August 11, 2014

Profiled: Me

Recently, the CIN, via Raphael Thelen, did a profile of me. Find the text as published on the site below and the original a bit further down. Plus, dear reader, you finally get to know what I look like after all these years… 



“Hybridisation…Transnational…Precarious…Synchronous Narratives…Digital and Analogue Worlds… Design…Interventions”. Caram Kapp is spreading those thoughts before himself as he starts to speak.

Everything started with his family – an international bunch with roots in Egypt, France, Germany and Russia. “My family introduced me to society from various perspectives. This opened up horizons that only become visible when you change your point of view several times. They taught me that it is not a common nationality, but common principles, ideas and goals that bring people together to form a society.”

“Hybridisation” is a word that features heavily in Caram’s vocabulary. It describes the various causes and ideas that bring people to join their efforts across borders. “Borders are imposed by history and the interests of the nation state. Do they still make sense in a time during which physical geography is rapidly losing its significance as a factor of distance?” He gives the example of Berlin, his base for the last 15 years. It’s a hybrid city with many nationalities that have the same ideas and work together in order to realize them. “We need to overcome our idea that the Other is different from us. There is no such thing as black and white, when it comes to people. We exist in polychromatic shades of grey”.

This hybridisation does not only affect nationalities, but also disciplines- an ongoing merging of the academic and artistic into a multidisciplinary culture. Caram has been working between countries in the cultural field for the past ten years. “I believe that culture is a lubricant to direct communication. It allows personal reflections on an abstract level to be translated into a common conversation. And it will turn more concrete as the conversation continues. It is a context that allows the recipients to connect beyond their original perspectives and to begin thinking together.

Being German-Egyptian, Caram is deeply influenced by the events of the past three years in Egypt. “What is happening there is not yet a revolution. In a cultural sense, yes, something is happening. Maybe it’s even the starting point for a new society. But the game that is currently being played is an old one,” he says referring to the political developments.

Does he believe in positive change? “Yes, but it has to come, like all real changes, from inside and below, not from the outside and above. Maybe a bit from the side… That might take centuries. Thinking globally, it already has. A few more decades won’t matter.

What motivates him? “To change the world without the pomp that usually goes with it. I would like to make alternatives and new approaches visible and liveable through exchanges. To make them realities that people share and enrich each other in. Step by Step.”

---------------------------------


Caram is mumbling a string of words when we begin “Hybridisation…Transnational…Precarious…Synchronous Narratives…Digital and Analogue Worlds… Design…Interventions”. He is spreading thoughts before himself, to collect them during our conversation. 

We begin with his family- a hetronational bunch of people, meetings between Egyptian, French, German and Russian ancestors, sometime in the 20th century. “My family was an introduction to society from various perspectives. It opened up horizons that only become visible when you change your point of view several times and allow others to enter it. They taught me that it is not a common nationality, but common principles, ideas and goals that bring people together. This bonding allows shared thoughts and being, parts of a hybrid society that is unfolding around us.” 

Hybridisation is a large word, which describes the various causes and ideas that cause people to join their efforts beyond borders to the point of questioning their importance- or even existence. “ Do historical borders still make sense in a time during which physical geography is rapidly losing its significance as a factor of distance?” He gives the example of Berlin, his base for the last 15 years. A hybrid city of common interests, goals and many nationalities participating in realising them. “We need to overcome our idea that the Other is different from us. Get to know them, and you will quickly realise that you have a lot in common with the “dark mirror”. There is no such thing as black and white, when it comes to people, we exist in between colours, never in a single non-colour.”. 

The process does not only transcend nationalities, but also disciplines- an ongoing merging of the academic and artistic into a multidisciplinary culture of exploration. Caram has been working between countries in the cultural field for the past ten years. “I believe that culture is a lubricant to direct and honest communication. It allows personal reflections on an abstract level that are translated into a common conversation that begins on that level, but will turn more concrete as it continues. It is a starting point that allows the recipients to connect beyond their inherent perspectives and begin a joint journey of ideas from a shared origin of departure.”

