Cairo focus during DXBDW showcases the city’s design landscape while musing on its incompleteness

This year’s Iconic City initiative during Dubai Design Week focused on the Egyptian capital, with an exhibition entitled Cairo Now! City Incomplete, curated by Cairo-based architect, researcher and writer, Mohamed Elshahed.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

Cairo Now! gathers the city’s current landscape together under one roof. The exhibition is strongly inspired by Cairo’s sense of ‘incompleteness’, which has become a reflection of the city’s status quo. The designers exhibiting explore and reflect on this condition through their creations.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

Spanning across various design fields including graphics and typeface design, product and furniture design as well as architecture, the exhibition displays how Cairo’s designers use the city as their muse, reviving old traditions and upscaling what was one discarded.

“The concept of the exhibition is entirely based on the idea of recording the present, the now, in terms of what the city offers in design. We have a problem of history, things happen all the time but do not get recorded, theorized, collected and studied together,” Elshaded told designMENA.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

“For example if you try to find out what were designers doing in Cairo in 1995 I assure you there will be nearly nothing, no documentation or a comprehensive representation, which means this is lost history. With an awareness of this continuous condition of amnesia, I wanted to use the opportunity presented by Dubai Design Week to create a record of the ‘now’ in Cairo’s design culture,” he said.

Commenting on the sense of ‘incompleteness’ in Cairo, Elshahed said aside from it having a negative impact on the city, it can also be used as an aspect to derive ones creativity.

“I think in one way or another these gaps and missing links are the spaces where Cairo’s designers can thrive to fill the gaps and do something interesting and responsive to on the ground realities,” he said.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

We also spoke about the potential  role of design in Egypt. Elshahed said design in Egypt isn’t something that receives government support, neither is there a steady infrastructure to nurture young designers.

“The situation in Egypt today in terms of design is extremely polarized: the government shows glossy renderings produced by international consultants to lure Egyptians [into thinking] that future cities- in the style of Dubai- will mushroom out of the desert.

“These are highly designed images that include fictional architectures that are meant to communicate the message “we will have a global city soon, just wait.” But it doesn’t take a more than a few minutes with wide open eyes on the streets of Cairo to see an entirely different kind of design that is part of everyday life,” Elshahed explained.

He continued: “Design will continue to be central in the lives of Egyptians in the future, but the space between the hyper fictionalized designed spaces imagined by the ruling elite and the ephemeral every day solutions found on the streets, that space needs to be reduced and this is an area where Cairo’s design community can thrive.”

Look out for designMENA’s analysis of the design market in the Middle East region, including cities such as Cairo, Amman, Beirut and Dubai.