Cairo's Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival returns after a two-year hiatus

The ninth edition of the event is hosting works by 50 international artists across seven of the Egyptian Capital's most prominent spaces

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After a two-year hiatus because of Covid-19, the ninth edition of Cairo’s Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-Caf) began on October 1, to the delight of many of the Egyptian capital’s art lovers.

With a programme including artworks by more than 50 artists from all over the world, this year’s iteration also includes a wide range of theatre performances, musical concerts, art and photography exhibitions, and a focus on virtual reality.

The event is taking place until October 22 across 12 venues in the district of Downtown Cairo, the Egyptian capital’s most bustling area, and it intends to shine a light on the latest projects and cultural trends taking place all over the world.

“The most exciting aspect of the festival this year is that it's finally taking place after our two-year hiatus,” festival art director Ahmed El Attar told The National.

Virtual and augmented reality exhibits are featured heavily in the ninth edition of the arts festival. Photo: Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival

As with previous iterations of D-Caf, the events are divided into six distinct categories, each showcasing a different facet of today’s art world.

The performing arts portion of the festival includes “a patchwork of cultures and artistic disciplines, with performers from Egypt, Syria, France, Denmark and Chile,” said the festival’s organisers.

The New Media and Visual Arts category, which launched during the seventh festival, is fast becoming one of the most talked-about sections, introducing six different works “conceived at the intersection of art and technology”.

No issue has been more talked-about as of late than climate change, which is why we are shining a light on it this year
Ahmed El Attar, festival art director

Through the use of virtual reality and augmented reality, festival-goers can expect to leave behind the sprawling metropolitan areas of Downtown Cairo as they get transported into a 16th-century painting or a secluded woodland area, for example.

This section also includes a number of games and interactive installations that are being brought to life through audience participation, and the photography exhibits also include interactive elements.

Meanwhile, the musical concerts are bringing the world’s trendiest genres and audio production disciplines to the foreground. Amid a rising regional interest in rap, hip-hop and trap, this year’s roster has some of Mena’s biggest and most prolific musicians from across these genres.

Additionally, this year's round of the festival will also include musical performances by international artists showcasing a variety of genres.

French musical duo Ko Shin Moon is playing at D-Caf this year. Photo: Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival

The performing arts category features a number of shaabi musical performances. Shaabi (or "populist" in Arabic) music has risen in popularity in Egypt over the past five years, with some of the region’s most listened-to artists exploring and readapting it through technologically-driven production methods.

Elsewhere in the festival, a number of special initiatives are taking place. The festival’s Urban Visions initiative, for example, uses the streets of Downtown as a venue for two of the festival’s most prominent events, one conducted by a Swiss delegation and the other by a Hungarian group.

The former is the Cairo Sound Tour, where a group of festival-goers will board a bus that will drive through Downtown Cairo as a team of Swiss artists incorporate the sounds of the Egyptian streets into a live electronic music performance. The tour will be taking place between Friday and Sunday, October 15 and 17.

A young woman attending the Cairo Sound Tour. Photo: Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival

The second of the events is entitled How to Disappear Completely and involves festival-goers immersing themselves in a guided walk through Downtown Cairo, where a recorded narrative will be playing through their headphones.

Centre stage is the ever-looming issue of climate change, which will be discussed in a number of talks and seminars that will flesh out the latest sustainable trends in the art world.

“As an international festival, we are very much concerned with topics that have become prominent in the discourse of the whole world collectively," says El Attar. "No issue has been more talked-about as of late than climate change, which is why we are shining a light on it this year. From an exhibit on sustainable fashion to raising awareness around how people can make more sustainable art, the ninth edition of D-Caf will attempt to unpack this rather complex issue."

Through its commitment to bringing art to Egypt’s marginalised communities, D-Caf is also continuing its Art for All initiative this year, which provides festival access to those who cannot afford to buy tickets. A total of 2,000 free tickets have been given out under this initiative this year.

Festival-goers have also been given the option to purchase an additional ticket for someone less fortunate. A promotional video featuring celebrated actress Arwa Gouda was posted on the festival’s social media pages, urging those attending to buy another ticket for someone who can't afford it.

Tickets to each event are being sold separately through a number of channels, including the festival’s website.

Updated: October 08, 2021, 1:32 PM