Face to face and eye to eye, ear to mouth. The student of communication design has learnt that every communication seeks its own, specific, medium to unfold in. He creates platforms, both digital and physical “I prefer physical to analogue… we are not watches”, in which people can meet and interact. “These days, it is inevitable to spend many hours on a computer, writing about ideas on Social Media or in Emails. It is close to human contact, but you are still on your own, reduced to a textual, semantic representation of yourself. I have come to understand, that, so far, nothing can replace talking in person- you laugh more. One day we may have Star Trek holograms, but even those guys still conduct their most important meetings face to face, no matter how big the universe is” He chuckles “Yes, I love Sci-Fi- it is an exploration of human values, ambitions and the possible through magical technologies, aliens and the impossible.”

Moving away from Sci-Fi, towards a current reality, the German-Egyptian (“But I’m not!” “Keep it simple”) is deeply influenced by the events over the past three years in Egypt, the country he grew up in. “What happened there… what is still happening there… is not yet a revolution. It is the beginning of a cultural uprising and possibly the starting point for a new society, but the game that is currently being played is an old one. If you look at the narrative that is presented to us, it is that of progress towards the future by a state that has left old regimes and systems behind. This is a finely executed act of misdirection that somehow manages to convince many in Egypt and outside that the 2014 successor to Mubaraks regime is not a part of what has kept the country stagnant for the past three decades. In time, and thanks to individual efforts, not the states’, we may see a new and different country emerge from the current processes. How much time depends on how many individuals- let’s call them citizens- are hard-headed enough to see their idea through. You will find similar narratives surrounding other events, as well.” Does he believe in change? “Yes, but not the kind of imposed change that we have seen in the past years. It has to come, like all real change, from inside and below, not the outside and above- maybe slightly to the right.” “That might take centuries…” “Thinking globally, it already has. A few more decades won’t matter, but I believe we are getting there, step by step. Both on a technological and societal level.”  

What motivates him? “I would like to change the world without the pomp that usually surrounds this change. To make energies, alternatives and new approaches visible and liveable through exchanges, to make them realities that people share and enrich each other in.” 


April 8, 2014

Step Beyond report: Excited me in Tunis.

As part of my reporting upon receiving an ECF grant to travel to Tunis to engage in some work, this factual report emerges


The recent uprisings and their political consequences  in Tunisia have led to a creative release of unprecedented scale. Youth groups, but also more established organisations, have discovered their voice, power of self- organisation and the possibilities open to a civil society long repressed by a totalitarian security state under Ben Ali. 

My journey to Tunis was motivated by a deep curiosity for the effects this outburst of artistic energies had on the cultural scene in the country, glimpsed only fleetingly from images in media and a brief visit, confined to a hotel, in November 2013. A desire to see new faces and experience new locations and feelings and gain insight into the changes on a local level that would otherwise not be reached. 
My journey to Tunis was a very welcome opportunity to see the city and meet many cultural actors, not all from the expected countries and some old friends. I am grateful for this opportunity to spend more time than expected in this wonderful country and explore its history and current cultural production. We found many points of intersection, both on personal levels and in cultural production- a fruitful journey in many ways. 

I went there representing Plays2Place productions, a Greek production company with whom we are running- and planning- several long-term, transnational projects. The trip was divided between three main project activities, described below. 

1) Tandem/Shaml
The Tandem/Shaml meeting brings together cultural managers from the Middle East and EU to meet and participate in a year-long project that takes place in two countries.

I went there to represent Plays2Place productions, a Greek production company which I have collaborated with on previous occasions. 

After three days of intense networking, discussions on cultural policy, sustainability and collaborative project management, I am happy to say that P2P productions will be participating in the second round of the Tandem programme. 

We developed a programme concerned with the Greek History of Alexandria and the cities fading cultural diversity, after many years of existing as a cosmopolitain hub of arts and culture in Egypt. 
We will be tracing histories of migration, cultural parallels in the cities and the traces of Greek culture that remain in Alexandria. 

The main participant in this project will be Martha Bouziouri, who will collaborate with Abdallah Sharkas from Janaklees in Alexandria on the project. 

