Paint and Tear Gas: Ganzeer’s Art and Egypt’s Revolution

It was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they didn’t even know, future generations they would never meet… It was such a glorious thing to experience. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God.

On January 25, 2011, one of the greatest days in Egypt’s history took place. Inspired by what he was seeing, a 29-year-old man decided to record the Revolution the best way he knew how —through his art. He was born Mohammad Fahmy, but today he’s recognized by another name: Ganzeer, inspired by the Arabic word for “chain”.

Ganzeer’s first work for the Revolution was unplanned because he didn’t expect to be in the crowd of revolutionaries. He describes the elated feeling he experienced that day in Tahrir Square as “the most thrilling and exhilarating time” of his life. Armed with spray paint, he climbed to the top of a billboard — his canvas. On it he wrote simple, yet powerful words over the face staring back at him. The crowd of protesters below him responded with loud, enthusiastic cheers. Down with Mubarak! The freshly painted words glistened atop the face of Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt.

It was on February 2nd that Ganzeer created his first visual reaction to Mubarak’s continued refusal to resign: a stencil of symbols that read, “Mubarak doesn’t equal Egypt”.

Eight days later, Mubarak decided to confront protesters with a defiant and pleading speech: “I am addressing you today with a speech…of a father to his sons and daughters,” he began. “Those who have committed crimes against our youth will be out on trial according to the courts and the laws. They will get severe punishments.”

The next day, Vice President Omar Suleiman briefly addressed Egypt, and the world, with important news; Mubarak was no longer president. Egyptian flags waved throughout Tahrir Square while protesters sang, cheered, prayed, and cried under the thunder of fireworks exploding above them; protesters like Ganzeer who’d been fighting for three weeks for this moment of freedom.

Ganzeer was raised in a “semi-quiet residential neighbourhood with many stray dogs [that he and other kids his age] befriended” in Ard El-Golf, Heliopolis, “City of the Sun”. There, in the northwest corner of Cairo, he admired his older brother’s Nintendo games and copied the figures from their superhero comics; influences that led him to become a graphic design artist, writer and painter years later. In college it allowed him to connect to the hub of Cairo, a source of inspiration for his work. “I am fascinated by cities and megacities and how they function,” he explains.

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While Ganzeer was experiencing life in Heliopolis, a neighbourhood with a mix of low to high income families, Mubarak was often at work nearby in one of his presidential palaces. During his three decades of control, Mubarak ruled Egypt, unjustly imprisoning citizens and restricting freedom of speech and expression.

On Mubarak’s last day in power, February 11, 2011, the army kept watch over thousands of protesters as they waited outside Heliopolis Palace for Mubarak to leave. In the vice president’s address, he gave another piece of important news. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — a group of senior military men headed by General Tantawi at the time — would protect Egypt until elections took place. Protesters turned to them for help with ongoing changes. Removing emergency law was one of the many demands of change from the start. After Mubarak’s resignation, the army had promised to remove the law, but failed to do so.

The hopeful relationship between protesters and the military on February 11th was soon dividing Egyptians in their loyalties and making them doubt the Revolution. Chants of “Down with the army!” would soon replace the chants of “Down with Mubarak!” that had filled Tahrir Square earlier in the year. People began to march against the army’s rule.

Tensions between the military, the police and the people had reached a dangerous point by November 19, 2011. Lining Mohamed Mahmoud Street for five days, the riot police, or Central Security Forces (CSF), stood and blocked the advancement of unarmed protesters. The police threw teargas onto the road and continued to act as a human barricade, blocking the path towards Tahrir Square and the site of the Interior Ministry while the heavy haze of gas stung protesters’ eyes.

Many died during those five days. Doctors who treated the injured said that protesters suffered serious side effects from the use of teargas; either coughing up blood or suffering damage to their nervous systems. Others lost their eyes as a result of snipers’ shots to their heads.

Soon Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo would be known as “The Eyes of Freedom Street”. From north to south, art covered the walls of this street and told stories of loss beside stories of continued hope. Ganzeer also used these walls to help tell these stories and reflect the conscience of the Revolution. Working with other artists, he was determined to paint faces of martyrs of the Revolution. Ganzeer wrote about the project on his blog: “On one hand, the goal is to honour the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy and equality.”

Many times work like this would be whitewashed under the SCAF’s time in power, but the images would always reappear no matter how many times they were cleared.

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It’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point.

By the time Morsi had won the elections on June 30, 2012, and the SCAF had relinquished its power to the new president, many felt that the Revolution was coming to an end. In exhibits like “The Virus is Spreading” in October 2012, Ganzeer encouraged people to continue fighting for civil liberties and human rights. He also looked at political, social, cultural and artistic establishments and their misuse of power.

Giving individual willpower over to the will of establishments is something Ganzeer critiques as being the cause of changing opinions about the Revolution, saying, “We are in an obvious phase of pretend-adoption, void of any traces of true change, but just enough of a pretense to put revolutionary fervor to sleep.”

