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

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Meeting Gudran then Egyptian Cinema 101

On the afternoon the 29th we were meeting reality, or in other words: meeting the places we are going to work. After a delicious lunch we were divided in 3 groups and each group set out to meet the different people and places from our project. It was an amazing feeling to be out between cars, smells, noises and many eyes staring our way and us staring right back. So many new things to see and remember walking from one place to another.

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Volunteers meet Abdallah in the Gudran office

First stop was the Gudran Office where Abdallah Daif was welcoming us in a very tall blue door. Adballah showed to be a great story teller and as interested in us as we in him. In the office, covered with many interesting posters, pictures and wall paintings, Abdallah explained about the function of the office, the beginning of the organization, how to fundraise and how the organization works with a very flat structure without titles for anyone. Abdallah explained how working in Gudran is about working with your passion and sharing our passion with other people.

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Volunteers meet Sameh and Am Arabi in El-Hara

You can never know what to expect walking on the street in Alexandria, which we definitely experienced finding 30 men praying on the street on a blanket between cars and food stalls, because the mosque was full. Walking away from the praying men and noisy street down a small alley, the atmosphere immediately changed and we could all feel that this was a special place. The walls had paintings and the narrow street was clean. In the end of the alley, called El Hara, we found Sameh from Gudran, an old man; Am Arabi and a beautiful old kiosk full of things. This alley had the most amazing story of a friendship between Sameh El-Halawany and Am Arabi, his kiosk for repairing things, a small local library and on top of that many fights with the government to keep the place. Being in the Alley, we realized how much community is a big part of the Gudran Projects and how the change for one man can be a change for a whole community.

Aliaa tells us about Dokkan and how Gudran started

Aliaa tells us about Dokkan and how Gudran started

Third stop was El Dokkan and meeting Aliaa El-Gereidy, a very passionate and laid back woman. Aliaa was one of the friends starting Gudran and she explained us a lot about how to start up projects in different communities. How the process of becoming friends with the surrounding neighborhood is so important, not only to be accepted but in many was also to be able to count on support from the people. Aliaa emphasized how El Dokkan is a good example of taking art to the street and how many exhibitions and open workshops are held in the small alley and is thereby supported by and supporting the community in where it is placed.

El Cabina, one of Gudran's recycled spaces

El Cabina, one of Gudran’s recycled spaces

Last stop was the long waited El Cabina, a beautifully restored old air-conditioning house for the next door cinema. El Cabina is now a place for showing movies, a music studio and a cultural hang-out place (and where we are going to have our New Years party!). We had a good wrap up by one of the volunteers Khaled and an overview of what we had experienced the last couple of hours. We were now very ready and excited to get started on the different projects!

At night after dinner we had Mamoon Azmy come by to do a workshop on Egyptian Cinema. We saw the development of Egyptian cinema with clips from the first cartoon, Mish Mish, musicals, dance movies, short movies and trailers of new movies. We discussed how the independent cinema scene is a reaction to the commercialized era of movies as well as censorship and the effect of and on the revolution. The workshop by Mamoon created a great perspective by putting our project into Egyptian reality.

By Tess Thuroe – Denmark

Gudran: Social change reaches Alexandria through the arts

For more than a decade, the Alexandria-based Gudran Association for Arts and Development has pursued social transformation through artistic projects and support for local culture — Article originally published in Ahram Online by Rowan El Shimi
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Artists run activities with the children of El-Max

Alexandria, a city seldom thought of when thinking of Egypt’s contemporary cultural movement, continues to prove its vital role on the cultural scene. In past months, the Mediterranean city has hosted cultural festivals almost on a monthly basis, along with a continious line-up of independent musical, literary and theatrical events.Perhaps a major part of the recognition due for the booming scene should go to the Gudran Association for Arts and Development. The association’s most recent focus has been on bringing arts to people who lack access to it, as well as providing platforms and spaces for artistic talents to flourish and learn from each other.

The beginning: El-Max

“Gudran started as an initiative between a group of artists. Our philosophy was that we had a role to play,” Sameh El-Halawany, one of the founders of Gudran and an active member of the association, told Ahram Online. “This role should be with the people in a direct manner not just through exhibition spaces where artists showcase the work they do. We felt our role was beyond these limited spaces, in actual culture and social settings,” he said.