I also engaged in many fun and some serious conversations with cultural managers from Serbia, Syria, Egypt, Tunis and the Yemen, while widening my personal network in Germany. 

We will also collaborate with Ettijahat in the framework of the Artivists4Change programme in the production of a work of cultural relief in Syrian Refugee camps in Lebanon, hopefully helping, in a small way, to ease the prevalent conditions in those camps.


2) Street Art
Though often underestimated, Tunisia boasts a vivid and productive street art scene, mixing elements of the activistic with ideas of tagging, pieces and throw-ups more familiar from New York or Europe. 
I met with Karim ben Smail, the head of Ceres Publishing in Tunis, to discuss the possible production of a book on the street art of the Tunisian Revolution. After some comparative studies with Egypt, and the book Walls of Freedom, which I had previously worked on, we came to the conclusion that allthough the street art scene in the country remains lively, it would be a more feasible approach to focus on the artistic aspects of street art in the country, as street art as media is not as prevalent as the more familiar aspects of the form. 

In the course of my journey, I met many artists, who prefer to remain anonymous- we discussed the various difficulties and joys of producing art in public space in Tunisia. They face many of the same problems as do artists in other countries- illigality, persecution and rapid overpainting - new canvas for their expressions. 


However, I was able to find a partner for the planned continuation of Infiltri, the topical street art archive, in theAssociation Chaabi, who organise  the only Hip Hop festival in Tunisia and use street art as part of their efforts in alternative cultural education in the country. It will hopefully be a long- term cooperation that lasts several years and spans several projects, including a network of production studios, free for most use, around the country.


3) Demystifying FTCA
The only point of regret in my journey is that I did not have more opportunity to interact with the members of the FTCA, the Tunisian Amateur Filmmakers association than I did. In spite of some attempts at contact, it was difficult to meet them in the planned framework, though I did have the pleasure of meeting some of their members and engaging in preliminary talks surrounding training and longer term project planning for a project that is due to take place over the course of 2015 and 2016.
However, a beginning has been made. I also had the opportunity of visiting other potential collaborators in the field of film and cultural education through film. 


Overall
The two weeks spent in Tunis were a very enriching experience. Personally, they were, after a first, very brief visit, a welcome opportunity to explore the country in some more detail and walk the meandering maze that is Medina, the old city in Tunis. Through planning and some chance, it became a success on a professional level as well, allowing me to establish new connections and find partners for projects that are currently in preparation. 

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March 14, 2014

External Interview: Egypt Now Looking For Hope // Huck magazine Issue 43

Today, I would like to share an interview I recently gave to the UKs Huck Magazine on Street Art and current developments in Egypt in relation to an article in the Book Walls of Freedom, which will appear in March 2014. It is published by From Here To Fame Publishing and can be purchased through their website