It wouldn’t be long until Morsi’s face appeared next to those of Mubarak and other government and military leaders on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Since July 2013, a counter-revolution between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters has continued. Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up in mass arrests by the SCAF under General el-Sisi — in power once again until the next election.

On May 26, 2011, Ganzeer was a target of the authorities for his art activism. He was arrested for leading Mad Graffiti Weekend — a movement to get artists worldwide to use their art as peaceful protest against injustice by SCAF and other authorities.

“When I was detained,” he begins, “I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and then a Nescafé. They were all eerily nice and I was released on the very same day.”

This is the opposite of recent targeting by the SCAF and authorities of the media, Morsi supporters, and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Supporters of Morsi have tried to use graffiti as a tool to fight back against what they believe was a coup on July 5, 2013, but they may have another battle to face in the near future. A proposed law wants to make graffiti illegal, where anyone caught doing it will either be fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (15,967.40 Canadian dollars) or face up to four years in jail.

Regardless of the situation, Ganzeer and other artists continue to use their art as a weapon to fight for change. “One could have easily been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing, [but] we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing, even if the government oppresses us.”

Read the original at: markermagazine/paint-tear-gas.

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Shut Down In Egypt: One Artist’s Story Of Struggle And Oppression

DURING THE 2011 REVOLUTION in Egypt (commonly referred to as the January 25th Revolution), artists in Egypt began to express themselves in ways they never had before. Their work caught the world’s attention, inspiring us all to believe in change. Ganzeer was one of those artists whose work covered the walls of Cairo, documenting the spirit of the revolution, supporting its call for “bread, social dignity, and justice.”

Fast forward 3+ years, and artists and revolutionaries in Egypt are facing uncertain times. On May 29, after a two-day election, a new leader — Abdel Fattah-Sisi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — was elected Egypt’s president. Support for SCAF has created divisions between revolutionaries in Egypt, and the leaders of SCAF have often been a focus of Ganzeer’s work.

Today, Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution driven by the supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which believes former President Morsi’s ouster — as demanded by many Egyptians in July 2013 and enforced by the army — was unwarranted. This accusation has led them to be labelled as “terrorists” who are now facing mass trials and much worse. In addition, the government has been widely criticized by human rights groups for the mass arrests of protesters and members of the media.

But the ongoing revolution hasn’t stopped Ganzeer from fighting for positive changes in Egypt’s future. I interviewed him to discuss the role of art in Egypt’s struggles. He also talks about his childhood pleasures and the daily issues he faced as a resident of one of the world’s largest metropolises, Cairo.

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Ganzeer stands to the left with a friend and fellow artist in front of one of his murals depicting a zombie soldier. Ganzeer has been critical of the role of the army and other groups in power throughout the ongoing revolution. Photo: Abdelrhman Zin Eldin

 

Did you grow up in Cairo and what were some of the best things about growing up in the city? 

Yeah I grew up in Cairo. In a little neighborhood in Heliopolis called Ard El-Golf, which is right behind the abandoned Baron Empain Palace constructed in 1911. Far from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Cairo, or even Egypt’s lifeline: The Nile River. I feel like I never really got a taste of “city life” till much later. Today Ard El-Golf is a go-to hangout area, with many popular cafes, sushi spots, and bridges and tunnels and high cake-like buildings and what have you. But back in the 80s/90s it was pretty much a semi-quiet residential neighborhood with many stray dogs befriended by me and other kids my age. My school was around the block and the couple friends I made were in the neighborhood.

I feel like I only really faced the city – understood the scope of the city and all that – when I had to go to college which was in a town called Banha, a 30 minute train ride from Cairo. But I would spend roughly an hour and half in public transportation just to get to the train station. I don’t think I’m a big city kinda guy. I find myself much more comfortable in more intimate communities that are more connected with nature. But don’t get me wrong! I am fascinated by cities, and megacities and how they function. Cairo’s crazy in just the layers of history that are apparent in every facet of the city. The architecture, the food, the conversations, it’s such a culturally rich city but it’s also one that carries a lot of baggage!

What are some of the most important things that are needed for a better quality of living in Cairo and Egypt right now?

First off, about seventy-five percent less people! There’s no way any city on the planet can accommodate [over] twenty million people! The number of people living in Cairo are having such a huge toll on the transportation system, the architecture, the environment. On the urban planning front, the city just can’t keep up – it’s always much, much behind. I’d put most of the development money into the rest of the country’s towns and villages, get people to decentralize and spread out.

Secondly, private cars need to be banned. Of course, it’s difficult to get around a city and spread out in Cairo without a car, but seriously, it’s just out of hand. I understand that it’s easier for the government in the short run to let people buy cars (making money in the process), but in the long run, it becomes unbearable for everyone. The city really needs to ban cars and focus entirely on developing its public transportation options to reach capacity and maintenance.