“Art is also a human need, whether for children of adults,” according to Halawany. With this philosophy in mind, the group of artists sought to take the first steps in bringing art to a community in dire need of it. Not just to satisfy the human need for art, but also to have art become a mirror through which society could reflect on itself and be able to imagine solutions to its social and economic conditions.

In 2000, the group started to work with a small fishermen village on the Mediterranean coast called El-Max. The village had an eviction notice pending on its residents since 1996, to pave the way for other projects in what was regarded by the government as a slum area. The problem was that eviction would mean taking the community away from its source of income, which was inherited, along with ending an era of life in the area dating back generations.

“We entered the community through the children,” Halawany said. “Children are the key to getting into a community. They gave us legitimacy from people’s homes to everywhere else. When a child comes to work with you, even once, whether painting or sculpting or anything, and then they go home and share their positive experience with their parents, step by step a beautiful relationship starts to form with the community.”

In 2003, Gudran chose a house in the middle of the village to work from, which eventually became one of their offices as an organisation. This house hosted various artistic workshops for children. Later on, they started hosting handicraft workshops for women, to revive traditional handicrafts of the area. From this point on a strong working group of artists joined the cause.

El-Max became a hub for artists who wanted to engage with a local community for social development, bringing artists from all over the world, who were met in good spirits by the community. Gudran hosted workcamps to restore houses, repaint the city, with volunteers from El-Max and outside of it.

“We wanted the place to shine,” Abdallah Deif, another active member of Gudran, said. Deif went on to explain that with all the cultural expressions and development efforts put into El-Max, along with the pressure on the government from locals, the eviction process ground to a halt. “When people started changing their perspective on that place, so did the decision makers in charge,” he commented.

More than 10 years later, Gudran’s El-Max space continues to work, according to Halawany and Deif, with three youth from the community running it and hosting regular workshops for children, along with a space for women’s handicrafts that now acts as an income generating project for the community. “These handicrafts are unique; you would never find duplicate items,” Deif explained. “They are artworks in the form of clothes.”

Downtown Alexandria: El-Dokkan and the ahwas

After the success of El-Max, the artists decided the time had come to bring that spirit of change onto the heart of Alexandria — its downtown neighbourhood. Even if the economic and social conditions in the neighbourhood were better than El-Max, Gudran still recognised the need for art.

“We wanted to get people together to think of their lives in a different way, specifically their problems in a different way, for them to gain an understanding of their own capabilities. There is an imagination crisis in our society, people don’t imagine what could happen.” Deif shared the association’s viewpoint with Ahram Online: “It is not our role to impose our point of view on a community with a top down approach; our role is to offer a way for this society to rethink how they would like to develop. We could help people identify the problem, because sometimes that can be the issue.”

Many who work in social development share this ideology with Gudran. For sustainability’s sake, if a community becomes dependent on an external non-governmental organisation or charitable group, they will not overcome their problems. However, if the community can be empowered to solve their own issues and develop solutions themselves, this becomes the new reality.

With this philosophy in mind, the group then moved to Souk El-Mansheya, the downtown market in Alexandria, a vibrant area with many salespersons and passerbys. Gudran went on to open an exhibition space in the area for visual arts called “El-Dokan” (The Shop). “We had it in the same manner as the other shops in the neighbourhood,” Deif commented. They also made it a point to get to know their neighbours to establish themselves in the community. El-Dokan continues to showcase visual arts with a lot of people coming in to see the work along with theatrical performances that take place on the street.

While El-Dokan proved to be a success, Gudran still felt the need to further engage the public with art.

“It’s very difficult to convince youth to go to the theatre or an exhibition, so we started to work with them in the ahwas (coffee shops),” Halawany said. Egyptian youth spend most of their social time in ahwas drinking tea, smoking shisha, playing games, watching football, or talking to friends. “We all got our culture from ahwas,” Deif added.

Activities in the ahwa projects varied from theatrical performances, music concerts, to exhibitions. Most ahwas they work with are downtown. However, they steer clear of the ahwas that are frequented by Alexandria’s artistic community, like “El-Togaria” or “El-Borsa.”

People asked many questions at the beginning when Gudran started the ahwas project. “The questioning then turned into requests. People would ask us when we were going to host a performance. There was demand,” Halawany said.