By Alex King
Huck asks Cairo-born activist Caram Kapp what are the prospects for positive change in today's Egypt.
Over eighteen momentous days in 2011, protestors occupied one of Cairo’s main road junctions, Tahrir Square, and stood their ground against attacks by security forces until Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down. This was a time when Egyptians forgot their ethnic, religious and social differences to come together as one, demanding social justice for all. Graffiti was just one of the many forms of expression released as ordinary people found their voices. After years of enforced silence, they rushed to express themselves in political debate, via social media and on the walls of towns and cities all over Egypt.
Today, the mood in Egypt has darkened. After a military coup led by General Fattah el-Sisi, the military are back in power and thousands of people have been killed, injured or imprisoned by the new regime. Freedom of speech has been severely curtailed, with three Al-Jazeera English journalistscurrently imprisoned on charges of terrorism.
The Cairo-born, Berlin-based graphic designer and activist Caram Kapp looks back to 2011 with considerable nostalgia. “Tahrir had the carnivalesque atmosphere of a people who were in revolt and enjoying it,” Caram wrote afterwards. “There was freedom of speech and assembly, camaraderie and food. After thirty years of leaving the rest of Egypt outside as soon as they entered their flats, people came together in this place to celebrate values and rights they barely even remembered under Mubarak’s dictatorship.”
How much of a role do you feel street art played in the 2011 revolution and does it still have a role now?
Apart from chants, graffiti became the most popular public mediums of self-expression in an ongoing battle for territories. Walking through the various city districts you could see tags and street art on almost every surface that could be written upon. It served as both a reminder of aesthetics long absent from the public sphere and as artists’ commentary on events.
As one of the most well-documented aspects of the revolution, the walls serve as an immediate memory of the last three years, whether it be the martyrs, elections, or return of the military to power. Street art also served as an easily shareable medium for opinions. The visual nature of graffiti allowed it to become an understandable source of information for those outside Egypt following events and help to connect them with the struggle.
Today I believe that graffiti still plays an important role in the direct communication of messages on the streets. It will continue to do so as long as artists and activists have topics and counter-narratives to communicate. It also still plays a role in youth empowerment through workshops and as an indicator of political processes in Egypt and beyond its borders.
What remains of the love that you felt so strongly in Tahrir Square – after the Sisi coup and the violence that has followed?
The ‘love’ that permeated Tahrir for those 18 days – a united standing behind a cause – started fading soon after the ousting of Mubarak. There remains a strong emotional bond between individuals involved in various stages of the uprising, but the love quickly gave way to the interests of political parties and individual factions. When the people took to the streets they never thought they were unleashing a political process, and they were apparently not quite ready for that outcome. Within Egypt it has become difficult to talk of a deep unconditional love in light of recent events, although all parties profess to love Egypt and strive to improve it. Unfortunately, this seems to prove the old saying that you always end up hurting the one you love.
You wrote about the inclusion and respect for women as one example of a socially inclusive atmosphere in Tahrir Square. Has any of that survived?
From observation and discussion, I can’t say that the condition of women in Egypt has improved. They have become politically manipulated in ways that they were not before and harassment continues unabated. Yet Egyptian women have their ways of defending themselves and making themselves heard, while many occupy senior positions in cultural and societal organisations.
Women have always been a strong part of Egyptian society, due in part to the repression they have suffered. There is a growing class of well-educated women who see that they can affect change. I believe they will ultimately improve the situation – not only for themselves but for country as a whole. This will not happen on a governmental level, but rather through their individual actions and collaboration between women of all classes in society.
To what extent has freedom of expression been repressed since 2011?
Freedom of expression since the Sisi coup has been on a downward spiral. There have been arbitrary imprisonment of journalists and activists as well as an active campaign against critical opinions from outside Egypt. The military and the state are attempting to take control of the national narrative. The recent introduction of the term ‘terrorist’ to describe anyone expressing opinions counter to the official line is an attempt to turn Egyptians against one another.
Most media outlets have become mouthpieces of the current government after threats of closure and editorial reshuffles. The journalists syndicate has declared its allegiance to the state and those that control it. Coming after two years in which it had become easier – and necessary – to express your opinion publicly, it is sad to watch freedom of expression in public space affected by repressive new laws, a strong military presence and a wide distrust of anything out of the ordinary.
I get the sense that we are far from the end of the story. What is the next chapter for Egypt?
Many elements remain volatile and unpredictable, so the next chapter is hard for anyone to predict. Events are definitely ongoing and we will move past the current return to military rule, but it is an ongoing process that may take many years to unfold. The elections in 2014 will happen but are likely to be used to reinforce an outward impression of democracy while clamping down on activists and critics of the system at home. Egypt will continue to be polarised, but I would not expect spontaneous mass expressions of political opinion in the near future. I hope to be proven wrong.
I would like to believe that we will see an ongoing strengthening of civil society and a continuation of the resistance and criticism of the system that began in 2011. Eventually, this should lead to a more just Egypt that treats its citizens with equality, providing them with education and freedom of expression. It is difficult to say when this process will become visible, but as long as there are individuals and networks who do not lose the courage to fight for their respective causes, at the very least, there is hope.
Caram’s incredible essay, “The Utopian State of Tahrir,” appears in Walls of Freedom, a collaborative book project on Egyptian revolutionary street art, out March 2014.
To read more from Egypt Now: youth, music, street art and revolution in today’s Egypt, pick up a copy of Huck 43 – Street Photography With Boogie.

