As an artist who – once upon a time – had dreams and aspirations, I wanted to vocalise a couple of my incomplete realisations about the artistic climate in Egypt.
Just so all the readers know, I’m a 25 year old writer and filmmaker who still lives with his mother and hasn’t made a feature film yet. So I need to claim that I am in no way, shape or form an authority on such issues – I’m just a guy who’s been in the ‘system’ for long enough to know what’s what.
So here’s the deal; we live in a non-artistic climate. Meaning, art is not an appreciated element of society in our culture. I know a lot of you are going, “No, we love movies and music and poetry and theatre as a culture” and you are right, we do; but those are mediums and I’m talking about art. The act of creation, without rules or boundaries, without things being acceptable and other things not being acceptable. Creating with the knowledge of what has been created before, what is being created currently, what can be created and how.
Our art industry is completely mainstream. That’s the only word I have in my vocabulary to describe it. Music, film, and theatre are being produced for the masses by the prominent artists who grow through our own art institutions, who teach the same things generation after generation. This regurgitation of style, content and technique has conditioned the Egyptian population to expect certain things from their art. It has also led to incredibly prominent entertainment producers delivering the same thing time after time, conceivably until the world ends.
That’s why we’re not getting a new movie funded by two random brothers, who like movies, about something that hasn’t been represented in Egyptian cinema yet. An injustice caused by the government a long time ago? A secret part of a popular war that we’ve never heard of? The possibilities are practically endless.
The ‘artistic’ state of affairs really isn’t helped by insanely unpredictable censorship laws that allow Egypt’s ‘Censorship Authority’ to actually decide to ban your movie for five years because it doesn’t ‘have enough romance in it’. I’m actually not kidding – check it out.
Don’t get me wrong, some acts slip through the cracks; some movies end up being made with great scripts and competent directors and they turn out to be great. But the extreme majority of our entertainment industry is the complete personification of mediocrity. The acts that slip through the cracks are mostly made by influential actors, directors and producers who decided to get up off their asses and be inspired for a second, before going back to producing shite.
Why am I saying all of this? Because, in this climate, it is very difficult to try to make money and art at the same time. See, in developed countries, which - by the way - we model our entire lives around, there’s this thing called opportunity. You could make a low-budget feature film, or produce an E.P, and find a way to distribute and showcase your art. There are indie bars, small concert halls, and film festivals where distributors hang out looking to scout the next Tarantino. People actively look for the new and the different.
I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t the environment that we live in. Art and entertainment in this country are judged by how much money they can make, and people are always searching for ways to make more money. Anything, any formula, any dynamic, any actor, that has been proven to make money will be milked dry, and then milked again a few more times to make sure there really isn’t any more milk, before they move onto the next cinematic cash-cow with the fervor of deranged milkmaids.
To revel in poorly executed, money-oriented mediocrity (and to prove my point), all you need to do is switch on your TV this Ramadan. 75% of the hours you put aside to binge-watch mosalsalat will be wasted on advertisements that are, if humanly possible, even worse than the shows.
Now, the way I see it, someone’s got to roll up their sleeves and just be willing to be poor for a while and work at it. Egypt needs art managers, film and music distributors, event planners, indie venues; we need a lot of people willing to dedicate their time and creativity to projects that won’t pay too well at first. As artists, we need to be coordinated and interactive with our audiences and each other. We need to be business-savvy and understand how what we do can make money and how to own it and keep it free of contamination.
The second ‘influential’ artists, directors, producers, parasites, whatever, realise that independent art – honest, original, controversial, ground-breaking, and different art – is lucrative, they’ll try and milk it like they do with everything else.
It’s not easy to do something. It is way easier to find a job that satisfies basic needs like food and shelter and entertainment, and keeps us busy during the day so we feel somewhat fulfilled by the end of the week. Over time, though, we’ll end up buying Corvettes (I know nobody buys Corvettes here, but it’s the best metaphor for a midlife-crisis), cheating on our spouses, redecorating our houses, and being terrible parents because we’re so goddamn unsatisfied.
For the humans who are trying to balance art and business as usual: it’s great, more power to ya’ - I wish I could do it, but I tried and failed. If I learnt anything from my experiences trying to make something in this country, it’s that if everybody is creating to make money, the final product probably isn’t going to be that great.
We can use the place we were given in society (because almost all of us were given it) to create opportunities for new art to come out; I’m sure there are millions of films and songs and poems and doodles that are just looking for a chance to be made, seen and appreciated.
We need to remember that nothing cool comes easy.