Culture Activities: Forget Gender, Remember Humanity

We were 22 delegates and 5 staff from 10 different countries: Brazil (living in Canada), China (living in Australia), Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and United States. That normally means 10 cultural activities, but Norway and Sweden combined their countries (since “they are similar”) so we had nine.

It was an educational whirlwind! The IPP theme was ‘Spaces of Expression’, so in keeping with that we discussed censorship, street art, political campaigns, urban renewal, public parks, songwriting, language and visual histories within our local contexts. We learned about nature paintings in Finland, political cartoons and mermaids in Denmark, social issue posters in New York, a recycled airport turned into public space in Berlin, a library and tram in Medellin, totems in Canada, political manifestos in Norway, and of course revolutionary graffiti and educational censorship in Egypt.

Participants creat a totem pole in the Canadian culture activity

Participants creat a totem pole in the Canadian culture activity

Since the philosophy of CISV is one of experiential learning, each cultural activity consisted of a creative hands-on project in addition to the group discussions. This was a really fun way to learn about the topic, and sometimes difficult. For the U.S. cultural activity, I presented slides of social issue posters that were focused on the United States, many of them simple, bold and outright funny. These posters are way to subvert advertizing or turn it around on itself. One U.S. artist secretly creates them overtop of the original billboard ads. I then asked the delegates to work in groups, discuss the issues that were of particular interest to them, and to select one to make into a large poster using magazines as collage materials. A few delegates told me afterwards that it was hard for them. I was impressed with the seriousness of the groups’ work and the final outcome. Here are some of the bold statements they created:

“Mom, can I have a hug?”  “Sure, honey, I’ll add that to the shopping list.”

Forget Gender, Remember Humanity

Think Before ….

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The activities varied in approach, as well as topics. With some focused on discussion of contrevertial issues, some recreating replicas of home projects while others used the group’s creativity to create a joint art work. These ten activities were an integral part of the IPP, as they allowed participants to not only explore ‘Spaces of Expression’ through the Alexandrian reality, but through 10 other ones as well.

By Julie Harrison, USA

 

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Clicking our way through Alexandria

It’s ironic that I’m writing this blog about photography when at many times during the three weeks I felt like my camera was weighing me down. I don’t photograph as much as I should, but I wanted to document the special moments. Since my often “loose” memory can’t be trusted, this slowly turned into an instinctive duty. Whenever something interesting would happen, and I would look around to find no one documenting, I wouldn’t be able to shake my itch to take a picture. You can imagine my frustration when, instead of enjoying the moment I would attempt at the perfect shot, and often end up doing neither. That’s why I was especially relieved when photographer and videographer Sherif Sharkawy literally stepped into the picture. For many of us he started off as Sherif, the friendly ghost – smiling while peaking around, sometimes surprising us with his camera. Over a short period of time, he naturally became part of our everyday, with participant Lizzie Walmsley often greeting him by waving and saying “Hi Sherif! Hi camera!”.

Sherif Sharkawy during his photography workshop for the group

Sherif Sharkawy during his photography workshop for the group

While creating the documentary about our IPP and the Behna project, Sherif asked us to contribute our own pictures. To help guide us, he conducted a photography workshop, walking us through the technical aspects of the camera and then walking us through the streets of Alexandria. For two days, Sherif and Gudran member Mohamed El Nagar took us on photography walks, allowing us to explore the city the same way Sherif had been exploring our group. It must not have been easy having to guide foreigners with cameras and endless questions through downtown. As an Egyptian, I laughed at the comments from local Alexandrian bystanders that must have both worried and humored Naggar and Sherif – “What are all these foreigners doing? What do they want?”

Snapping away during our photography walk

Snapping away during our photography walk

At this point, we were all taking pictures as Sherif was curating the best shots from our experience in Alexandria for the opening of Behna. Seeing our pictures mounted on the walls we worked so hard to renovate was surreal. All of us were living the same environment and yet our pictures showed that we each had our own interpretations. Although, personally and probably as a group, we became quite adamant about documentation, what sometimes felt like a distraction turned into memories we can continue to re-live.