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India. (Amr Moustafa Shalaby)

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India.
Photo: Amr Moustafa Shalaby

Thirdly, all this stuff should be running on solar energy or electricity or whatever. I’ve seen solar energy panels cladding the roofs of farm houses in freakin’ Germany. GERMANY … it’s cloudy most of the year. But Cairo, the sun shines bright even all winter. It’s just dumb to depend on gas the way we [all] do. It’s the only way if we don’t want our people [in Egypt] to all drop dead and die from lung disease, which by the way, a lot of us already suffer from.

And lastly, water canals. It’s ridiculous to grow up in some part of the city two hours away from the Nile, with no direct access to it and only read about the Nile and its significance in history books. If they expect to teach us the importance of the Nile and our historical connection to it, then whenever a new extension of the city is planned, a Nile artery should be the first thing in that plan. Plus, it would offer a good alternative to getting around the city, much better than overcrowded asphalt roads (which discharge so much heat throughout Egypt’s extended summer months).

Did you ever join the sit-ins in Tahrir or any protest gathering points in Cairo? What was it like for you?

I just so happened to be there on January 25, 2011 when the revolution first broke out and boy it was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they don’t even know, future generations they will never meet. It was such a glorious thing to experience, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God or something. Indescribable.

Photo taken by Mostafa Hussein. On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt's struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution.

On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution. Photo: Mostafa Hussein

When did you first realize that you enjoyed art?

[When] I was about four or five years old. My older brothers had lots of Dungeons and Dragons catalogs, and Nintendo game cartridges, and superhero comic books, and I was just always fascinated by the art in those things and would spend many hours trying to copy them.

What’s the first work you did on the walls of Cairo as part of the Revolution? 

The very first thing I did was not at all planned. Nor was it an artwork at all really. But being in Tahrir Square on January 25th when the revolution broke out, and just so happening to have a can of spray paint, I climbed an NDP (Mubarak’s National Democratic Party) billboard in the middle of Tahrir Square and spray painted what people were chanting “Down with Mubarak”. The crowd erupted with cheers and whistles.

The first “artwork” I created however, was on February 2nd – a black stencil of visual symbols that pretty much visually stated that Mubarak does not equal Egypt. This was after Mubarak’s second public speech since the revolution broke out – a highly emotionally charged one that many, many, people were actually starting to fall for.

A protester holds up one of Ganzeer's stencils on February 11th, 2011. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak's three decade presidency in Egypt had finally come to an end.

A citizen holds up one of Ganzeer’s stencils which expresses that “Mubarak does not equal Egypt” on February 11th, 2011 in Cairo. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that former President Hosni Mubarak’s three decade presidency in Egypt had come to an end. Photo: Ganzeer

Was street art common in any part of Cairo before the revolution? How did people react to it before the Revolution?

Not really. Just a hand-full of rather content-less stuff in Heliopolis and Alexandria [Egypt’s second largest city]. Very cool and pretty to look at but without much meaning to it.

Egyptian jail cells have gained a notoriously bad reputation in the world’s eyes since the Revolution began in January 2011. For your work as a multi-medium artist helping the Revolution you were briefly arrested. Would you be able to tell me about your experience and how it happened?

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not have to set foot in a jail cell at all. When I was detained, I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and later in the day a Nescafe. They were all eerily very nice and I was released on the very same day.

This design entitled "Evil Military" by Ganzeer references "the girl in the blue bra". After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military's power.

This design entitled “Evil Military” by Ganzeer references “the girl in the blue bra”. After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military’s power.

Read more about Ganzeer’s incident in jail in his own words here.

Much of your work is critical of (SCAF) or establishments – ie. Political, Religious, Art, etc. – that oppose freedom or change and growth. Have you faced a lot of negative reaction to your work by these groups?

All the time. Hardly anything I do is not met with a negative reaction from someone [such as Ibn Salaama].

This work, Tank vs. Biker, is one of Ganzeer’s internationally recognized murals which clearly shows in black and white stenciling his opinion about the relationship between the army and the people. On the left, a huge tank rolls forwards aiming its main gun at a target. A young man riding his bike on the right carries the city on his head in place of a loaf of bread. The Arabic word for bread sounds similar to that for life. Photo: Mehri Khalil

Has the SCAF or any other group in your opinion taken the Revolution away from the people and their goals of gaining “bread, social justice, and dignity”?

Yes. Particularly SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Salafist groups.

How do you feel about the proposed law to ban graffiti in Egypt and send accused artists to jail for four years? Do you fear being a target?

Well, it’s not like the revolution itself was ever legal. It was illegal but we did it anyway. And it’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point either. One could easily have been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing so y’know… we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing to do even if the government oppresses us. It’s always been that way anyway.

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Check out Ganzeer’s website for more of his work: www.ganzeer.com.

For more insight, read my profile piece on his work and the events on Mohamed Mahmoud Street — a street not only recognized for its revolutionary street art but for the stories of struggles that occurred on it: markermagazine.com/paint-tear-gas.

