Hamdy Reda / Gaëtane Lamarche-Vadel, Ard-el-Lewa (Cairo) April 2015

You are an artist and you learnt in art school in Cairo

I was in fines art school, Helwan university in Zamalek. I graduated in 1997


How do you arrive here ?

at Ard el-Lewa I live here, I arrived 25 years ago

My family moved here because they got a bigger apartment


Can you describe this informal area ?

Ard el Lewa is an informal area, from the desert Cairo

It has some low middle class and it has some different paradoxes in the social level between poor people and working class and employees or teachers; as well there is some business men who live here or rich people who are working with business 2:08 related to this class, or there are related through their family to this class so they prefer to live here instead of going to others area.

They invest in their living here by building houses and renting it for others. So it isn’t totally poor or less education but it has very diverse social figures as well it is attractive for emigrants, so we have here a lot of different emigrants from inside and outside as well; from inside guys and families come from upper Egypt and from villages to live somewhere close to the cities to able to work, so in the neighbourhood there are lot of this case, as well refugees from Somalia or Soudan and Africa they stay here in the neighbourhood. All of these create a diverse alive communities. It has somehow alive relations also with all local areas in the city like Ard el-Lewa. Because there are a lot of people from local areas in the city which is get very tight on them, they move to others areas like this neighbourhood, like my for example. Because we grew up in the local neighbourhood in the middle of the city, but it was very tight and very narrow and the government has totally forbidden new any kind of new construction there, even building which is fall down, the government will not accept to reconstruct in it because he would like reduce some amount of locals in the town and in order to think of new different investment of that, heart or center of the city like what happens for example on Corniche . If you look at right now, it has a lot of hotels and fancy buildings high ones like Nile towers.

All of that area used to be a local neighbourhood with small houses and working class people, but time by time the government was able to take it from those and to invest it in bigger investment with big companies.

So lot of people move to such neighbourhood where I am now. It is the case of my family. Because as well the apartment we move to here was bigger than the small one in the center


And you are allowed to build any floor more ?

Yes it is easier to make extrafloors. For example this house where we are, was build with only two floors, and we built tree others floors by ourselves

This case you will see a lot around here in the neighbourhood, but we will see also a lot others cases which is not able to buy or to build but they are renting apartments


Comparing with others areas, it is cheap but in general actually the rent here in this neighbourhood particularly is a bit high than similar ones . I am not sure why but may be because it is very close to and it has a lot of access to different areas, also because it is not very huge like Bulak al Darkru or Waraq Embaba and it is not so very crowded like the others.

There is a lot of workshops here. And, I don’t know, there is some kind of potential may be, I am not be able to see as well because I living here

When others come to visit me whatever Egypt or from abroad, they tell me it is a nice neighbourhood we enjoy walking through it


How did you decide to open the studio ?

The first decision or the   first question was : where I am living ; am I going to I continue to live here or I move to other place. It was very clear actually after some trips around the country here, and even others trips abroad, there was very powerfully clear answer after that It is your place . I like its neighbourhood; it has an influence on me, as an artist. I am enjoying being here economically, socially, culturally . Yes because there are a lot of colours around, of different people. There is a big diversity here, I don’t see it even in Zurich. Through my trips I found out to live abroad, it would take energy for me, of course Europe it is great wonderful system and so and so. But it takes or it eats the age, eats energy of people who living there just to survive. And they cannot find time for themselves, they found out literally after the age gone between their hands. They don’t enjoy their life. So accept, I am not going through my years in this way. I would like to enjoy my life, so I would like to live in an area in a country which doesn’t eat my years.
And here there is aperture of possibilities to do this instead of moving to more civilized and working countries. Because you don’t find enough time to enjoy what is very easy and accessible. It is not accessible here the joyful and the system the good treatment but I see it is very accessible in Europe and it is just beside you but don’t enjoy very much. With similar way of thinking, also I thought, between Ard-el Lewa and the neighbourhood as a neighbourhood here with in this country I found also that. The neighbourhood which I would like to stay in or to enjoy it : Dowtown or Zamalek, it is very heavy for me, it is more than joyful it is headache ; it is nice to be there from time to time to visit friend to work a bit but not to live in. And the new cities have very poor teats and cold, I don’t see alive there.