In Halawany’s opinion, the perception of art in Egypt is a social issue. He believes most people look at art as something that is just for rich people, which is why Gudran wanted to bring art to ordinary people, making it accessible and providing a wide spectrum of arts from different social classes.

“People would get astonished that a young man or woman from a very simple background is doing something extrodinary, which in turn nurtures the faith people have in their own talents, whether artistic or other,” he said.

El-Cabina: Nurturing music and literature

The ahwa projects saw Gudran grow organically into the next phase — supporting the growing cultural sphere in Alexandria. The association saw that while the cultural movement was growing. Sustaining it became an issue. Artists were having a hard time finding places to practice and perform, funding, technical support and connections with others on the scene.

A friend of the members of the association, Nicola Katsprisi, Greek-Alexandrian, was head of the company Enosis that owned the builiding next to Cinema Realto near Safeya Zaghloul Street (one of the busiest in Alexandria). When the cinema moved, the building was neglected. Out of Nicola’s belief in Gudran’s mission, he donated the building to the association and in 2010 this became El-Cabina, now one of the most active cultural centres in Alexandria for music and literary arts.

“We never would have dreamed to have a place like this, which probably would cost thousands of pounds just to rent each month,” Halawany said.

Always open to the public, and a place where people can come to hang out, El-Cabina in June hosted a five day music festival called Oufuky, and regularly hosts musicians from Alexandria and outside of it. Another component of El-Cabina is a music studio for bands to practice and record music. Renting the studio costs LE5 per hour instead of LE75-100, which is what studios cost on average. The studio hosts 37 bands who practice there regularly, including a number that grew exponentially over the past two years. The overall vision of the studio and performance space is part of a bigger project called ‘El-Mashtal” (The Greenhouse) that aims at fostering the independent Alexandrian music scene.

On the upper floor of El-Cabina, the library works on literary arts, with a vast selection of the latest books available and a borrowing system where people can simply give their phone numbers and borrow books for free. “There are only 20 unreturned books,” Daif said adding that books going in and out daily. The library hosts regular film screenings and also organises meetings with literary figures such as Sonallah Ibrahim, Khaled Fahmy, Ezz El-Din Shokry and several others on a monthly basis. There is always a theme and the figure comes not to give a lecture, but to talk to people on an informal level.

El-Cabina also parallels the ahwas project. Some performances take place in El-Cabina while others take place in ahwas.

Future projects

What the future holds for Gudran is yet to be revealed. However, the group is planning to start a project to nurture independent cinema. The group want to create a space for independent cinema, including production. The group is also setting out to create a museum for Egyptian cinematic history through one of Egypts oldest production companies, Bahna Films. The old office of the company is going to be donated to the project and Gudran aims to start working on this project over the next months.

“It was beautiful that after working in El-Max and witnessing the social change that happened, that you see society give you back what supports your idea, which in reality goes back to them. The opportunities we get come faster than our organisational growth,” Halawany reflected with a smile.

“Some people see what we’re trying to do as utopian, stupid or unrealistic. We were all told that one way or another. Then you discover it was those people that were just short sighted,” he said.

“The truth is, you do good and it comes back to you,” Halawany concluded.

El-Cabina: One of Gudran’s existing spaces

El-Cabina, Alexandria from a fish's eyeEl-Cabina, Alexandria from a fish's eyeEl-Cabina, Alexandria from a fish's eyeEl-Cabina, Alexandria from a fish's eyeEl-Cabina, Alexandria from a fish's eye

A few photos to showing El-Cabina, Gudran’s space dedicated to music and literary arts. Previously El-Cabina was the Air Conditioning unit of the adjacent Cinema Realto. After the cinema changed systems to central air conditioning before finally shutting down, the space was left for years. The owner of the unit, a Greek Alexandrian, donated the building to Gudran to turn it into a cultural center. The group used the basement for a music studio, where bands can rent it to practice and record their music for a small symbolic fee. Having an affordable space to practice, along with the courtyard to perform, lead to a huge boom in Alexandria’s underground music scene. The top floor is reserved for a library space with the most recent books, available for loan for free. The library space also hosts literary figures for monthly roundtable discussions with the public as well as film screenings.