See this interview on Matador Network: matadornetwork.com/change/shut-down-egypt-artist

Alexandrous Ballard’s RUIN/TIME: A Review

Ruin/time is a contemporary ballet that will have you struggling to feel calm (a feeling which gets you excited to see where the story will take you from start to finish) as you watch the two dancers before you engage in what seems like a disastrous yet co-dependant relationship, which can fall apart at any given moment. It’s just a matter of when, or, a matter of time. Alexandrous Ballard creates a disturbingly fascinating world where time is heightened and every moment seems crucial as well as necessary, as shadows elongate on the stage walls and colours of blood red, black, and flashes of white light moves you through each phase of this story of “…an artifact, building, or society [descending] into ruin.” But by the end of this performance, danced brilliantly by Kelley McKinlay and Reilley Bell, you realize that the director and the dancers have left you with a work of art that, as you walk away from the theatre, still resonates with you long after the show is done.

Photo of Up Close dancer, Nicolas Pelletier by Paul McGrath.

Photo of Up Close dancer, Nicolas Pelletier by Paul McGrath.

Up Close: An Extended Interview with Alberta Ballet Choreographer and Dancer, Yukichi Hattori

Yukichi Hattori has been given the great task of changing the way people look at the arts, specifically, the art of ballet. Since graduating from the Hamburg School of Ballet, he has shown audiences across Germany, Japan, and Canada new interpretations on how ballet still has a lot to offer to our lives, not only in terms of cultural enrichment, but also as a resource for looking at how the values of commitment, hard work, and dedication can pay off when continually practiced. Now with his choreography of Temple (one dance from the three-part contemporary ballet, Up Close) being shown in Edmonton, he gives audiences a chance to witness and connect to what the rehearsal environment is like, featuring the men of Alberta Ballet.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

Photo of Yukichi Hattori taken by Paul McGrath.

What is it about the men of Alberta Ballet that brings this performance [of Temple] to life?

The females happen to be always busy. Like two years ago they had Swan Lake to prepare and this year they have Giselle to prepare. So because of that they’re not involved, but it’s not because I’m trying to be exclusive per say [laughs].

It takes two [both the audience and the male dancers] – creative dancers and creative audiences –  being in such [a] close space – you can feel the breath and things like that, that makes it so much more intense. In a bigger stage of course there are things we can do that are different and that touches people in other ways, but in an intimate setting like this, you really feel that you’re having a conversation throughout the performance… I really feel that we [the dancers and the audience] have a nice conversation with each other.

What are you hoping that audiences will take away from this performance [of Temple] in addition to having a conversation with the dancers?

This piece I’ve made is based on our daily training. Unfortunately, in North America there are a lot of people who still think that being a ballet dancer isn’t a real job. Sometimes I still get lots of questions like, “So what do you do during the day?” [Laughs] Yeah, so I have this frustration of people saying that I should get a Master’s degree in Dance or Art and things like that, and just because we didn’t go to a school that is recognized, we get labelled from people who don’t understand what we do. So [Temple] is to show how much concentration and how much discipline goes into ballet. I’m making a piece around that and I’ve combined it with Gregorian chants —which is the oldest style of European music sung by men [a long time ago] and these days there are females involved as well. [The show is] almost a religious environment; we show audiences our bodies are temples and that we have to build it each and every day through discipline and repetition.

In one interview, you mention the ballet scene in Japan is strict because it’s “bound by tradition”. You also refer to your training with the Hamburg Ballet in Germany as being rigorous. So how do both experiences influence the way you’ve chosen to choreograph Temple in Up Close?

Hmm, well I think it was very conservative—both Japan and Germany. You know, in Europe ballet is considered traditional art and as a ballet dancer, you have a very high social status, meaning it comes with great responsibility. You are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about art and views about policies of art and education. So for myself, I feel a great sense of duty and because the people in North America doesn’t see dancers/artists in such ways quite yet –it’s not as intense as Europe—I feel that dancers here also aren’t as disciplined, but of course they’re working really hard and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody but I’m looking at the mindset which is a little bit different. Sense of duty [towards the arts] is a bit lower here: you dance because you want to do it, because you feel like it’s your calling. For me, it’s more about … [having] to make it as best as possible no matter what the circumstances are.

Ok. So there’s a bit of duty in there, but still your own freedom of expression comes through in what you’ve chosen to present as well?

Yes. We can only attain a certain freedom through proper construction in your body, and architecture in your mind.

Do you think people have responded positively to Up Close in the past [parts of the three ballets that make up the show were also performed in 2012 and 2013] because contemporary ballet relies on experiences from the world we recognize compared to classical ballet?

Definitely! I think what it is, is the setting is ideal for it. The world now is much smaller, so the theatre being smaller also matches with that too. But then again, classic ballet in the studio, it will be a little bit disappointing because you’re missing the point of view, the grand picture, the budget, that kind of stuff. But what I’m trying to say is that if we performed contemporary in a bigger theatre, we’d have to change the approach because you’re missing all those tiny details. So Up Close is I think successful because of the setting being right. That’s why in Edmonton, we’re not presenting it in the big theatre–to keep that intimacy.