So comparing between this and that and social and economical levels I found it is the best for me to continue living in this neighbourhood. After answering this question, immediately came a second question: what I am doing here ?. What is my profession related to the context, to the environment around me, to the social environment and to the open area; Then I found at Artellewa in order to find answer for this question


You decide to live here and not only to have a studio?

And to open a space for me basically, and for others who are similar, this came from two perspectives :

For others neighbourhoods and for neighbours who don’t have accessibility for art, for culture because I am, I work … I would like to open access for others who are like me. In the same time for others who are like me, artists; to find out something about their art and try to get out of the dark narrow tunnel which is art came to in the last few decade. Art came faraway from being able to answer a lot important questions related to its necessity and it’s relation with the society.


Art is necessity but how and why and with open existing space I open that door for artist to try to find out something. For me as an artist, basically, and for others who have passion to find out not just not to follow some artist. This is Artellewa


The space opened in 2006, before the revolution, what does the revolution change ?

what does happen during the revolution ? Is there difference between before the revolution and after or not ?

There are differences of course, because I am an Egyptian, I was involved in the revolution and I was against the old regime, that cairot regime as well

Before the revolution when I started Artellewa, it was not easy because it is out of ordinary projects. And because of this, it faces a lot of challenges. These challenges which were pushing me to think about closing this project every month, once. And after the revolution even these challenges and difficulties get more to push me to think about this closing every day, and the last four months it was more and more hard until I came to the point that…

Through these years Artellewa grew up and after using a little part of my building, I rent another bigger venue. And it become expansive, until I came to the pointAartellewa is an idea more than venues, or spaces. It is more mental space than physical space. And a mental space doesn’t need a lot of money to survive, it needs just energy and people who believe in it; so during these years I met lot of people and I shared my thoughts with them eand I gain from their feedback as well to grow to make my idea of Artellewa more powerful, more clear. With thinking of sustainability of this idea, it makes it much easier to go further, to continue with it. There is no crisis of money or crisis of management or crisis with government would stop   an idea to grow up and continue. This is which is made me satisfied at the end of the day whatever I lost of the income, or I have to reduce this space it doesn’t matter. What is matter is : spreading out the word and to be able to continue doing something and communicate with others


During the revolution did people who live here are engaged or it was too far from their concerns ?

There were engaged but with different level of engagement

There is no as specific neighbourhood of area that revolution is coming from because, you can take more in each level than neighbourhood or social level because

the revolution were mainly from youth : under 30 or 35, some elder like me 40 but there were some also like a bit elder but very little. It was like a revolution between youth and old people, between open minding and closing it, between freedom and radicalism

From all different levels there was people going out seeking the freedom, seeking the justice; because the old regime which is still have the power actually until now in the   government and institutions, especially the police and the court. They came very faraway from the right methods, from the freedom, from the justice, for that the revolution was

I think because of the weak education and the less level of consciousness of the society and also this is because the troubles they face with diseases and incomes and so .. they were not able to complete it , to go to the end in this

But they stand here between us


For the Ard-el-lewa people, this open space, Artellewa, is it a free-space ?

For locals, this is a space. Not all the people are interested in what I am doing here, but there is some who knows about it, and like it and enjoy activities I am running here. There are others who has nothing to with it, others who just like it because they see different faces, go through here foreigners or others Egyptians who are not familial to this neighbourhood   and of course there are few radicals who doesn’t like to have something to do with art here


And you invite many artists from all over the world ?

I have just received an e-mail to day from cuban artist asking me she can apply for Artelewa . I say you are more than welcome, send me your application and let’s discuss it

Mainly we have opencode of Artellewa site, for artist from of all over the world to apply.

