To empathize with a city, best way is to get to know a diversified range of local people. I got to see a different glimpse of Cairo again, the artistic side of the city in my visit this week. Last time I did this, it was few months after revolution and streets of Cairo was not a safe place to walk around. So we confined ourselves with a co-worker who played my guide to the busy and small streets of Zamalek; and sat and had several conversations with art gallery owners. They were apprehensive two years ago; joyful of the movement yet again very concerned on potential self censorship, impact on artists freedom, and of course loss of business. One lady speculated on Turkey versus new Egypt and eventual fate of women; another gallery owner talked about his top clientele being in jail. Yet again we looked through fantastic paintings and sculptures awaiting to be purchased in small rooms piled.
This is where I met Farghali’s and several other contemporary Egyptian artists’ paintings. What provoked me to take the art journey at the first place was the fascinating Khaled Sourour exhibit at the Nile City Fairmont, ‘al ahwal’—(I wonder if it would mean state of the world as we would call it in Turkish?) which struck me as fiercely local yet with a cartoonish vividness screaming.
So this week on my last night in the city, I went to see few exhibits, and breathed Zamalek’s vibrant young scene again. There were many more American style café house turned bookstores with mostly university students chatting and typing on their computers. I am so struggling to recognize Cairo without any tourists since revolution. We had dinner among locals at the AbuSid. Zamalek is a bohemian neighbourhood with real old but once upon a time stylish apartments housing small cafes, bookstores, art galleries, antique stores and lots of interesting people. Neighbourhood is so lovely and interesting that it is a mystery how it managed to stay this way without turning into a wildly expensive new Soho.
In one of the galleries I visited, I came across a breathtaking Farghali, where he painted a pink future of Egypt connecting its glamorous past to today. And I got to see his works from a just closed exhibit being wrapped with plastic and getting ready to be sent abroad. The feedback was buyers mostly moved away to Dubai or London, but kept ordering paintings from abroad. One exhibit I saw was a woman painter’s ink paintings with fishermen silhouttes from a small town on the Mediterenean coast. But she could not help paint on the current state of affairs in Egypt. She had one painting with hundreds of heads under Egyptian flag stating people were one nation under one flag.
It was difficult being in Cairo and walking in the corridors of Egyptian museum without the usual hustle; not being able to take a solo stroll in Khan Khalili. But I got to appreciate Cairo’s new loneliness. New Cairo is beautiful because to me it signifies a new resolve. Be it in art or the business community local folk keep creating; innovating; dealing; talking and thinking; just like they did in past five thousand years. As long as the Nile keeps running through it.