Dubai – MENA Herald: Dubai Design Week has selected Cairo as the focus of this year’s Iconic City exhibition, a series of annual exhibitions launched in 2015 that explores the culture and design scene of individual cities within the Middle East.
Cairo Now! A City Incomplete captures for the first time under one roof the Egyptian capital’s current design landscape and celebrates innovation and emerging talent in the fields of product, furniture, graphic and typeface design as well as architecture.
Curated by Cairo-based architect, independent researcher and writer Mohamed Elshahed, Over 65 Egyptian architects, designers, entrepreneurs and graphic artists will contribute to a presentation, inspired by the city’s infamous red brick housing stock that appears in varying stages of completion across the capital.
The theme of incompleteness is a reflection of the city’s status quo: its disjointed transport system, partially restored historic buildings, expansion into the desert with partly realized satellite cities, speculative urbanism where buildings are never fully completed to avoid taxation, and the tendency to leave concrete sticking out of roofs in the hope of adding additional floors in the future. This theme is extended to the unrealized potential of the city’s current generation of designers.
In addition to the exhibition, Mohamed Elshahed is Curator for the British Museum’s Modern Egypt Project, founder of local architecture and urbanism blog Cairobserver and eponymous magazine in 2011 and teacher of architectural history at the American University in Cairo. On the exhibition he said:
“Cairo Now! sheds light on the city’s emerging designers who, despite the lack of a marketplace or an infrastructure supporting their practices, continue to innovate, to turn the city’s trash into new products and revive fading traditions with a contemporary edge. They always take Cairo with all its flaws as their muse and as the source of their creativity. The city’s zeitgeist is reflected in their often satirical take on the absurdities that make up contemporary Cairo. ”
Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, COO of Dubai Design District, strategic partners for Dubai Design Week commented: “Following the huge success of Beirut as Iconic City in 2015, it’s a great attribute to be able to discover and explore another great Middle Eastern city, Cairo. d3 has worked very closely with some of the pioneers of Cairo’s creative scene, not least jewellery designer Azza Fahmy, and so we are delighted that this year’s Iconic City will unveil more of what the city has to offer”.
The furniture selected for Cairo Now! references every era of Egyptian history. The Neo-Egypt Chair by Eman Sherif from NOSS Designs combines local craftsmanship, modern proportions and a design inspired by an ancient Egyptian mural. Alabaster, found extensively amongst pharaonic treasures, but nowadays associated with tacky tourist nick-nacks, is crafted into strikingly elegant coffee tables by Lina Al-Orabi (www.linaalorabi.com).
The Muqarnas motif, common in Islamic architecture, has been re-interpreted by Abdallah Ragab from Ain Design Studio (aindesignstudioblog.wordpress.com) as a cantilevered Flying Cabinet inspired by the modern Danish console – it comes flatpacked and is constructed without adhesives, nails or screws. Block B Furniture has re-imagined the Louis Farouk armchair, icon of middle-class interiors, with plastic and cowhide upholstery and vivid colourways.
Pieces by Studio Meem (www.studiomeem.me) reference contemporary Cairene life. Its Off the Gireed collection reinterprets the humble palm fiber crate used to transport chickens, fruit and vegetables. Ahwa Sada tables are inspired by institutional ‘ahwas’ (coffee houses), and the Supernatural-Deliciosa Table by the leaves of common houseplants.
Reform Studio (www.reformstudio.net) showcases Plastex, a fabric that’s handmade from plastic bags and recycled cotton with two pieces from its Sixties-inspired Grammy’s Collection and two from its Chaotic Design Collection, which celebrates Egyptians’ ingenuity for upcycling broken street chairs.
Ain Bicycles (www.ainbicycles.com) epitomizes Egyptian innovation and resourcefulness. Brightly coloured, single-speed bikes are customized at a workshop that doubles as a cyclists’ community centre, with locally sourced frames and camel leather seats from a tannery near The Pyramids.
Encode Studio (www.encodestudio.net) uses CAD and CAM computer software to create indoor and outdoor furniture inspired by traditional shipbuilding in Alexandria. Its elegant, modular Parallel wall cladding system mimics ripples on water and comes in ten different designs in wood or GRC (glass fiber reinforced cement).
Lighting presented at Cairo Now! ranges from the elegant (Salsabeel Amin’s marble and brass Ore collection and Ultra Design’s 3D Light), to the quirky (Mohamed Nabil Labib’s Lighting Wheel made from discarded bicycle parts and Dina Naguib’s recycled pipes and meat grinders).
The theme of upcycling continues with backpacks, totes, beach bags and passport holders
made from plastic bags by Up-fuse (www.up-fuse.com) and everyday objects painted in bright rainbow colours by Medhat Benzoher.
