المدونة المصاحبة للبينالي
Extra-Biennial Blog

 

Extra-Biennial Activities in Cairo: Kimberli’s Travelogue Chapter 2

Koshari, My Barbarian Workshop and Performance

On Friday December 19th, Malik, Sherin, Nizan and I went to Townhouse–which became one of our main bases–and had a series of good meetings with artists about their work. For a late lunch, artist Magdi Mostafa took Nizan and I to a nearby eatery of Koshari, an Egyptian high carb, low-cost working person’s dish. Koshari consists of macaroni, rice, garbanzo beans, and black lentils, and is doused at the table with a red spicy sauce and a bit of sour sauce. At our storefront restaurant, there were three menu choices: small, medium, and large. Small was plenty, a big plateful of hot food, filling and very tasty.

We returned to the Townhouse and Nizan and I joined the evening My Barbarian workshop. Along with eight or so Cairo residents we participated in a workshop session structured by the group’s method: Post-Living Ante Action Theater (POLAAT). My first-ever performance workshop, it was rewarding to share stories and other activities with the group. There is something so quickly disarming about standing in a circle and having to make scary cat faces. Over the course of three hours of personal/public engagements in communication, narration, translation, humility, criticality, humor, silliness, and conviction, a sense of exchange developed within the group.

Friday was the third workshop in a series of six; the sixth session was performance night, December 24 at the Rabawet Theater at Townhouse. The show was called “The Eleven Human Senses” and was structured as eleven chapters outlining various senses, such as sense of beauty, of danger, of place, of community.

The performance began with a warm-up very similar to the one practiced in our workshop. The audience understood that it was both the beginning of the performance and the start of the final workshop. Warm-up led to the first chapter, the introduction, the only chapter that offered simultaneous translation and the one that articulated the structure of the performance. Each chapter, with number and title in Arabic and English, was also projected on stage at the beginning of each new sense. Eleven chapters were moved through in about 45 minutes.

Photo by Kelly Barrie

Photo by Kelly Barrie

One of the striking things about the performance was how it used Arabic and English. After the first simultaneous translation, each segment was in either Arabic or English, but not at the same time. Entire acts were conducted in Arabic – our local audience members would be cracking up at some of the antics on the stage while the English-speaking audience didn’t really know what was going on, yet kind of did since we were seeing something. As non-Arabic speakers, we were left to look harder, listen with different ears, and become instantly aware that our interpretations were subject to our own limitations.

Additionally, there was a music refrain that continued throughout the performance, a very pretty tune, the lyrics are “Can you believe what you see?” In the workshop, we practiced this refrain all together, as a round, and in both Arabic and English. In the performance, only the Arabic was used. This also caused a palpable wave in the theater space – it seemed that the local audience enjoyed the fact that it was not translated, and we the English-speakers were again mesmerized but in the dark about the refrain’s meaning. In this case I was glad to be privy to the translation, having been a workshop participant.

With these language divisions, it then felt like a boon when one of the chapters came up in English. Suddenly it felt great to have full access. As a native speaker of English, this offered a great opportunity to reflect on the global dominance of our language and how that may affect our understanding of the world.

Workshop participant Maliha wrote a cool piece about the workshop and performance for the Egyptian Daily News:
http://dailystaregypt.com/printerfriendly.aspx?ArticleID=18763

Saturday December 20th: Official Biennale opening, and lunch

After the noon opening, a large lunch party made its way across a busy thoroughfare to the Nile, and onto a boat called Pascha. There we were treated to lunch by MAK Vienna Director Peter Noever, in town for both the American presentation of Jennifer Steinkamp, and the Austrian presentation of Dorit Magreiter and Roberta Lima, which was curated by Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein.

Photo by Kimberli Meyer

Photo by Kimberli Meyer

A trip to Heliopolis: Khaled Hafez’s Studio and the Panarama

On Sunday December 21st, the shortest day of the year, we went out to Nasser City to visit artist Khaled Hafez’s Studio and the Panarama, which is on the way. Khaled’s studio is fun to visit: he always gathers artists around, he is great to talk with and has much to say. And his coffee is the absolute best – I think he adds cardamom as well as some other secret ingredients. He speaks a lot about the political history of Egypt, especially starting from the Nasser era.

Photo by Kimberli Meyer

Photo by Kimberli Meyer

Later we visited the Panorama, which was not officially open but when offered the right amount of cash, they opened especially for us. At that point we were a group of around 10. Except for the barrage of guards watching our every move, we were the only ones in the place. It had a creepy feel in so many ways, and was an aesthetically fascinating experience.

The Panorama depicts the 1973 war with Israel in the Sinai, known as the Yom Kippur War and the October War. It’s a 360-degree mural painted on a circular wall. The audience sits in a revolving floor that rotates the viewer around the painted diorama/panorama. A scratchy sound system delivers a narrative of the war in English. The Panorama was a gift to Egypt from North Korea, and commemorates as victories, battles won in the first days of Egypt’s military offensive.

View of the Panorama from the front, photo by Kimberli Meyer

Front side of the Panorama. Photo by Kimberli Meyer

Front yard of Panorama. Photo by K. Meyer

Front yard of Panorama. Photo by Kimberli Meyer

As we exited the building and descended the stairs at 5:30 pm, school buses had just dropped off a huge group of girls in headscarves. They were streaming through the gates, customers next in line for the attraction.