If you were roaming the streets of Cairo Downtown and Zamalek streets over the past few days, you must have seen those colourful, lifelike posters of animals walking freely and carelessly in the midst of Downtown streets. News headlined “Something big is coming Downtown” and “Downtown is about to get wild real soon” and despite the too much anticipation, no one could ever guess it was the city’s own Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival taking it to the streets once again for the 6th year.
The concept behind D-CAF 2017 animal posters is to familiarize what might people perceive as odd, which, in relation to arts, is what contemporary art is all about. According to Ahmed El Attar, D-CAF Artistic Director, the idea is to “blend the familiar and the unfamiliar into one,” and that’s what contemporary art attempts to achieve; change our perception about the things we see, walk past by and take for granted everyday.
The giraffe poster is a great example to what D-CAF 2017 is aiming to manifest. Downtowners or not, we walk past by the female Syrian-Russian graffiti artist Dina Saadi’s stellar piece “Unlock Your Passion” in Mohamed Mahmoud street almost everyday on our way to work or to meet a friend, but little do we acknowledge its significance, let alone take a moment to ponder its artistic worth.
Now inserting a wild animal like a giraffe which is unlikely to be seen in a city like Cairo, it gives rise to our perception of art and what we might have felt as familiar for long is now blended with something that we usually not find familiar. This is precisely is what D-CAF’s animal concept is targeted to highlight.
So as to sink deeper into how the idea of the animal concept came to life, Enas Abdel Hamid, D-CAF’s Senior Graphic Designer, explains that it was merely something Attar came up with during a staff meeting and everyone made fun of. But she liked the idea being it something crazy and was never done before, so they decided to make it happen.
The team compiled a list of suggested animals to invade Downtown streets and suggested places in which animals could be virtually placed. The initial plan included various giant, wild animals and public places very characteristic of Downtown. For example, a bear would be coming out of the subway doors in Saddat Metro Station and a gorilla would be standing on Qasr El-Nil bridge.
The following step for the D-CAF team now was to hire someone to take live photos of the suggested Downtown places, and who could do that better than Egypt’s own Taimour Othman, who’s very well known for launching This Is Egypt and Roam Egypt?
Taimour chose to be part of this experience because, similar to his personal photography work, D-CAF aims to shed light on something the people don’t know exist, provide opportunities and spread awareness. Accompanied by his camera, he headed Downtown and started shooting photographs of spots intended to be on D-CAF 2017 posters.
“It was really challenging for Taimour to take the photos thanks to Cairo’s volatile weather, especially in the winter,” says Enas. “the first attempt didn’t go so well; it was a cloudy, rainy day and photos turned out to be quite dark and the colours weren’t the best. We were concerned that it might take Taimour long before he was able to do the work. However, he went out on the following day and took the photos agreed upon. There was plenty of sun.”
The photos were ready, and it was about time D-CAF’s marketing team ventured into the new concept. Enas, with the help of her team, was on the lookout for basic animal photos that could easily be inserted into the photographs.
It was a long run for the team; trying to find free animal photos to use, selecting the proper animals for the overall festival concept, selecting the proper positioning of the animal figures into the photos, selecting the proper colouring for both the figures and the photos to suit the festival’s theme, and so on.
As Enas was about to finish, the rest of the team reviewed the results, and not all of which was satisfactory. Some of the photos included seals in Adly street, some others had a gorilla carrying her baby over Qasr El-Nil bridge, while some others had elephants dancing and playing in a public square and, in their opinion, these photos didn’t much relate to the concept they had in mind.
After many meetings and discussions, the team agreed to only put out the posters with a giraffe, a zebra and a rhino. The photos covered everything produced by D-CAF, brochures, festival calendars, bookmarks, notebooks, mugs and bags. You can find the festival brochures and calendars in cultural centers, bookstores and many places within Cairo. You can also buy the D-CAF notebooks, mugs and bags at any of the events.