Creative License

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bikya Masr writes about CriticaliTea 1 :: Struggles of political art in Egypt

CAIRO: Political art in Egypt faces hardships, but activists and artists are hopeful that their struggles can be met and overcome in the post-revolution atmosphere.

On Monday, Egyptian artists gathered to discuss the ongoing struggles of producing political art during the revolution.

The British Council in Cairo, in collaboration with the HaRaKa Project, hosted the new cultural event titled “CriticaliTea”.

CriticaliTea is a series of sessions and talks open to the public, geared towards creating dialogue between artists from the performing and visual arts sector and intellectuals from other disciplines. All to create a better mode of dialogue and understanding.

The first session, titled ‘Performing the Political’, focused on the relationship between artistic expression and the revolution. Since the start of the Egyptian revolution, many artists have struggled to incorporate the political developments into their art.

All of the artists that shared at the talk agreed that they felt a certain pressure to express the revolution in their work. The constant pressure of creating a film on the revolution especially frustrated a young female Egyptian filmmaker. Inspiration, she said, cannot be forced.

There are some who believe that now is the time to create political art because we are living through critical changes.

However, there are also artists, like the ones attending CriticaliTea, who want to be a human first before an artist. It is difficult, they said, to connect with both worlds, as they demand unique types concentration and emotion.

The same filmmaker reflected on the time she was lit on fire while filming a protest in Tahrir. It wasn’t until she got home and re-watched the footage that she was reminded of being set on fire. While she was absorbed in her artistic world, she lost site of what was going on around her.

Creating art during the revolution has been difficult for these artists.

Moataza Salah, a performing artist, needs more time to reflect and process the revolution before she can reenact the event. She feels that darkness and traumatizing personal experiences cannot be easily translated. Salah has not worked since the revolution.

“The first 18 days ties itself with a ribbon and lends itself to art. I was inspired to create a beautiful musical about the revolution. But now I am not the same person and I cannot do the musical,” she said.

While these artists have difficulty producing political art immediately, it will be a matter of time before beautiful, moving, and inspirational art is created.

While there is hope for effective political art in the future, many expressed concern for the future of the performing and visual art community in Egypt.

As the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of the country, artists fear crackdowns and increasing censorship.


Article by: Natalie Garland

Monday, June 25, 2012

The New Reality

While we witness great changes in the political scene in Egypt and the Arabic Speaking Region since the Arab Spring has started, we witness great changes in the nature of art, and in the dynamics that govern artistic and cultural practices. We witness new economies being born, new markets for particular representations, new frames of presenting and representing, we witness the potential rise of censorship and violence towards artists, and the threat of actual violence a like we just saw in Tunisia, and we witness a redefinition of the term 'political'. 
And, like every institution is comprised of people, and when people are interrupted by history they must question about their practices, their positions, and what they generate and contribute, HaRaKa's team spent the last year in research, structural development and understanding of the colossal moment, we are living in, without immediately responding to a transient nascent new market for the so-called 'political work' that is justified by the revolutions, and that commodifies the revolution, its meaning, its essence, its symbols.
With the birth of a New Political Reality, great dreams and great doubts rise to everyone's minds and hearts. 

HaRaKa's team would like to announce that the way the project has been engaged in developing and pushing the boundaries of what movement, dance and performance are framed to be within our contemporary reality in Egypt and the Arabic Speaking Region, that the project shall continue to do even more so. With the birth of a New Political Reality HaRaKa promises to assess and respond to needs in the artistic scene in Egypt, regardless of setbacks or impediments and to constantly be informed about its practices through the ever-so-changing reality and the new identities that are being forged. HaRaKa promises to be engaged actively to defend freedom of expression and the presence of the body in the arts through collaboratively working with its local partners in Egypt and the Region.

It is with no doubt that the current moment is a challenge to the artist as a profession just as much as it is a challenge to the artist as a political subject. Yet, it is within the arts that we continue dreaming, even through moments of doubt. It is with arts that we assert on the importance of imagining and of rethinking reality and proposing alternative modes of seeing, of doing, and of thinking. It is the duty of artists to collectively be engaged with the current context, and to collectively produce systems of support to their practice, their colleagues and their community, and empower and inspire their communities.

