New hashtag gives voice to unheard artists in Egypt

The campaign wanted to bring the voices of unheard artists to the public by encouraging those outside Cairo to post their works online.
Sunday 29/04/2018
Setting the beat. The lone drummer, the symbol of the campaign #Art_Has_No_Place.                                                                         (Marwa al-A’sar)
Setting the beat. The lone drummer, the symbol of the campaign #Art_Has_No_Place. (Marwa al-A’sar)

CAIRO - For hundreds, if not thousands, of artists across Egypt, gaining public exposure and fame is very difficult because they are not based in Cairo. For decades, almost all cultural events and festivals getting media attention were in the capital, giving little opportunity for artists outside the city to attract public notice.

However, Alexandria-born Maha Mohamed, 22, and her friends sought to change that perspective. They wanted to bring the voices of unheard artists to the public by encouraging those outside Cairo to post their works online under the hashtag #Art_Has_No_Place.

“We launched a campaign last July urging artists from all Egyptian provinces to post their works online under the hashtag #Art_Has_No_Place to remind people that art exists everywhere in the country, not just in the capital,” Mohamed said.

The aim was to abolish the centralisation of art and get as many “provincial” artists as possible to use the platform.

The campaign produced a promotional video to draw the attention of artists. The video featured a lone drummer sitting in a deserted house, playing enthusiastically to an unseen audience until his tired hands dropped after long hours of drumming.

“You are not alone. There are many like you who are successful but stuck inside a closed circle. They worked hard but, like you, they reached a dead end,” the campaign’s initiators said through the voice of Egyptian voiceover artist Youssef el-Tohamy. He did the video for free to support the campaign.

“Your eyes won’t see anything but emptiness… a stadium without an audience. You need to know that you are not just another person in the background. You control the whole song. You are there but they just don’t see you,” the message continued.

Choosing a drummer as the symbol of the self-funded campaign was meant to illustrate the conditions of non-Cairo based artists, Mohamed said.

“The drummer is responsible for setting the beat and maintaining the tempo, yet he is always placed at the very back of the stage and the audience probably forgets about him even though he is the most important band member,” she said.

“In a way, this reflects the state of art in Egypt. The singer, who stands for Cairo-based artists, is placed in the front while the drummer, who represents artists in marginalised provinces, sits in the back.”

Drummer Ahmed Mostafa, who appears in the video, said he and other musicians in Alexandria lacked funding and facilities available in Cairo.

“We only have five or six low-quality sound studios all over Alexandria, which is not the case in the capital city,” he said. “Moreover, we lack theatres that we can use to have concerts,” added Mostafa, who described himself as a “marginalised artist.”

Ahmed Rashad, a painter from Fayoum, south-west of Cairo, shares Mostafa’s view. “To get exposure and to be known, I need to move all my life to Cairo… What’s available for us in Fayoum is extremely limited,” he said.

“It is so hard for a painter to have an exhibition in Fayoum due to the lack of equipped exhibition halls,” Rashad said, adding that #Art_Has_No_Place can help pave the way for his works to be known to the public.

“The campaign is a great opportunity for us as artists to see each other’s works. I saw really good drawings by people I never knew existed simply because they used the hashtag,” Alexandrian painter Ahmed el-Sayed said.

Hundreds of artists from across Egypt’s 26 provinces have posted their songs, drawings, photographs and other works of art under the hashtag.

“Yet still some artists questioned our efforts wondering: ‘Then what,’” Mohamed said.

That is why she is seeking to take the campaign to the next level.

“We already had an art exhibition for unknown artists and we are in touch with cultural centres to host dramatic performances. We know this is not enough but we won’t give up trying,” Mohamed added.