If they feel or they think, they can do a certain project related to the main characteristics   of this art space, they apply to. Actually sometimes artist who applied saying they don’t have any project in mind except to they would like to experiment, they like the idea to be here for awhile, to find out through an area of accessibility to be living here what they can find out. Mostly I accept those as well who would like to come to experiment. Generally it is opened to those who has interactive idea, who are interested in art and society, art public space, who would like to find out something new, not coming with a clear idea, not those studio-artists who know very well what they are doing, what technics they use, how they are using it and they are doing it in order to produce art works. Those could have a lot of other different possibilities, I am here opened more for those who would like to experiment, to try something different, to be interactive with others


Are they visual artists, or writers too and music

Can you speak of any project? Taxi exhibition for example ?

Mainly we have visual artists, it is the main interest of us , but we are keeping opened to the others fields, of cultural fields, in general

The taxi project for example, it was very nice, it was my idea actually it was 5 films made by Suisse artist Margot Zanni ( 2014), the films was great and I like them so far because she records something very intimate with those taxi drivers she made 5 movies, each one with a different taxi driver asking to take care to where he likes to go, …   My idea came of how to show these movies. The artist creates a movie just as a movie, and she made 5 movies with taxi drivers. She shoots it inside the taxi. with the taxi drivers asking them to take her to where they like, so there is one who takes her to a garden he like; the place where he met his wife, or to his mom place, whatever. And my idea was to show this exhibition not only in artellewa but also inside the taxis. So I fixed a little screen in the taxis, and the taxi-drivers who I use to do this show were my neighbours


Others projects ?

We have a lot of interesting projects, for example there was a nice project by Egyptian photographer called Ahmed Kamel (2010), he thought about Artellewa as a shop « Abutting » and he called “Shop-Abutting”

Because Artellewa physically is a shop between the shops in this street and it is open-day to this street. He went to others shops and asked there owners to make portraits of each of them in front of their shop. He collected these portraits in the site Artellewa. In order to answer a little about of the question what artellewa is, what the gallery is or art space between the different others shops is. Because each other shop is clear, it is selling that goods or presenting services and the owners are there in front of the shop. He collects these portraits, portraits of outside of our space, to invite them to come and see their pictures and to discuss what is an art


As well, an other project was : The non Egyptian restaurant by spanish artist Asuncion Molinos Gordo who came with a very nice project : the idea of the urban change of that neighbourhood. Because many areas used to be an agricultural lands and now they are resident areas. So she did a restaurant in this space of Artellawa. Through this restaurant, she discusses and open a lot of culture marks around that agriculture politics of this country. She made an art which is making criticism of theagricultural politics


An other project of Nini Ayach, from France, she came out an idea to make a workshop with the people from the neighbourhood, and outside as well, to build or create a president candidate for the election in Egypt. They created very big puppets and they make march with puppets in the neighbourhood, with a lot of discussions around what President looks like, what are his objectives : what is going to do with this country if he wan elections. It was very interesting this active performance puppets


Did the revolution have influence on the way of art ?

Graffiti in Egypt is totally different after the revolution. They took totally different aspects than regular graffiti. Because there are important figures like: Amar Abobask, Alaa awad, Alaa Abdel Hamid, those guys were artists, studio-artists doing paintings on canvases, sculptures, all are very static .. ; But with the revolution they felt a kind of revolution inside themselves, as well as artists, they cannot continue with what is happening, to express on the traditional way on canvas; they went to do graffiti in the street. It was totally different than regular graffiti, because it is coming from people who studied art very well and knows what composition is and what colour means and how to make colours and how to make globalisation and how to use the light and so and so. There were exhibitions with graffiti in a totally new and different way of art expression in the street. Only the disgust or just the perfection of the fine line or things like this. No it was art existing, it was more artistically expression about they feel and about what they would like to show and document at this moment of the world, of the street

In the neighbourhood there were kids, a group of youngers, my students of art education called Mona Lisa. There painted a lot of things, doing portraits of kids in the street


And how are the relationship with government ?

The government doesn’t take care so much of this neighbourhood. They ask me for some investigation about the space. I was very clear what I am doing here, with people, with everything ; Artellewa is Ok. Now I keep a kind of global fight; I don’t attract troubles, and in same time keep go on because sustainability is for me very important, more than doing clashes. We survive


How do you survive. Even if Artellewa doesn’t need much money?

I work as a freelancer curator, photographer and designer, and I sell some artworks as well.