February 3, 2014

Rant: Marco Wilms Art War — a Dangerous Document

Over the past three years, a great number of films dealing with the Egyptian Uprising, whether documentary, docufiction or pure invention have been brought to screens and festivals around the world. The latest such offering I have watched, Marco Wilms documentary Art War, is an interesting and polarising case. 


ART WAR - Trailer from HELDENFILM on Vimeo.

"ART WAR is the story of young Egyptians who, through art and enlightenment, and inspired by the Arab Spring, use their creativity to salvage the revolution. Using graffiti murals and rebellious music and films, they inspire the youth culture around the world and throughout the streets of conquered Egypt.

The film follows revolutionary artists through 2 years of post-revolutionary anarchy, from the 2011 Arab Spring until the final 2013 Parliament election. It describes the proliferation of creativity after Mubarak’s fall, showing how these artists learn to use art in new ways--as a weapon to fight for their unfinished revolution."

A subjective review:

 It is a well-made film, with some truly impressive images, an engaging soundtrack, a tightly- edited narrative structure. A film that follows the actions of four artists over three years, he picks out the most visible events of the Egyptian revolution, highlights their motivations and production at various stages of the uprising.  It is a kick of artistic energy in the pants and a reminder of the long memory that walls have. It is a subjective exploration of the arts as a means of recording and resistance and expressing personal politics. It is a tale of peaceful revolution in the midst of street battles, arrests, deaths. It is a tale of those that have become the memory of the Egyptian uprising, the writers of the first draft of history.

His four main protagonists, Ganzeer, Ammar, Hamed and Bosaina come from very different backgrounds and may be said to represent the more liberal factions involved in the uprising. Ganzeer, a multifaceted graphic designer from Cairo, adopts methods of direct participation and expands the Egyptian world-view on sexuality and womens desires. Ammar, from Luxor, is a classically trained artist with an almost pharaonic penchant towards large scale murals he considers to be the newspaper of the revolution. Hamed, the writer and militant anti-islamist, provokes and reflects in equal parts. The reciepient of  death threats from the Muslim Brotherhood, and later abduction by forces "unknown", he is almost as radical as those he opposes. Bosaina, a electro-pop singer reminiscent in style and content of a tamer version of the Berlin band Peaches ("Fuck the Pain Away"), admits that she has segregated herself from the mainstream of Egyptian society- "It's Easier", she tells us.

We also see some others- Rami Essam, a singer who rose to fame during those 18 days between January 25 and February 11, 2011; Alaa Awad, a mural artist who employs contemporised ancient Egyptian motifs to express himself, Ammars teacher- the relation between the characters remains tenuous- a Salafi PR persons, who has very white teeth and shows us the anti- secular propaganda. We visit Sufi ceremonies in Upper Egypt. A Muslim Brotherhood demonstration. Many brief glimpses into lives along the lines of an uprising, its ups and downs. But they remain glimpses out of context.

In spite of a time-line that guides the viewer through the events that surround the "art war", ongoing in Egypt, it is hard to put the scenes of the film in relation to the events of the last three years. At times, lost between the internal chronology of the film and the timeline of the Egyptian uprising, I found myself asking which narrative to follow and adhere to. The context of the actions is very sparsely explained, except in the case of the Port Said Massacre. My biggest disappointment was the brief image of millions of Egyptians taking to the streets to topple Morsi, omitting to mention the Tamarrod campaign that lead up to it, the electoral promises broken- commented only as such. And then the film ends, leaving us with the impression that events in Egypt end with the rise of the military to power- and that the Egyptians always wanted a military dictatorship to be instated. 

Although this is more indicative of when the photography of the film ended- around the 5th of July 2013, it is also representative of a film that chooses to elicit emotions from its audience, rather than inform them about the history of the events that it depicts. While this is a valid, filmic, approach, it is also one of the dangers of watching that film without prior knowledge of the events that unfold within. It is not a film that asks questions, nor is it one that adds to the information already available. Rather, it chooses to show the audience moments of artistic heroism and defeat, catering to the mainstream with luscious pictures, the energy of a teenager in rebellion and very rare moments of insight. Even though it offers some interesting reflection on graffiti and public art as a medium of grass-roots expression, it does not follow this reflection with much depth. 



