Egyptian culture is distinguished by its diversity and inclusion of diverse heritages, such as the Islamic, Christian, Jewish, pharaonic, African, and Mediterranean cultures. Egypt is considered one of the countries that carry diverse cultures, which enabled it to build its heritage and history. Nowadays, there are many attempts and initiatives that aim to preserve the Egyptian identity in light of globalisation and attempts of western hegemony.
Among these attempts are Teatro Eskendria and El-Wekala Global. Daily News Egypt interviewed Amina Abodoma, who runs Teatro Eskendria and co-manages El-Wekala, a global art and media production network, to learn more about them both and to get a sense, in depth, the obstacles that Egyptian heritage faces.
In depth, tell us who Amina Abodoma is?
I am an Egyptian art producer and creative entrepreneur. Born in 1983, I graduated from the Faculty of Arts, English Language and Literature department of Alexandria University, and am currently running my arts space and social hub Teatro Eskendria and co-managing my company El-Wekala. I work across the fields of music, theatre, and circus. I have been working in the field of art for almost 15 years. After holding several positions from 2006-2011, the turning point in my life was when I pursued my master’s degree in creative and cultural entrepreneurship with the support of Qalaa Holding Scholarship Foundation. The scholarship enabled me to pursue my goal that I’ve always been passionate about, which is establishing my won creative enterprises and creating a link between art and business.
In depth, tell us more about the services Teatro Eskendria provides to its customers?
It is an independent arts space and social hub located in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. It pioneered in being the first creative enterprise combining the structure of art space, a social hub, and a restaurant/café as an income-generating component to ensure its sustainability.
Moreover, it offers wide-ranging services varying between artistic performances, training and capacity-building workshops for youth, dialogues, and children’s programmes. It also hosts a handicrafts shop displaying contemporary Egyptian art products besides serving as a cultural café and restaurant
From where did the idea of Teatro Eskendria originate? And when did you start it?
I shared this dream in 2010 with my father and a couple of other artists, and we decided that we will embark on this project. Then, I decided to pursue my master’s degree to help support the enhancement of my enterprise Teatro Eskendria. The scholarship from QHSF, enabled me to shift my passion into a lucrative job, in addition to better understanding how to manage a creative enterprise.
Why did you choose the name Teatro Eskendria?
All the brains behind the project are theatre professionals, based in Alexandria. Thus, the name is a mixture between “theatre” and “Alexandria”.
Who is the target audience of the project?
The majority of our visitors are between 18 and 40 years old.
What was the goal of this project?
Teatro Eskendria envisions what it offers not as a commodity, but as a blend of arts and entertainment together to provide a unique and unparalleled atmosphere of inspiration and creativity in the city of Alexandria.
Do you think that this project succeeded in achieving this goal?
Yes. Ever since its establishment, we have managed to rebrand and develop Egyptian contemporary culture by presenting and displaying it in its diverse forms, which includes theatre performances, music concerts, festivals, and artwork. Besides its monthly programme, Teatro stands as one of the main venues of the Backstreet Festival, which is an annual international festival of street arts and contemporary circus established in 2012. The festival was established and is managed by the owners of Teatro Eskendria through their organisation I-act (The International Association for Creation and Training).
In what ways does this project introduce Egyptian culture?
Through running within its premises, a monthly art programme of performances, concerts, visual art exhibitions, and trainings target and benefit Egyptian audiences.
Is Teatro Eskendria affiliated with any NGO, organisation or campaign?
No, it is an independent entity.
In your opinion, what are the challenges the Egyptian culture faces nowadays?
One of the main challenges we face currently is trying to pay attention and exert more effort in building and rebranding Egyptian culture internally and externally in a contemporary and attractive form in order to position Egypt as a leading country with a rich history and diversified culture. This needs the collective effort of cultural enterprises and organisations with huge support and confidence from the government.
In your point of view, what are the factors that negatively affect Egyptian culture or identity? And what are the factors that badly affect the image of Egypt before the world?
I think there are many factors that led to presenting a very negative image about Egypt. Speaking of arts and culture, there are many events and happenings that are non-state-led or supported, yet of a very high quality and led by professionals and qualified calibres that are exposed to the outer world and aware of what is needed to compete in the international market. Those events are faced with difficulties in being held in the first place, and most importantly, to be covered by the media and broadcast to the outer world. Most of what is exported to the outer world about us is either stereotypical, out-dated, or does not present the contemporary present of Egyptian art.
The most important factor is the fact that the government does not care.
One of the main factors that have inhibited and negatively affected Egypt’s identity is the carelessness—the frequent terrorist attack incidents that took place in Egypt, especially in the Sinai region, which have resulted in a reduction in the number of tourists flowing to Egypt, in addition to negatively affecting the country’s image and safety perception abroad.
In your opinion, how can Egypt benefit from the West and also preserve its identity and culture?
Egypt can always benefit from the cultural knowledge and technological transfer that occurs across nations, which would enable it to position and rebrand its cultural image in front of the world. This would be achieved by engaging in joint projects and trainings with foreign experts, studying the success stories that took place in other countries abroad and how they managed to improve their countries’ cultural perception and promote tourism to the rest of the world.
In depth, tell us what is El-Wekala and what is its role in spreading and branding a positive image of Egypt to the world?
El-Wekala is a global art and media production network that works on empowering artists, disrupting media, and entertaining people all over the world by designing simplified and alternative production solutions and collaborating with artists and producers from all over the world, to easily produce more art projects with more artistic freedom and less business control.
Since 2010, El-Wekala grew from a small Cairo-based production house into a global art production network, with bases in Cairo, London, and Los Angeles—and currently operating between 14 countries in North Africa, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. El-Wekala’s span of services includes: strategic planning, artistic development, media production, and international touring.
What are your aspirations for 2018? And what are the plans of Teatro Eskendria and El-Wekala for 2018?
Personally, I am very optimistic about what I can achieve this year locally and internationally. I already started the year with a tour across Canada promoting Egyptian music, and towards the spring, I am holding the fifth edition of the international Backstreet Festival in Alexandria and there are many upcoming plans and tours for the rest of the year.