HaRaKa announces its new interdisciplinary program for development and research that manifests in its largest international Dance festival that shall showcase work from Egyptian and Arab artists locally and internationally, a new pan-Arab archive project for Contemporary performative practices, a series of critical encounters taking places over tea, and a line of publications that work on generating a strong body of critical texts around contemporary movement based artistic practices in the Region.

With every great moment of change there are dreams and doubts. And, what we artists should do is to justkeep working, since artists deal with nothing but hardships in every context they operate within.


Saturday, June 23, 2012


CriticaliTea is a series of events, part of the current collaboration between HaRaKa حَ رَ كَ and the British Council in Cairo. 

Hosted at the British Council Cairo, and organized by HaRaKa, Criticalitea aims to bring people to think together, raise critical questions, while enjoying a cup of tea.

CriticaliTea start on the 25th of June at 7 pm with a session titled "Performing the political". HaRaKa will be inviting artists, art critics and political sciences specialists.

Due to the nature of the project, we will have a small number of audience. In order to book your seat, please RSVP to

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Open Source Dance, Tilburg-Holland - Call for Applications

INCUBATE presents:


Space that must be filled, the dance program of Incubate, aims to give the audience and community of Incubate a new role as participant. It offers the Incubate audience a stage to show their own dance to the Incubate visitors. The (unwritten) laws of dance and theatre are hard to work with in a spontaneous way. Together with dance curator Sonja Augart, we are looking for a way to offer new insights in this discipline. By creating a rigid form of presentation, the stage is free for whoever wants to use it!

Anything goes, there’s no boundaries between academic styles, folk dance or urban/street/hip hop styles, as long as it fits the dogma we’ve created for the presentation. Performances cannot be over 10 minutes, only a standard light setting is permitted, there’s a maximum of four dancers on the floor at the same time and there’s only a single CD player. Change-over will not exceed 15 minutes and usage of props or décor is not permitted.

The program will take place on September 16, 17 and 18th at Theatre De NWE Vorst in Tilburg. Space that must be filled is a dance program where everyone is invited to give their own insights on dance and movement. The audience can walk in and out of the presentation room, they can choose to stay for a little while or come see a specific performance.

If you want in, you can send an email with a short text on your idea, show or presentation of max 100 words to: and the deadline for letting us know you want to participate is June 20th. The final schedule will be announced before July 4th.

Our Dogma is:

-the stage is 10 x 6 meters

-no special light settings (only a total light setting)

-no stands

-max lenght is 10 minutes

-max three dancers on the stage at any time

-cd player is on stage

-thematic work is preferred

-no artificial emotions

-use of sound and music is permitted

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Collaboration unpacked: Cultural activists and artists discuss change

photo taken by Dina Shoukry

An article recently released on Al Masry Al Youm Newspaper on the conference "Co-change maps" that was held at Goethe Institut Kairo. The article is by Lina Attallah, and you can find the original article here.


Cultural activists, artists and critics convened for two days late last week to discuss collaboration in cultural production and change as a precursor to redefining positions in a conference organized by HaRaKa, a dance development and research collective.

Though not a conference on the 25 January revolution per se, its programmers recognized that the radical uprising that toppled the regime in Egypt highlights the notion of change and prompts a conversation about how it would unfold in art practice and collaborations in production processes.

Networking and network creation meetings are one such form of collaboration, where groups get together, sometimes responding to the unwritten agendas of their hosts, which are ultimately political. A regional case in point in is social media and digital activism hype, a construct mostly created by the anxiety of outsiders to appropriate the narrative by calling for "activists' meetings and "activists' networks." The process had its reverberations in disrupting a personal and autonomous quest of unpacking collective engagement with online spaces and its political transformation.

Angela Harutyunyan, an art critic, said that we are complicit too in such entrapments.

“Network is a symptom of attention deficiency disorder,” she said, indicating how one is present but not engaged, constantly interrogating a process of managing relations and subjectivities.