So do you see yourself continuing to make contemporary shows like this in the future?

Oh definitely! In Germany, I went to Hamburg Ballet School and they had a choreographic curriculum so I’ve been choreographing since I was say 15. I just started doing it professionally around 2004 but it’s been a long process and it’s been part of my life, so I’ll definitely keep going.

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Take a look at the promotion of Up Close on Marker’s website: http://markermagazine.com/yukichi-hattori-alberta-ballet-choreographer-and-dancer/

The Photographer who Climbed Egypt’s Great Pyramid [Q&A]

You’ve probably seen the famous black and white Depression-era photo where construction workers sit on the ledge of a crane with New York City beneath their feet as they eat lunch. Influenced by the idea of capturing the world from as high as “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” did, young photographers have been scaling  rooftops to take photos just as memorable.

Vadim Makharov, a young Russian photographer who helped advance this new trend, sees “roofing” or “skywalking” as a way to make people see how big the world really is in an age where technology and communication have made it so conveniently small. He works with fellow photographer and friend Vitaliy Raskalov, walking on ledges and wandering the underground to give people a view  of the world they may never have seen before. Together, they’ve gained the media’s attention, in particular for their climb to the top of the Great Pyramid  of Giza in March of 2013.

Some criticized them for disrespecting the site and efforts to preserve it,  while others praised the art that resulted from the climb. Despite the positive attention, Vadim and Vitaliy still apologized in an interview with CNN, saying  “we didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following [our] dream.”

As I discovered over the course of this conversation, Vadim will continue to  live his dream, traveling and revealing secret places and unique perspectives of the world’s iconic sites.

* * *

You recently visited European countries like Sweden, Spain,  Germany, and France. What inspired your recent trip throughout  Europe?

It was not our first visit to Europe, but [Vitaliy and I] haven’t done such a long-scale trip through Europe before. Our goal was to visit the most  famous places in Europe and to climb them — and we’ve done it.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

You collaborate with Vitaliy on a lot of these projects, from Egypt  to your recent trip to Europe. What’s it like to work with him?

He’s my very good friend. I’ve traveled with him all throughout Russia and then we started exploring other parts of the world. We achieve better results  when we do photos together than alone.

Do you have a favorite or memorable image you captured from your  trip?

Most of all, I remember Cologne Cathedral and the way we climbed it. We didn’t like the city very much, but the Cathedral was fantastic! I liked the size and the architecture. We liked climbing the flagpole [as well], which was a  little more than 150 metres. Another memorable climb was the Sagrada Familia and also Notre Dame. All together, these three cathedrals made our trip really stand  out.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Many of your photos are “daredevil” shots – pictures taken on the  edges of buildings and iconic landmarks, or even behind subways leaving  underground stations. Why do you take images from this view?

These are the places where people usually don’t go, so I have a chance to  make unique pictures. I have a possibility to show people the city from different points of view, and underground it’s a completely different story.  Usually it’s hard to get there, but unlike rooftops, which you can see from the ground, being underground is about what you cannot see — not many people are  aware of these places. In order to get there, you have to work hard and this is appealing [to me].

Since your photos show perspectives of the world we don’t see too  often, do you think they’re historical records for the future, to remember the  world as it once was?

Perhaps one day, they’ll have some historical significance. But I don’t think about it now in this way. In my photos — it’s my art. They’re not related in any way to my points of view on social issues. I just want to show the way that I visually see the world.

Egypt is one of the places I have always dreamed of visiting. You’ve  had the chance to visit in March of this year, and I think it’s fair to say that  your trip was more memorable than most people who have traveled to Egypt,  because you climbed the Great Pyramid in Giza. What did it feel like to reach  the top?

I dreamed for a long time to be in Giza and to see the pyramids close up.  Then, when I started climbing roofs [of other buildings], I realized I could climb the pyramids. Why not? When I reached the top, I had a feeling similar to what a mountain climber must feel, like a conqueror, reaching the top of the  mountain.

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Photo taken by © Vadim Makhorov

Did you find anything interesting at the top?

At the top there were words scratched in the stones in many different  languages. It means others have climbed the pyramids in the past. We are not the first and won’t be the last. Another interesting thing we found was a book by  Moses Gates — he does a lot of traveling and climbs roofs and goes  underground.

There have been a lot of opinions about your climb [of the Great  Pyramid] — some people admire what you did and the photos you took, while others  criticize you for illegally climbing it. Why did you do it?

First, we did it for us. That’s why we don’t care about the critics. Second, we do it for the people. We make beautiful shots that are delivered and given to the world. I don’t think we do anything that can truly be called bad. What we’re doing [with our photography] is beneficial work.

Have you ever run into trouble trespassing in areas to take your  photos before?

