In four Egyptian cities over a weekend this month, one could be walking down the street and all of a sudden hear a violin, a percussion beat and the soulful singing of a trained soprano. This is what’s been happening in Port Said, Damietta, Mansoura and Cairo as part of Mahatat’s third Art of Transit tour, which took place between March 12 and 16.
Since the first tour in October 2014, Mahatat for Contemporary Art — an organization working on decentralizing the arts and diversifying art presented in public space — invites a group of artists to tour these four cities and show work. The first tour featured the Abu Karim Marching Band and El-Kousha theater troupe, who presented their giant puppets, while the second featured music duo El-Mazzikateya, who jammed with local musicians.
This time, Mahatat worked with Teatro Independent Theater. Founded by visual artist Omar Al-Moataz Bellah in 2003, it seeks to “set a dialogue system between the artist and the audience through presenting shows that tackle major issues facing mankind.”
During the tour, the troupe’s muscians — Lobna Deghedy, Ahmed Gamal Sabry, Tarek al-Anany and Ragy Elnayt — play a repertoire of French and classical Arabic music on various balconies. In Port Said, they performed on the balcony of an abandoned government building. In Mansoura — in collaboration with Save Mansoura, a group campaigning to save they city’s architectural heritage — they managed to perform on the balcony of Askandar Palace.
Cairo performances from the balcony of Mahatat’s office on Rhoda Island
“Performing live is always a challenge, but under these circumstances the spontaneous set-up that’s supposed to emerge is double or even triple the challenge,” says Deghedy. “So I enjoyed it very much, challenging myself and the experience itself, performing this way and the people’s reactions. It was rewarding in every sense.”
“The idea is very important — to break the barrier of theaters and cinemas, which are closed spaces and charge money to bring art to the people,” Ziad Hassan says. “To reclaim public spaces for the public, so when you walk around you find all kinds of activities, are exposed to different sorts of art and deal with various people.”
“I bumped into this performance and it lifted up my spirits in the dark times of terrorism we’re suffering through,” says Wahby.
“It’s beautiful and very refined,” says Fadel Farid, a retired neighbour of Mahatat. “It’s very important [to host these performances], as opera and other refined arts are out of the audiences’ reach.”
Photos and interviews: Amir Makar
Written and curated by: Rowan El Shimi