Cairo’s D-CAF, where vibrant contemporary arts are bound to be

D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival), Cairo

Contemporary artaholics unite! The second edition of D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival) is coming to an end on April 28. Egypt’s first and largest international multi-disciplinary contemporary arts festival has already been better than last year. al.arte.magazine went, and saw that it was good.

D-what?

D-CAF has a diverse programme of 200 performances, showcased by 130 artists. It is all about music, dance (such as street dance and contemporary dance), theatre (such as shadow theatre), visual arts (such as street installations, video art and digital graffiti), edutainment (workshops) and film screenings, brought to you by performers from Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Algeria and beyond. This also includes cross-genre work, and cross-fertilising collaborations between Egyptian artists and their international colleagues and, at times, the audience.

The festival is taking place on a variety of sites: a combination of key venues and outdoor spaces in Downtown Cairo such as the Falaki Theatre, Hotel Viennoise, Medrar Gallery, Qasr El Nil Theatre and many more. These are not only old and newly established art venues, but also non-traditional locations such as rooftops, alleyways and store fronts. This way, both audiences and performers get the chance to engage with the city in a totally new way. It also allows Cairenes to reconnect to forgotten spaces that once flowered in Egypt’s golden cultural era. The festival’s general aim sounds fantastic by all means: “Reaching out to a broad spectrum of Egyptian audiences, creating bridges between Arab artists and international curators and programmers, and capitalising on Downtown Cairo’s unique cultural, social and architectural heritage. Furthermore, the D-CAF team seeks not just on bringing the best in international contemporary culture to Cairo, but also on delivering a highly professional and well publicised international festival.”

A talk with Ahmed El Attar

Ahmed El Attar joins the audience. © Mostafa Abdel Aty

Ahmed El Attar, a well established name in the theatre scene, is the artistic director of D-CAF 2013 and also serves as the curator for its Performing Arts program. The festival was launched in the spring of 2012, at a time of change in Egypt, trying to take a stand for independent arts and culture in the country. “Art must go on”, El Attar believes. To keep this at the centre of the national agenda, D-CAF is back this year on the very streets around Tahrir Square, a place where Egyptians still voice their political concerns. As the artistic director describes it, the organisation is standing firmer now: “It’s totally different from last year. The first time around there were too many art works in two and a half weeks. Now we’re focused on the weekends and we’re working with bigger teams.” A sine qua non for this inspiring man is that the festival brings high quality art, so that it can become one of the most important annual Arab art events. El Attar: “This was a conscious decision. Egypt is an important centre in the region, it needs this. This is a fact, not a rhetoric discourse.” Considering this year’s programme as a snapshot of what the contemporary art scene has to offer, he wants the festival to attract both young and older audiences.

Meet Dia Hamed and Lot Amoros

Lot Amoros and Dia Hamed operating their guerilla drone. © D-CAF

From a parking lot right in front of Downtown’s El Prince restaurant a guerilla drone took off on a Friday night, armed with a small camera. For this project, called Augmented Airspace, a Spanish software engineer by the name of Lot Amoros and the Egyptian artist Dia Hamed put their heads together. As a part of D-CAF’s visual arts, it explores air as a medium of expression, challenging society to reflect on the presence of robots (such as surveillance cameras) in public spaces.

The guerilla drone at work. © D-CAF

“The basic idea is to use the drone’s live videofeed to expand the air space, to expand the city, so to have an extra layer on the buildings. The system recognizes these images and we can add layers,” Amoros explains. The modified ‘helicopter’ offered a bird’s-eye view of the city as the images of the parking lot’s surrounding buildings shot by the camera were projected on a screen. Not just any odd digital layer was added to the projected images: graffiti showing the faces of revolutionary martyrs suddenly appeared on the buildings’ walls shown on the screen. “We wanted to recreate the graffiti layers that street artists spread around the city. So we came up with the idea to remember the revolutionaries and added this. We also worked with the idea of martyrs, that all martyrs are still alive. So we used their faces and their history to remember the revolution,” Amoros points out. “The main role of the drone in this case, I would say, is that it really gives you another view of everything. I mean, you’re here and you see the screen but you still see yourself from the top, so it reflects another aspect of the city. And then with the digital layer, it also recreates the scapes. The cityscapes, with things that existed, but with the digital layer on it,” Hamed adds.

Kheireddine Lardjam, passionate about End/Igné

End/Igné (‘Indignant’) is a monologue that lays bare the thoughts of Moussa, an employee of the hospital morgue of a small, sleepy town in Algeria. One day, he is confronted with the sudden death of his best friend Aziz who, regardless of his aspirations, desires, dreams and résumé, sets himself on fire.

Azzedine Benamara as Moussa in End/Igné. © Mostafa Abdel Aty

Azzedine Benamara as Moussa in End/Igné. © Mostafa Abdel Aty

Experiencing the powerful performance of actor Azzedine Benamara playing both Moussa and Aziz the audience witnessed an outstanding play discussing topics like religion, unemployment and oppression. Director and founder of Compagnie El Ajouad, Kheireddine Lardjam: ”I wanted to speak about this phenomenon that exists today in Algeria, and in many countries, even in Europe, which has become a taboo: when youngsters self-immolate to denounce their situation and their problems. In Algeria today there are a lot of cases, a lot of youngsters. Cases that have existed even before the case of Tunisia. As a matter of fact, this phenomenon has existed before and still exists today. The case of Bouazizi has been widely reported because there was the revolution. But today a lot of youngsters set themselves on fire in silence.” Because of this, Lardjam asked Mustapha Benfodil (an Algerian novelist, dramatist and journalist) to write a play about this topic. Benfodil interviewed youngsters who survived self-immolation. This is how End/Igné came to existence. The play became a big success in Algeria, since it represents a daily reality for many. Lardjam sees this reflected in Egypt: “Despite everything, the text resonates in Cairo. To me, as I’m coming to Cairo for the first time, all the images that I see on the walls, these youngsters who are dead, to me, during the performance, they all become Aziz. Because death by fire has a double meaning in French. It’s by fire, and it’s by shooting.”

Azzedine Benamara as Moussa, contemplating the death of his friend Aziz. © D-CAF

Stating cases of self-immolation are still happening in Bulgaria and France, the director says this issue is taboo, silenced by the media. What Lardjam asks himself when hearing about cases of self-immolation and the death of boat refugees alike, is the reason behind these actions and the violent deaths they cause. Unlike society, that, immersed in feelings of guilt, is desperately trying to sweep the issue under the carpet. Shown on an Egyptian stage for the very first time, End/Igné was well received by D-CAF’s audience too: “A youngster told me: it’s been years that this has been swirling in my head, and I couldn’t put my anger into words; this text has given me the words.”

D-CAF also comes to the cities of Shebbin el Kom and Assiut this year. For more information:

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/dcaf2013
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dcafFestival
Blog: http://www.d-caf.org/blog
Contact: info@d-caf.org

Photos: D-CAF & Mostafa Abdel Aty

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