Oh yes, we’ve had some problems with the police. In Russia, we know the process: Once you trespass on secured property, if [the] police catch you, you  pay a fine of 500 rubles [about 12 euros or 16 US dollars]. But these cases are rare and usually nobody catches us.

Has this or any negative criticism from the media ever made you think  about stopping or changing the style of pictures you take?

I rarely encounter my work with negative criticism … I take shots from heights because I like it. But someday in the future I’ll be tired with it. Even now, I don’t do all my shots from the roof. My second favourite POV is commercial or industrial plants. I like taking shots of plants, electric stations, and different manufacturing facilities.

Where would you like to travel to next to take pictures?

Our next trip planned is Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Afghanistan.

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What are your thoughts about this new photography movement? Do you think it’s ok to break the rules in the name of art? Share your thoughts on this post or comment on my twitter @beckyhaganegyir. I look forward to reading your thoughts and opinions!

Take time to see more of Vadim’s work here: http://500px.com/dedmaxopka

See the original interview here: http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/the-photographer-who-climbed-egypts-great-pyramid-qa/#J0VYzAoMcW8cwT47.99

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Update from February 2014 :

Check out this recent vid of Vadim and Vitaliy’s climb to the top of Shanghai Tower (at over 650 meters!):

The Miseducation of Femcees: Two of Edmonton’s Female Rappers Show Love For Their Culture

This is the last in my series that explores hip-hop culture in Edmonton. I’ve discovered the strong voices that artists have and choose to share with their community, and there’s no better way to finish than to have these two powerful femcees voice their opinions about their culture.

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Tzadeka and Mc Lovely are two female emcees or “femcees” whose rhymes aren’t just about experiences as a woman, but they’re about human experiences, inspired by their surroundings in the city. Tzadeka, whose name is inspired by the Hebrew word for righteousness, represents this to the fullest in everything that she does as a performer. Mc Lovely, for the last ten years has been rallying females involved in all aspects of hip-hop culture. Together, both give their opinions and insights about the importance of hip-hop to them and why people in Edmonton should take notice.

Who’s your favourite hip-hop idol?

Tzadeka: I’m not sure I can name my one and only hip-hop idol — but I will name some names. I love Bahamadia for her deep, smooth vocals, real life content and non-hyper sexualized persona. Jean Grae for her fierce sometimes angry flows. Lauryn Hill for being a sick MC as well as an incredible vocalist. Kinnie Starr for representing Canadian aboriginal femcees with an enduring need to challenge how humanity at large is ‘pornified’ and what that means for women in hip-hop and women in general.

I was first turned on to hip-hop by my older sister in the 90’s — Tribe Called Quest and Diggable Planets were my entry point. I love strength and integrity in music and I am inspired by, particularly women who exemplify it in an industry that promotes women as sex objects in so many cases.

Mc Lovely: I try not to idolize celebrities or performers. We are all just people. I treat everyone equally, with respect and dignity. I have opened for a lot of people who most would consider famous…. When it comes to my favourite MC it would have to be Black Thought from the Roots. His songs filled with lyrical skill, harmonies, and thought, have always moved me.

Picture taken by Flavor Edmonton.

Picture of McLovely taken by Flavor Edmonton.

What’s your definition of hip-hop?

Mc Lovely: My hip-hop is a reflection of my life in poetry form. A way of explaining life and emotions from love to frustration. Each song I produce is not some frivolous topic a label is making me rap about. It’s a defining moment in my life: that time I had my heart broken, that ladies night out with my best friend, my love of comics, a confession to a friend.

Tzadeka: Hip-hop is a culture, so it’s a constantly growing, expanding organism. It’s living. I think it’s almost beyond definition because so many artists are taking it to different places and fusing it with different cultural art forms and modes of expression.  I guess that’s how I see hip-hop — as a means of expression that’s not limited to music. It’s dance, visual art, beats and rhymes, lyricism — everything. Hip-hop has been adopted and adapted by so many communities, especially marginalized ones that it’s a powerful means of communication and expression of identity! I work in the inner city with mostly First Nations youth and I see how drawn these kids are to hip-hop and its ability to empower, giving a voice to those who feel they have none.

Photo taken by Tzadeka.

Profile photo taken by Tzadeka.

How has it influenced you as an artist?

Tzadeka: … I have been intensely inspired by hip-hop, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say that I’m exclusively tied to the genre. I was raised on world music, jazz, blues, classical and roots (my dad’s a classically trained cellist and lifelong musician) so I like to think that the music I create is informed by these musical traditions too. I started out doing spoken word as a teenager and it just sort of developed organically into something that resembles hip-hop. I have always been drawn to oral traditions and storytelling and so that’s kinda my point of origin.

Mc Lovely: As an artist, I am constantly changing just as my life has changed. Skill grows with every year. Hip-hop has been my routine for over a decade. It has helped me draw, write, design clothing, dance, smile. Hip-hop is the love of my life.

Do you think of yourself as an artist or as a woman artist?