Part of our very own exhibition at the Behna opening

Part of our very own exhibition at the Behna opening

By Farida Hammad, Egypt

Bringing film back to Behna

“Am Hamdi observes the rooms he passes as like it is a routine. A thick layer of dust, spider webs and old papers covers them. He puts his head in to some of  the rooms to check them out. When he sees that they are untouched, he smiles.”

These are the first lines of our short fiction film, made in the Behna apartment. Mamoon Azmy and Sherif Sharkawy have been leading a workshop with a couple of the volunteers, trying to find a common perception of the place. Together we have gathered words, pictures, emotions and impresions from the stay, and we all agreed that the tall doors, the endless dust and mystery of the place is what we wanted to keep with us.

After a long process it resulted in a short film about the care-taker of Behna, Am Hamdi, who has been looking after Behna for the past several years, making sure that no one broke in and that the doors and windows kept wind and rain out from the archives. Making a short film about him seems like the perfect way to portray Behna, because he has been following our work from the start, and knows the place better than anyone.

Today nearly the whole group participated in the last scene of the film. We truly brought film back to Behna.

By Liv Mari Mortensen, Norway

IPP Alex Film Behna CISV

 

Mari’s musical journey in Alexandria

These past three weeks have been musically very eye-opening. Many things I have considered universal facts have turned out to be just one very limited way of seeing music and expression. I have had the chance to jam with amazing Egyptian musicians and experience the Egyptian concert culture. It has been an exotic adventure for me, who has a very afro-american musical background without any real knowledge of the oriental style and Egyptian music culture. And I have to say: it has been amazing!

My first encounter with the Egyptian music scene was through a famous underground band called Masar Egbari. The staff took me to their studio to see them practicing for their gig the next day. They are an amazingly talented and humble band, and in the way they play you can definitely hear the years spent together practicing and jamming. Their style is an interesting fusion of middle-eastern music, western pop and rock with some jazz-styled progressions and extended chords. We also went to see their concert with the IPP crew in the famous Alexandria Bibliotheque. The massive concert hall was filled with exited people with their cameraphones shining in the dark ready to film their favorite song. Everyone had been talking about an underground band, so the amount of people there really struck me. The whole crowd was responding to the band by singing along, cheering and shouting loudly between songs. Even with such a big audience, there was a constant communication between the band and the people. Many of us were also surprised by the way the concert ended. The band didn’t bother to leave the stage for a self-evident encore, but they just played a bit longer and when the concert was over, people just started to leave with the band still on the stage. During the concert I felt like the audience was very hungry and passionate for the music, and as a musician there is no better prize and feedback for your work than an audience like this.

I had my trumpet with me, so I also had the chance to jam with many talented Egyptian musicians in Alexandrian cultural spaces called El Cabina and Teatro. There was a New Years Eve jam session and a drum circle for our camp in El Cabina. We also played in an open jam session in Teatro. Even though they don´t use many wind instruments in Egypt, the musicians made me feel very welcome and I felt like a natural part of the group. The jam sessions in Alexandria are very free and open compared to the relatively very organized jam sessions that I am accustomed to. They just choose a key and start playing and joining is very easy. People from the audience might just come on the stage in the middle of the song and start dancing to the music. It is fantastic how improvisation is such a self-evident part of expression here and how it belongs to everyone in the jam session. I am used to practicing even my improvised parts carefully, so I definitely had to get out of my personal comfort zone. It was definitely worth it.

