Temporary Artistic Uses of Public Space: Two Less Famous Squares in Cairo (Part 1)

This contribution has been written by Astrid Thews and Mayada Said. Having lived in Cairo, Egypt, for several years, they co-founded Mahatat for contemporary art at the beginning of 2011. Mahatat for contemporary art is an initiative for art in public space and community art projects. Here on aminachaudri.ch Thews and Said describe events and portray people they have encountered through their work in Egypt. They make no claim to present a complete and representative description in their writing; on the contrary, they aim to contribute to a more differentiated picture of the country. In the present contribution, published in two parts, they tell of the temporary transformations of two squares in Cairo – transformations achieved through very different artistic interventions.

From Tahrir Square…

Tahrir Square is probably the best-known square in Egypt: most people in Europe have heard of it through the media in the context of the revolution that began on January 25, 2011. Tahrir Square is at a central location (as far as this can be said in a megacity with an estimated 25 million inhabitants) and carries much symbolic meaning. It has become a symbol of resistance and the site of sometimes bloody clashes between protesters and security forces. It has been described often, and it still appears in pictures and videos broadcast by international media. Days and weeks during which protesters assemble here and fight for their rights are followed by days and weeks during which the square is open to traffic, and people, for the most part, go about their everyday business and simply pass through on their way – until it is claimed again by protesters and tents.

… to Lazoughli and Soliman Gohar Square

Of course there are many more public squares in Cairo, small as well as big ones, even if they are not under the spotlight of the media and are of less significance in terms of national security and interest. For the residents living around these squares, however, they play an important role in everyday life. This report is about two such squares: the so-called Lazoughli Square and Soliman Gohar Square.

Lazoughli Square is located east of the Nile, close to the Ministry of Interior in the Mounira neighbourhood. It used to be very busy, and it has several traffic lanes and an anonymous feel. It is quieter today, for the obvious reason that the military or Ministry of Interior repeatedly put up barriers in downtown Cairo and Mounira in order to protect the ministry and other public buildings from protesters, to split up broad avenues and interrupt or stop demonstrations.

Soliman Gohar Square is located west of the Nile on a street of the same name, a street known all over Cairo for its cheap and lively fruit and vegetable market. This market, however, is also notorious for piles of rubbish deposited by the residents for garbage carts to pick up.

Lazoughli Square

Lazoughli Square

Soliman Gohar Square

Soliman Gohar Square

There is a lot of traffic through this little square, which only has one traffic lane, and the entire neighbourhood is very lively and crowded with shopping pedestrians. There is a rather familial atmosphere to it. In the middle of the square there is a circular patch of vegetation, and around the square – as well as in the whole neighbourhood – there are plenty of trees.

Superficially, these two squares do not seem to have much in common. What connects them for Mahatat for contemporary art, however, is that we chose both as temporary sites for our first large-scale project, Shaware3na (which translates as “our streets”). Mahatat means “stations” or “stops”: we see ourselves as a mobile initiative for art in public space and community art projects. Weiterlesen…