Stepping beyond such established relations, Ranwa Yehia, director of the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, spoke of the importance of being critical and lucid. Having herself conceived a "network" of Arab artists and techies concerned about the promotion of self-expression, she constantly negotiates the intricacies of outside factors, such as funding, in a process that develops mostly organically.

“How can we find a balance between protecting the initiatives that have started in the Arab world that are made of concerned and responsible people and engaging in the work they (funders) are doing, even if you have good intentions?”

Yehia is particularly wary of the notion of ‘creating need’ that is the product of such interventions and the internalization of such constructed needs.

In such a context, funding is an inevitable conversation and site of various critical discourses. As depicted in many other encounters, Western cultural funding is perceived as a post-11 September political strategy, although Harutyunyan extended it to a post-World War II American model of exporting tools of ideological influence. This consciousness becomes indispensible for cultural producers and renders the process of autonomous production a more complex one.

But past deliberate funding agendas, William Wells, director of the Townhouse contemporary art gallery, pointed to lack of knowledge as one of the problems of external funding.

“The funders are bankrupt in ideas. They sit in these meetings of cultural operators, or the diplomat politicians, and they have no idea where to put the money.”

The fact proposes a more politically proactive stance from potential recipients in dictating the direction of such funding endeavors.

Part of the lucidity of producers resides in politicizing their quest for funding. Ismail Fayed, an art critic, spoke about how art operates in a public context and therefore should receive public funding. While public funding in the context of Egypt may have been a luxury in terms of access, it was also a space laden with corruption and nepotism, and now there is a process of re-building where state funding can be reclaimed. This is a particularly enticing proposition given the fact that Egypt's Ministry of Culture reportedly has the second largest budget after the Ministry of Defense.

Hana al-Bayaty, an activist and writer, reiterated that state institutions should be reclaimed and re-appropriated. Such a plea has the potential to put an end to the closed binary of state cultural institutions as opposed to independent institutions, a binary that has led to many reductionist understandings of art practice in the country.

However, Fayed issued a reminder that calling on the public to fund the arts would have its own toll on the practice. “Is art a very limited and elitist practice, or would there be any public support for artistic practices that have been underground and ghettoized? 
How do we make the public then fund this?”

The other question, inspired by Bayaty’s comment, is how state funding is pitched as actual public funding. In other words, how public funding can refrain from dictating a subservient practice to the state and become truly public. Here, Harutyunyan proposed crystallizing research as an important practice for cultural producers that can seek public support.

Besides shedding light on the complexities of collaboration and funding in art practice, the meeting touched on a parcel of a practice by hosting director Tamer al-Saeed. Saeed is the director of “The Last Days of the City”, a docu-drama that has been struggling to see light due to constant funding pitfalls, and hence, has been in the pipeline for several years. In the process, its crew had to make a film in constantly changing production conditions.

Saeed used the city as his set, where the spontaneity of its flow served his low budget but was also a challenge to the art of the film. The awakening that was the revolution did not prompt him to change the line of the film, for it is about the last days of the city, where the point of departure is apocalypse. His affecting and engaging introduction to a film we haven’t seen on the niceties of production and autonomy of creative expression became a vivid illustration of the theoretical conversations mentioned above.

Communique regarding the last performance night "force majeure" -بيان بخصوص إلغاء ليلة العرض الأخيرة من معرض قُوّة قَاهِرَة

After meeting with the artists on 29th of April, the artists and the project partners that were present (Marie Christine Andre and Cristiano Carpanini representing Officina, Toni Cots representing L'animal L'esquna/CRA'P, Adham Hafez and Ahmed Moez representing HaRaKa) unanimously agreed to cancel the last night of performance.

Such decision was arrived at after deliberating with the concerned parties in light of the latest conceptual, critical and political challenges that the local host (HaRaKa) faced and that the artists were witness to and thus agreed to not hold the last night of the event but to instead to hold a private artists talk, in between the artists of the program and the present producers/partners.