Mc Lovely: I think of myself as a poet. Being a woman is usually only important to the men in the scene. “Oh look a girl MC — what an oddity”. When it comes to being a woman in hip-hop, I try to help other girls struggling or just starting out. That’s what my Promotions Company, Ladies United Voice, is all about. Whether a girl is a producer, rapper, DJ, dancer, graffiti Artist, clothing designer, I try to help so that she doesn’t give up. I support female hip-hop not because it’s better but because it is equal. We deserve to be heard.

Tzadeka: I think of myself as an artist and a woman artist. But I’ve found that especially in hip-hop a lot of people react with surprise that I’m an MC, not just a “singer” ‘cause I’m a woman. My aim for many years has been to work with girls and women to promote community and solidarity amongst femcees so that there is a safe space to create and showcase music in what I see as a very male-dominated genre. I don’t represent all female MC’s, but I am a woman. My lyrics speak to my experience in the world as a woman and much of the work I do in the community focuses on female mentorship and empowerment…so ya, I guess I do identify as a woman artist a lot of the time.

Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

McLovely reading her favourite comics. Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

Why in your opinion, is hip-hop an important part of Edmonton’s culture?

Mc Lovely: Hip-hop gives an outlet for expression to many people who have no other way of relaying their struggle. Edmonton has many poets and artists that want to influence how we interact daily.

Tzadeka: In Edmonton, there’s a pretty sweet little music scene and hip-hop is a part of it, but often I see the different genres sticking to their own and promoting artists that are similar to themselves.  However I have seen this start to change and open up more and more.  Punk bands, folk and indie rockers, hip-hop heads and reggae bands are all coming together and realizing we are all different flavours of the same musical substance.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Mc Lovely: That song you hear when you wake up that puts a smile on your face, the Mural you drive by on your way to work, the dancer you see in Churchill Square. It all becomes a part of who you are.

Tzadeka: I know there’s Edmonton femcees out there but I want to see more of them. I want to see them headlining shows, supporting each other and getting supported by all the dudes in the scene. I see this as really important. If there’s a show with all ladies on the lineup GO SEE THEM! Music is music is music and hip-hop is even more than music. It’s community, identity, and a voice from the margins. That’s why it’s important for Edmonton to hear it!

Take a look at the online edition here as well: http://markermagazine.com/the-miseducation-of-femcees.

Crossing Musical Boundaries: An Interview with D2D’s Sanjay Seran

It’s no accident that Delhi 2 Dublin (also known as D2D) are being requested at more music festivals across the world. Their music transcends different genres of music. Some people call it a fusion of Celtic and Bhangra sounds and one observer of their performance even called it “Celtic Reggae”. But as I discovered talking to lead singer, Sanjay, at the 2013 Edmonton Folk Festival, their music isn’t meant to be contained into one genre, and maybe that’s the reason why many people refer to it in different ways. D2D creates a sound that is exactly what music should be – enjoyable and an opportunity to forget yourself in the moment while listening to D2D’s beats.

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Picture of Sanjay Seran performing at the Edmonton Folk Fest taken by Vic Mittal.

Picture of Sanjay Seran performing at the Edmonton Folk Fest taken by Vic Mittal.

When you were young, did you imagine you’d be touring the world as a musician when you grew up?

I never imagined I’d be a musician as a kid. But, I had a feeling – that started around grade 9 or 10 – that there was something that I needed to do. Then, I went through university and played the dohl and did music on the side. I have always been about singing.

Does cultural heritage inspire your music more or less than representing yourself as an individual artist/musician?

The cultural side comes out a little more because it’s easier to accept – there’s a lot to reference to with it. The artistic side comes out a lot differently because there’s nothing to refer to. You know, I listen to a lot of Kid Cudi and Lana Del Ray, and I’d love to express myself the way that they do, but when I go that way, I feel a bit shy. But going back to the issue of cultural heritage, yes, the artistic side gets pushed back because it’s more comfortable to be cultural. Ideally, you’d be “artistically cultural”.

Some people call your sound “fusion”, others “world”, but what do you call D2D’s sound?

I don’t call it anything really. [To people who need to label it] call it whatever you want if it means something to you. It’s us. It’s Canadian music brought together by people from across Canada, who ended up together in Vancouver, and who enjoy electronic and cultural music.

Your music plays with so many different sounds that move past world music in a way. Sometimes, I think it’s easy to see world music as being deeply rooted in tradition… as always being the same and not evolving. But every generation with their interests, makes sure it evolves.

That’s the thing. Tradition has to have some kind of meaning for it to last. Anything done without meaning doesn’t mean a thing. Hopefully, [as an artist working with a tradition] you’re making things that resonate with you and then you hold on to it. That’s something that D2D works to do with the music we make.

Speaking of the value of different cultural traditions, I know you’ve performed in Irelandhow did the audience there respond to your music?

In Ireland, we played to a small crowd and everyone liked it. Europe is way more ahead in their sound.

