In the Arab World Art Challenges Social Norms and Rebuilds the Arab Nation
Cairo, Egypt – It’s a busy day on the streets of Cairo. Men and women crowd the sidewalks, shouting at one another and calling out to passersby. It’s Sunday afternoon and the streets are as crowded as they’ve been all week. Street vendors are selling everything from roasted almonds to hot dogs. At each corner, a woman in a head scarf is yelling for her sons to come back.
In the center of the city, the Egyptian Museum of Photography is on a break. But the museum doesn’t have a break; it’s a place for people just like us to gather around the clock to appreciate the vast collection of photographs and videos from around the world that the museum has accumulated over the course of its decades of work. It’s open seven days a week.
“I grew up in Egypt but I came here to study,” says Mahmoud Salem, a photographer, filmmaker, and artist. He has a camera tucked under his arm as he strolls down the streets of what is known as the “museums district.” A photographer from an Egyptian state-run newspaper recently wrote an article on the museum, calling it “a major institution.” Salem thinks he’s found a good match.
With his family’s help, Salem had recently been able to take a full-time position at the museum. He is now the fourth full-time photographer and the first Arab and Egyptian photographer to work at the museum.
“Egyptians are quite a curious people and they love to know everything about their country and its people,” Salem says.
I ask Salem to tell me about the photography museum. He tells me that the museum opened its doors nine years ago and has grown steadily ever since.
“We still have a lot to do,” Salem says. “But we’re looking forward to more and more projects and activities. We want to tell the world the story of our country, its traditions and its people.”
That story is one that is both familiar and unknown. As a young country, Egypt was just about the size of a continent. As Egypt became a young democracy, it was just