بعد الاجتماع مع الفنانين المشاركين في المشروع ليلة 29 أبريل 2011، و بعد عرض الليلة الثالثة من "قُوّة قَاهِرَة"، و بحضور ممثلي المؤسسات المشتركة في المشروع (من أوفيتشينا: ماري كريستين أندريه و كريستيانو كاربانيني ، من "كراب و لانيمالا لاسكينا": توني كوتس، من حَ رَ كَ: أدهم حافظ و أحمد مُعِز)، تمت الموافقة –بإجماع الحضور- على إلغاء آخر ليلة عرض و التي كان مقرر لها أن تكون في الليلة التالية، 30 أبريل.

تم التوصل إلى هذا القرار بعد التداول مع الأطراف المعنية في ضوء التحديات التي يواجهها المضيفون ، مشروع حَ رَ كَ، و ذلك على هيئة تحديات معرفية و نقدية و سياسية.
حضر الفنانون المعنيون هذا الاجتماع و وافقوا أيضا على استبدال آخر ليلة من العروض بحديث فني مغلق بين جميع أطراف المشروع من الفنانين و ممثلي المؤسسات الشريكة به.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Force Majeure, a festival of many performances

Article on Ahram Online by Menna Taher, reviewing the event "Force Majeure". The original article is here.


The size and architecture of the floor space at the Townhouse gallery gives it a lot of scope to mould and create a certain ambience. On 27 April, on the opening night of the project Force Majeure, the space was separated into different sections by various patterned blankets hung from the wall. This helped with the concept of having multiple performances in one night.

As I enter I find several pieces of video art and a welcome from Adham Hafez wearing a gallabeya (a traditional Egyptian garment), who is one of the organisers and introduces himself as “the other.” Cushions are strewn around and further along grass covers the floor.

Force Majeure, is a part of a larger project called ‘Miniatures Officinae’ which started in 2008 and ends in 2013 in Marseilles. The project, supported by the EU, is a collaboration of several countries in the Euro-Med region, with each country hosting the project for a year.

This year, Haraka Dance Development and Research are the hosts. Ahmed Moez another of the organisers, describes the idea behind the miniatures.

“Miniatures are a type of art, where a very small piece of work conveys a deeper meaning,” Moez explained. “It goes back to the Ottoman period,” he continued and said that this type of art is mainly for paintings. “This was the challenge for our artists,” he said. “They had to turn the idea into performance art pieces.”

The theme of this year’s project was Love and Otherness, however with the recent political events in the region, the title was changed to Force Majeure.

Force Majeure is a legal term for the conditions in which contracts are null and void, including war, riots, martial law, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. "That meant we were released from our contract,” said Adham Hafez, “yet we still went ahead as we were so interested in it.”

The eight participating artists, (two Tunisians couldn’t make it to Egypt), are from Spain, Italy, France and Egypt. Four performances will take place each night.

Christophe Haleb one of the artists, choreographed a piece in the grass section. Several men moved around in slow motion, sometimes lying on the grass and stroking it and communicating with others through hand and body movements.

“The part I enjoyed most about working on this project is meeting young people from the region,” said Haleb. “The idea was to show the variations of distance and what intimate and non-intimate spaces entail,” he continued. “What is privacy and what is public space were the ideas we tapped into.”

During the performance a young man named Hassan Farid repeated the words, “If I were there.” Farid later explained he meant Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the recent Egyptian revolution, as he was out of the country. Enthusiastically he told me that this is his first performance art experience.

Rhuena a former gymnast, performed an act of different acrobatic movements, where she stayed in each position for a long time.

“When people perform acrobatics,” she said, “their movements are so fast you can hardly see the movement itself, their facial expression and the tension of their muscles. It’s only in photographs that you see that.”

During her research she looked at many photographs of gymnasts for inspiration. One of the most important was a still-shot from a documentary about sky jumping by the German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Video works included Love Dance by Shaymaa Aziz, an animated piece of charcoal on paper that showed two lovers and the awkward and hesitant movements they make when touching amongst the prying eyes of society.

Leo Castro a Spanish artist, took footage of several individuals around Cairo while narrating their possible thoughts and worries.