Cairography is a dance/performance video, produced in Cairo in 2013 with choreographer Dalia Naous. Before it took an artistic form, Cairography was a set of fragments of conversations and stories of two non-Egyptian women friends whose relationship with Cairo ranged between paranoia over feeling constantly surveilled and nonchalance as a performance of resistance.
It then grew to become an assortment of testimonials from strangers in the street and friends of the artists where issues of loss of personal space, sexual harassment, respect of privacy and shattered anonymity in public space have emerged.
Naous ran a 10-day workshop with dancers, working closely with them on recounting stories of their relation with Cairo’s streets, developing with each a choreographed sentence in which they claim their personal space with the intention of performing it on the streets and filming it with a hidden camera so as not to attract attention to the act of performance and trying to get natural reactions from the surrounding.
Hassan, in the meantime, looked into mundane acts that are seen as provocative, such as a woman lighting up a cigarette alone on the cornish, or riding the men’s cabin in the metro, or laying down in a public garden reading a book. In those acts, she looked for that which tests limits and pushes boundaries.
Between those two directions, the artists develop a series of secretly filmed happenings on the streets of Cairo where performers engage in acts and performances that announce their presence, and claim for space. In doing that, not only they handle their own performances, but also the gazes of street observers and the pressure of being filmed. In negotiating these layers of scrutiny, they unearth the boundaries between self regulation and outside censorship, but they also engage in survival mechanisms.
Following each filming process, they enter in a long conversation with the artists about how they situate the experience in their past and how they managed to implant their desires in it. These conversations and others directed the film’s development in what made collaboration an active weaver and prominent feature of the work.
The resulting film opens with a choreography developed in the balcony of a Cairene apartment to the sounds of harassment emanating from the street. The words the dancers hear resonate with those haunting sounds in their heads. One dancer surrenders to the city, while the other withdraws to the intimacy of her indoor.
The designed sound is constructed around two audio layers: one of a loud street fight and the second is of a solo cello performance, mirroring the balcony setting in its convening of the surrounding outside and the emotional inside.
The research-based work unveils the conscious and unconscious roles played by everyone in imposing a permanent state of censorship in Cairo’s public spaces. Underneath these unspoken controls, individuals blend in the crowd and differences are erased.
Cairography attempts to undo these erasures by testing the body's ability to negotiate and confront self-imposed and societal restrictions in the contested space of the personal within the public.
*by Lina Attalah