Al-Fann Midan

It was dark, but we took a few photos at the Fann Midan festival in Midan Abdin last Saturday night. This is a monthly event that’s been going on since shortly after the revolution: a coalition of a few hundred independent artists putting on concerts and art workshops and handicraft exhibitions in several cities in different parts of Egypt, not just in Cairo. This month’s fest, for the first time, got Ministry of Culture support; this has not been in any way a state initiative.
I talked to one of the women painting in the colors on the mural; she is a “professional artist” (like many people profiled in my friend Jessica’s amazing book Creative Reckonings): what that means here is that she graduated from the Faculty of Art and now teaches art in a school. These are essentially middle-class people, not some kind of snooty elite that has to work super-hard to “bring art to the masses.” At the same time the idea of “tathqif” (the verbal noun of a transitive verb: “to culture, culturing”) the masses is never far from view.
The artist painting people through the plastic sheet had a promising technique and also a challenge; the sheet kept sagging! He solved it by having his subjects hold up the sheet. How to explain why they all had their hands in the air? At the end, paint their hands making victory signs! I would have solved this differently, by making them straphangers in a bus or metro.
(You see some graffiti in “support” of Syria. But organized solidarity for that cause has been weak here. I looked at an apartment across from the Syrian embassy on Friday, and when I asked about possible noise from protest demonstrations, I was told there would be almost none, very sporadic, nothing serious. Egyptian papers carry news from Syria and Libya on the deep inside pages.)
Anyway – what my pix don’t capture is the music, everything from Hasaballah (a weirdly endearing klezmer/marching band hybrid played by elderly men) to “oud rock” to Arabic hip-hop. People of several social classes and cultural preferences from bohemian artist types to munaqabbat (the full face-veil people), some local and others (like a family we talked with who gave my daughter a puppet) trekking in all the way from the Pyramids neighborhood to be there. What a great scene.

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