been there – done that. There’s always a buzz of excitement and discovery  which just goes to show how Cairo is a true city of stories, a city of diversity, and a well of inspiration. And Larkin is great at capturing that.

Larkin’s project, Souq El Gomma, captures Middle East’s largest informal market gathering.

Artist statement:

” ‘A city within a city, built in the morning light, and which disappears with the last of the day. An infinite and intertwining network of commerce colliding for just a few hours a week.’

Invisible City, Italo Calvino

This story is an exploration of the myriad people, objects and spaces that make up Cairo’s Souq El-Gomma, the Middle East’s largest informal market gathering. Every Friday this trading metropolis materialises, with no formal direction or control, no one idea and ultimately no boundaries, it encompasses the aperture between the living city and the city of the dead. Colonised by the economically marginalised the trade is in the detritus of the city, here Cairo’s flotsam and jetsam is sorted, salvaged and sold on. This organic and dynamic entity offers up a window into the lives of other people and more fundamentally a window into the life of the city itself.

Commissioned by The National M Magazine. Published in Sowar Magazine, Ojopedez.”

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/all images © Jason Larkin/

For more of Larkin’s great photography, visit his official website.

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