Cairo feels more like a universe than a city, and it’s easy enough to walk past its arts scene without knowing it’s even there. Unlike London or Berlin, Cairo often keeps its art hidden: nestled down side streets, tucked behind run-down exteriors that hide a thriving world.
This guide will take you to inner worlds too many travelers miss and into an art scene that will change the way you see Cairo forever.
Medrar for Contemporary Art
Don’t let the name fool you — this is no stodgy art gallery filled with abstract paintings that’ll bore you to death. Medrar for Contemporary Art aims to give a space to young, controversial Egyptian artists and does exactly what it sets out to do: shock and stimulate. From experimental film to performance art, music to collage, Medrar always has something happening.
Hidden in a run-down building covered with dead trees and overgrown plants, the Townhouse Gallery houses art that is … big. Literally. With its high ceilings and ample space, Townhouse was created to exhibit ambitious projects of all kinds, from sculpture to murals and sweeping interactive art.
Within its confines lies the Rawabet Theatre, a kind of Andy Warhol–style “Factory” where locals can conduct performances and plays. Only a few blocks away from The Nile Ritz-Carlton, Townhouse feels like another universe hidden so close to the heart of the city and Cairo’s riverside luxury.
Room Art Space
With its magnificent exterior and exquisitely carved columns, you’d never guess a place like the experimental Room Art Space lies behind this marble facade, much less one that has raised the eyebrows of neighbors.
Located in the historic Garden City, the building itself has a long history. Before being converted into an art space, the building housed “Grey Pillars,” a secret war room used by the British during World War II.
The building was in decline until one man, Ahmed Zeidan, saw it and had a vision for an art space that would fill a vital niche in Cairo’s scene. Room is now an intimate art space, one that can fit only a hundred or so people, half performance center, half café.
Everything from yoga to plays, concerts to experimental dance, happen in this space, making Room a perfect metaphor for Cairo itself — ensconced in history but still changing, vibrant with life.
Mohamed Mahmoud Street Graffiti
But if galleries and spaces aren’t your thing, why not check out Cairo’s art in the open air? Some of Cairo’s greatest art isn’t in a gallery at all, but right there on the street. After the 2011 Revolution, graffiti erupted on the streets in downtown Cairo as a way to express the triumph of the revolution — and often the despair.
Concentrated around Mahamed Mahmoud street off of Tahrir Square, the history of Egypt is painted before you, from sunglasses-wearing sphinxes to skull-faced military men with handfuls of eyes. Try as officials might to “clean up the city,” artists are not discouraged, merely replacing painted over murals with new, louder creations.