Another note has to be made of Bosaina, she of the Wetrobots. This comes in the form of the admission that I have a more than passing familiarity with the Cairo Art scene, and so far, those that have heard of her do not live in Cairo. She represents an edge to sexual liberation that the city finds hard to accept, with her lyrics laden with sexual references and not-so-innuendo. She is booed out of the Cairo Jazz Club, by an audience who cannot relate to this woman, wearing a full-body leopard print suit. She converses with her friends in English- the only character in the film to do so continuously- and cries. While her inclusion in the film does allow an exploration to another angle of an art war, the personal battle for acceptance of a different point of view and sexual liberation, she caters more to the eyes and ears of a Western Audience than that of the local scene. She is later to leave Cairo, vowing not to perform in Egypt again- for a while at least. 

She is the only female protagonist in the film, reducing the aspirations of revolutionary women in Egypt to the liberation of their sexual identity and desires. Aliaa Al-Mahdy makes a brief appearance in stencil form. A counterpart less focused on sexual themes, fighting for a right to a voice, equality at the workplace, against the harassment endemic to Egyptian society, academic freedoms, religious interpretation, the ownership of public space or freedom of press and expression, is absent- and there are many. Moving within the Graffiti scene, Wilms might have shone a light on the NoonElNeswa collective, who thematise sexual harassment in murals. Moving beyond, he may have explored the efforts of Mahatat, an initiative led mainly by women, to give art a place in public space. He might have featured Aida Al-Kashef, a young, outspoken Filmmaker who was arrested with Ganzeer for putting up "Mask of Freedom" stickers in 2011- but is also an excellent filmmaker in her own right. He might have talked to Hanaa El Degham, a painter and muralist who lives between Berlin and Cairo, to gain her insight into Egyptian society. All these voices are lost to one instance of electronic music and reduce the film's value as a document.  

The third note is of the trips Ammar takes to upper Egypt. Even though, once again, the film treats us with beautiful pictures, we are never given enough background to fully understand those pictures in the context of the art war- Sufi Shrines, certainly an inspiration for the artist, and sun-boat ceremonies feel, except as a breath of air, out of place in the world Wilms creates for his audience. The revolution is hardly mentioned in these segments, nor are the events that happen within used to illustrate any discernible point- they are a welcome escape from Cairo, but that is where the film leaves them. 

Finally, the film feels very much like it was produced for a western audience, looking for highlights, heroes and inspiration, rather than political process and backgrounds in the Egyptian uprising. It simplifies the complexity of Egyptian society and discards many processes that have led some real changes in that society- which is partly due to the limits of the medium, but also owes a lot to the perspective of the authors. 

And maybe this is my main issue with the film- while it holds up well as a piece of entertainment to be consumed, enjoyed, then forgotten, it does not leave me with the satisfied feeling of having watched a finished piece of cinema. There are 120 hours of material available to the filmmaker. His film may benefit from an extra 15 minutes, which spread around the film, would add the much-needed context that so far eludes him. 

I watched it twice, thanks to some very peripheral involvement, and come out of it with this: If you are expecting a film that explores the contexts of the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 in depth and allows for new insights into a society on the brink of transformation and collapse, don't watch this one. If you are interested in the Cairo art scene, have an active engagement in graffiti, street art and electronic music, some background on the "Arab Spring" and are looking for an evenings entertainment, this may be the one for you. 

And here ends my highly subjective review of Art War. 

+ Thanks to Tieke and Fred for their input on the role of women in Egypt. Upon their suggestion, I added a paragraph on their lacking representation in the film

Now also on Scoopempire

January 26, 2014

25 Jan 2014

Don't you miss 
the easy days
the black and white days
when you didn't wake up 
to wonder where you stand

The early days
when you thought you were old
and the world no longer the place 
you once knew?

A reboot, a reboot!
A loss of innocence regained.

Days of wonder, long passed
the red days are here
what was once true
is not, but is
but wasn't when you look again

But you can't forget

— Begun in August 2013. It's not over