You haven’t been to India yet. Are you planning to go soon?

We’re making plans to go this September. In India, I think they’re going to love it! India has a lot of fans of electronic and party music. Also, Bhangra is still very popular…. So I think it’ll go really well – it has [our music] all the elements that people [in India] love.

You have so much energy on stage and the connection with your audience is great! I saw a video, where you sent out a canoe with someone in it to go “paddle surfing” through the audience. How did you come up with that idea?

[Laughs.] It was for a show we played in Vancouver. That was T’s idea [Tarun is an electronic and tabla player and back-up vocalist in D2D]. T really wanted to put out a canoe – and you see canoes all around Vancouver all the time – and he also hadn’t seen anyone do that before.

Do you have any other memorable connections between D2D and an audience or fan?

Yeah, we have some really cool fans that have even become friends. In Northern California we have friends that started out as a posse that would come out to see us when we would perform there. This doesn’t happen all the time. There’s also a connection with the audience that we’re putting out there. It hard to really explain…but you can feel it on stage, where you’re feeding off of the audience’s energy and the audience is also responding to what you’re putting out there. We respect them [the audience] just as much as they respect us.

So what’s next for D2D?

We’re working on a collaboration with the Funk Hunters [an electronic Canadian DJ duo] – we don’t know what that’s going to end up being like. It could be an EP or it could even be a mini-documentary. We’re also going to do some fests in the UK. What we’re focusing on now is really to continue developing our sound.

Check out more of D2D’s music on their website: www.delhi2dublin.com.

See the original here: http://markermagazine.com/delhi-2-dublin/

Jeffrey Hatcher’s A Picasso at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe Fest

American playwright, Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, A Picasso, uses the subject of beauty in art, not to dispel the horrors of war, but to make audiences question if beauty is heightened because it seems rare during war and times of loss. Watching this play at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, this question is explored in a multi-layered story that brings up many questions such as who does art belong to—the people or the artist? Led by the two lead characters—the infamous Picasso played by Julien Arnold and Miss Fischer, an art critic employed by the Nazis to collect “degenerate” artwork, played by Shannon Blanchet— they explore the answers to this question, within a Parisian interrogation room, while also facing each other’s philosophies about the world and the role of art in life.

The intelligence of this script is made bolder by Shannon and Julien’s earnest performances which audience members respond to with their laughter made over the quick, witty jabs both characters make over topics of sex and gender roles, or for the moments of intense silence when the audience gets a glimpse into the person that Picasso might have been outside of his larger-than-life identity. All of this makes the play a work of art in itself for allowing the audience to believe that hope is always a possibility—even when it seems as if it does not exist.

Watching the “Young and the Restless”: A Folk Fest Experiment

What do you get when you throw together folk bands, one of which who called their music “therapeutic” with a Celtic-Bhangra band who takes their audience on an “acid trip” as they called it, with their electronic based beats, and get them to play random songs together? This isn’t the start of a bad joke – but it had the potential to be.

On Friday, August 9 unexpected magic happened at the Edmonton Folk Festival on stage 6, when the “Young and the Restless” session featuring The Head and the Heart, Neko Case, Rayland Baxter, and Delhi 2 Dublin took the stage all at once. All four bands played ten minute sets and then finished with an improvised performance which all four bands participated in all at once.

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Picture of The Head and the Heart taken by Vic Mittal of VSM Photography.

As the name of the session suggests, all performers were young adults who brought a “youthful”, confident energy to the music they performed. But this isn’t what made their performance that day, successful. It worked because all bands were having a conversation with each other through their music about love and culture and even about hanging out and talking with Jesus (based on a lighthearted, humorous dream that Rayland Baxter once had and then decided to turn into a song), within a safe place – indeed, kind of like an onstage therapy session. All four bands talked/performed without pressuring each other or competing with one another to overshadow the other’s performances.

So what do you get in the end? A blend of styles that showed the audience that music always has room to surprise, amuse, and charm listeners as it did at “The Young and the Restless”.

See my review for Marker Magazine here: http://markermagazine.com/a-folk-fest-experiment/

Chase Padgett’s Nashville Hurricane: A Review

When Chase Padgett walks onto the stage in the Strathcona Library he assumes the roles of four entertaining characters who demonstrate that fame comes at a cost. Chase reveals Nashville Hurricane’s transition from a fragile Southern boy who’s scared of the world, to a confident, intelligent young man, who learns that the world has a lot to offer.

This musical genius’s story is told in a documentary fashion through all four characters – Nashville Hurricane himself, his mother, his manager, and his mentor. The show is funny and honest, without being overbearingly serious, and allows audience members to engage individually with each character.

Chase’s own musical abilities shown through his guitar playing also make the play remarkable, but performing more than two songs would have strengthened the entertainment of the production.

Nashville Hurricane Shot2

 

Have you seen this show lately? Drop me a line and tell me what you thought of it.

See this review and more here:

http://markermagazine.com/2013-fringe-show-reviews/