Downtown Cairo, regards and perceptions

Tiziana Destino (ITA)

Reading by Tiziana Destino
Perception of a multilayer city, Downtown stories
Interviews done in Cairo, June/July 2012

Le Caire Mon Amour, is an open platform for artists in the heart of Downtown Cairo. Hosted in a cosmopolitan building right across from the Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square, the exhibition area takes place in an apartment articulated among different spaces: a reception hall and a corridor leading to a series of exhibition rooms en enfilade. The physical structure of the gallery itself makes the visitor experience the exhibitions and installations as a narrative of enclosed spaces which changes according to the individual trajectory chosen.

The state of conservation of the building itself engenders a contrast between the art oeuvres and the decadent appearance of walls, ceilings and floors. As with current Central-European art spaces, neon lighting dialogues with colourful floor stripes and shocking pink labels.

As a researcher and Cairo resident, my contribution to the open space of Le Caire mon amour was a reading of stories collected during 6 weeks : artists and scholars, together with independent professionals and researchers let their voices be recorded. The result is a sequence of diverse and dissonant accounts, short stories and anecdotes built around the theme of Cairene heritage perception. As a foreigner, outsider, some of the interviewees depicted their daily life interaction with Cairo’s people and habits. As young adults who grew up in areas of the city that totally changed their appearance and atmosphere, some of the stories bring us back to a time of splendour, respect, cleanliness and elegance.

Moving between nostalgia and elan to merge in the flow of energy of the capital, my Cairene experience is enriched by every story fragment collected, recorded, heard, imagined, reconstructed, dreamt,... Le Caire mon amour is a moment to share, it disseminates local narratives, with an Egyptian and international audience, open to engage in turn in sharing their stories, perceptions of the city and vision of the future. As a container the Le Caire mon amour space fully receives the diversity of perspectives, embeds the multiplicity of approach to the cityscape, its inhabitants’ trajectories and struggles, wishes and dreams, memories and histories.
My personal contribution to the recording, safeguarding and dissemination of the incredible richness of the Cairene living heritage ‘Perception of a multilayer city. Downtown stories’ is a snapshot of an ongoing research project on the construction of urban narratives in Cairo.
In a second appointment the stories told were greatly illustrated by Arnaud. Through his eyes the focus shows a forgotten built heritage of value for a broad audience: the architect and art historians, the neighbours that used to shop in the once great architectural masterpiece of Cairene modern architecture. These interiors are now abandoned or reused, testimonials of the lively atmospheres these places once were. Their state of reuse, their transformation or their strong attachment to an image of themselves which no longer exists is emerging throughout the storylines kindly shared are offered to a public who is smiling, nodding, perhaps thinking for one moment of their own experience of a lost yet surviving Cairo.