Apparel spans street fashion (Studio Zafir’s T-shirts emblazoned with slang, quotes and truck signage), to accessories (traditional shell-clad boxes transformed into handbags and clutches with bejeweled stone clasps by S.A.D.A.F.A.). Kojak Studio adds a touch of couture with a specially commissioned garment inspired by the view of Cairo from designer Mohanad Kojak’s Garden City studio. Online marketplace Tombokka (tomobokka.com) promotes T-shirts, totes and phone cases by local designers as well as cushions and clocks.
Traditional Egyptian craft is celebrated by distinctive ceramics from the Fayoum Pottery School; cement tiles from The Nile Company; clay cooking pots sporting contemporary glazes by Menn Baladha; and woolen rugs from social enterprise Kiliim. Nevin Altmann’s cushions, bags and shawls are embellished with traditional embroidery; Pheel produces handmade year planners; and Wael Azzam’s My Own People playing cards are illustrated with characters from Egyptian pop culture.
Cairo’s most ubiquitous construction material, the humble red brick, is re-interpreted as sculpture by artist Ibrahim Ahmed (www.ibrahimahmediii.com). Each unique piece has the appearance of hardness but challenges notions of perception and reality as every one is composed of around 100 layers of textiles from around the world, sourced from local markets. Nine photos of the bricks and an original piece will be included in the exhibition.
Original, interesting and versatile Arabic fonts are in woefully short supply in the design world. When Mohamed Gaber’s type foundry Kief (kieftype.com) launched Cairo, a new contemporary Arabic/Latin typescript, for free in the spring it was downloaded almost 14 million times. Cairo Now! curator Elshahed chose to use the font throughout the exhibition, and appointed Ahmad Hammoud, who designs his magazine Cairobserver, to produce the exhibition publication.
Maps by Transport for Cairo, Valerie Arif and Ghada Waly demonstrate how clever graphic design can rationalize the city’s chaotic street grid, complex bus system and metro lines, and a series of graphic posters showcase everything from political comment and art exhibitions to the preservation of fonts used on old shop signs in Downtown Cairo.
Branding is represented by logos for Cottonball (Islam Hassan) and The Nile Company (Habi Girgis) inspired by Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Salma Shamel’s identity for alternative film centre Cimatheque in Downtown Cairo. Digital artwork by Maged El Sokkary depicting cities as portraits crowned with architectural features, and serialized dystopian graphic novel Solar Grid (thesolargrid.net) by Ganzeer showcase the talents of local illustrators. Street artist Agnes Michalczyk, aka The Mozza, has created one of her signature, digital black and white collages featuring women in places normally dominated by men for the façade of the exhibition space.
URBAN DESIGN & RESEARCH
Elshahed has assembled an assortment of the city’s architects, photographers, urban planners and academics who are documenting and discussing the history and evolution of design and architecture in the urban landscape.
Photographic tomes include Noha Zayed & Basma Hamdy’s book Found Khatt which records calligraphic scripts on shop-fronts, houses, trucks, boats and schools, and Studio Meem’s
Sidewalk Salon: 1001 Street Chairs of Cairo which archives the city’s distinctive, upcycled street furniture. Artist Rana Elnemr will be exhibiting Telekinesis , a video collage of balcony designs across Egypt,.
In the digital space, Ahmad Hammoud focuses on visual culture on his online, open-source archive www.samaklaban.net, whilst urban researcher Amr Abotawila and photographer Sondos Seif El-Din are recording fading hand-drawn advertisements of yesteryear painted onto building facades for their Dead Walls project (www.facebook.com/deadwallsegy).
Exhibition space is also reserved for initiatives that animate and preserve Cairo’s public realm. Designs by Studio 39 for shop fronts along one of Downtown Cairo’s pedestrian streets and the redesign of the Kodak Passageway by CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies) will be on display. Social issues come into play with Takween’s designs for a playground for Syrian refugees in the desert outskirts of the city. Community engagement is the focus of Ahmed Zaazaa’s Madd collaborative platform where residents of the Maspero Triangle can debate Norman Foster’s masterplan for the area which proposes replacing the old urban fabric with new towers and commercial spaces.
Three photos as well as an edited video of cutting-edge architect Shahira Fahmy’s abandoned luxury villas overlooking the Pyramids at Giza tie in with the theme of the exhibition. Fahmy was a leading architect in Egypt until her career was cut short when investors pulled out of Egypt following the 2011 uprising and she has since quit the profession to focus on acting.
Architect Samir El Kordy, who has become renowned for his use of unconventional materials and space solutions, showcases his recently completed Gym House.