I obviously could not have taken part in the more oriental styled jam sessions, because unfortunately it is a style very undermined in our musical education. Instead of our twelve-note system Egyptians have notes in between notes, which just sounds kind of out of tune to my western ear. Our friend Khaled tried to explain the Egyptian system of chords, progressions and scales, and I feel like I have a whole new world to explore. There is music outside my “box of music theory” and there is music in my “wrong notes”. But at the same time I realized just how much music is a universal language. Here I am on the other side of the world jamming with people who I have never met before; people from an entirely different culture and background. Still somehow we can take our instruments and create music together. We don’t have to say a word yet we still have a great time communicating through playing. There has been and will be moments of confusion, but I guess we still speak the same language after all, with different dialects complimenting each other.

By Mari Talala – Finland

Egyptian revolution and Microphone film screening

After the fantastic new year’s party in El-Cabina the volunteers had a relaxing day in, bringing an end to orientation and preparation days before the hands on work and other elements of the project starts. During the day, the project’s staff put together a presentation of expression and art during the Egyptian revolution using a mix between story-telling and video. Youssef, Soliman, Heba and Rowan told their personal stories from the egyptian revolution, while focusing on the development of graffiti, music, freedom of expression, public street performances and the impact of art on the revolution. The volunteers really enjoyed this insight into the revolution from the perspective of our project’s theme, and Gudran’s volunteer coordinator Khaled El-Kaddal, was there to give the Alexandrian experience of the revolution as well.

Here are some of the videos we showed them:

Later in the evening, with the help of Gudran’s staff we put on a film screening at our campsite of Microhphone, a film by Ahmed Abdallah starring Khaled Abu El Naga, Hany Adel and Yousra El Lozy which follows the life of Khaled, a man who just returned from living abroad, working for Gudran, who tries to find his place back in his hometown Alexandria. The film is set, and shot in 2010, right before the revolution and explores the Alexandrian underground art scene. The award winning film is fiction, but inspired by many real life stories Gudran went through (along with apearances by several Gudran staff) in addition to featuring real characters from the Alexandrian independent art scene.

El-Cabina’s garden gets a make-over

El-Cabina is a word that in Spanish that means Cabin… you know those places where the pilots in an airplane sits and drives, but here in Alexandria it is one of the spaces opened by Gudran, inspired by the mini-cabins that are at the beach where people can stay, get together and have fun. El-Cabina as a space focuses on music, literature and sometimes hosts film screenings of independent movies.

This is one of the spaces where the International People’s Project (IPP) project is taking place; we walked through it and got to know it, feeling its vibes of good energy and the interesting job done by our partner organization one and half years ago.

After a popcorn brainstorm session, we had the idea to work on the garden to transform a dark and dirty place (in a corner with two nice trees and a couple of chairs) into an inspiring place to chill out and create music, lyrics and poems. We kept in mind that this place will be the skeleton or frame where other artists will come and invent — a space for expression, our main theme in this IPP.

We brainstormed with ideas on what to do for the walls and came up with at least 10 in total, besides cleaning and painting; and only two walls for us to actually design and draw using the elements that are already in the space and a couple of pipes. Additionally, we got ideas for the ground; some urban gardening using recycled materials could be done with a very nice mosaic. Finally, this area will have a sitting place that will be created using big tires and old chairs.

Volunteers start work on El-Cabina's garden

Volunteers start work on El-Cabina’s garden

During the first three days at El-Cabina, with a group of approximately 8 people, we were able to clean the walls and the ground, prune the tree and paint the walls in white, using some colors for the pipes. Unfortunately, in this moment the weather stopped us from working but all the ideas have been sketched out… We are positive and we hope to be able to work once the weather clears.

Volunteers work on Cabina

Volunteers work on Cabina

By Ana Maria Buritica from Colombia

Volunteers get a taste of Egyptian music: Massar Egbari in Bib Alex

As the first days go by, the volunteers are spending their times getting to know each other, the partner organisation, the diverse project aspects and of course the city space that hosts it all Alexandria. The staff decided to take the volunteers for a walk on the Courniche to visit Alexandria’s library to attend the concert of one of Alexandria’s most popular bands Massar Egbari. For the whole day in our campsite, we played their tunes. Check out the photo gallery of the concert posted on Ahram Online here.

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