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US Embassy in Cairo Spox: Wide Range of Projects US Supports to Egypt’s Cultural Heritage Preservation | Sada Elbalad

On Friday, the events of the Cairo Design Week kicked off at Saladin Citadel with an exhibition for the prominent photographer Ed Kashi’s remarkable “City of the Dead” exhibition. The US Embassy in Cairo is among the sponsors of the Cairo Design Week’s “City of the Dead” exhibition.

About the presence of Ed Kashi in Egypt, and his exhibition at Saladin Citadel, US Embassy in Cairo Spokesperson Peter Winter said: It’s very iconic and indicative of the collaboration between the US and Egypt in terms of cultural heritage preservation.”

He added: “One of the reasons that we continue to support this line of effort is it helps in protecting these incredible sites which we’re all around right now, and it adds value to the thriving tourism industry here in Egypt. That’s been an area of collaboration between the two countries for decades.”

“There’s a really wide range of projects that the US supported specifically to the cultural heritage preservation side. Over the past, the U.S. government supported the preservation projects with about $120 million in investment to the people of Egypt, which included sites like Imam Al-Shafi, as well as a visitor center we just inaugurated last year.”

Winter also expressed cheerfulness about the visit of President El Sisi and the President of Turkey, describing: “That was exciting.”

On having the exhibition at such a historical site, Kashi said: “You know, now, and one of the enduring, important qualities of doing documentary work is that you capture a moment in time, and even though we’re living in this world where there are too many images and information,” describing: “That is like something that’s preserved. So, to me, as a documentarian, this is what I dream of, that maybe one day, 30 years later, my work might still have some meaning, and not just me, but anyone who does this work. And it’s exhibited in the same place you captured the photo there.

Winter continued his talk for Egypt-based journalists by sharing some memories about his relationship with Egypt. He said: “When I was very young, my mother was a travel agent and came to Egypt. Her stories and some of the artifacts that she brought back were one of the reasons I wanted to study Arabic and live in Egypt. And so, I think that’s the power of these locations and just the iconic sites that are across Egypt.”

On his project “City of the Dead,” Kashi narrated the story of his project, expressing: “I did this work in 1993, I had come here in 1992 on assignment for National Geographic Magazine, doing a comprehensive story on water problems in the Middle East. And one of the places that my Egyptian producer, he was like, you have to go to the city of the dead.”

“I had never heard of it. Well once I was there, I was like, my mind opened up, and then I was like, I have to come back on my own. So the following year, I came back with my girlfriend, who is now my wife of 30 years, and she was a writer. We were early in our careers, and so we came back and we spent three weeks producing this work. And she wrote the article, and I made these pictures.”

He added: “It’s important for journalists to get out, and photographers in particular, to get out into the world, because you can read something, or editors can tell you something, but when you see it with your own eyes, then you know, this is a story that should be told. And the angle of this power story was this idea of a kind of unique form of overpopulation, or a way of dealing with housing crisis and overpopulation in an urban environment.”

During the event, Kashi introduced his guide in the “City of the Dead” project 30 years ago, Medhat, who shared his story.

He said: “I work in the media as well. I teach children how to take pictures. I try to promote the idea of photography for the sake of life. I have a foundation in Imam Shafi’i’s cemetery. I serve people. I did my first theater in a school in the cemetery. I lived the same story as Ed’s life. Photography was life for us. It changed us a lot. I changed a lot of people.”

He added that this project has changed a lot of things personally. The project is telling the story of 30 years with all the changes that will happen. These photos will keep the history of the region. These photos are documented. A documentary for the region.”

After that, Winter was asked about choosing a historical landmark like Saladin Citadel to be a location of one of the US-sponsored events, saying that this exhibition is part of the Cairo Design Week activities, and the US Embassy in Cairo in participating with several partners, adding: “We’ve done projects at Al-Azhar Park, Luxor. Our new ambassador has just arrived. She is just back from a trip in Alexandria for the Alexandria Photo Week.”

About expanding the map of their cultural activities, Winter added: “It’s a very high priority. We used to have our consulate up in Alexandria, but we still have a big presence up there, one of the things that we have realized is that it’s such a critically important city, and so many of our partners and people are up there that we want to be up more in Alexandria. We’re also looking at other areas like Aswan, Luxor, Minya, and Sohag. There are projects that the US government, particularly with our US Agency for International Development, has been involved in across the country for decades.”

He said: “We’ve been doing projects for years and years, and there’s much more to come. We try to do things in as many as possible.

About the role of the US Embassy in Cairo in the local scene of arts and culture, Winter expressed: “Last night’s Breaking Walls Dance Festival was a great example of something very different. Most recently in the past two years, supported Cairo Photo Week, then Alexandria Photo Week, and Cairo Design Week. We’ve done several projects with some of the film festivals like Ismailia Film Festival and Luxor African Film Festival. We are also working with a partner in the US to support a few scholarships for young Egyptian filmmakers.”


After that Kashi and Winter were asked about the possibility of introducing more support for the Egyptian photographers. Kashi highlighted: “I did workshops and this week I’ll be doing portfolio reviews for Egyptian photographers, in addition, there’s going to be like a photo round table where people are invited to you know, talk with me about photography. And besides that, I mentor photographers all over the world through my photo agency, and I was recommending some Egyptian photographers for some international acts.”

Finally, Winter explained the criteria for choosing the sites or projects that the US government would support preserving and renovating. He said: “The US Department of State and the US Embassy have something we call the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. And we put out an open call to institutions and the general public to provide ideas. In those proposals try to explain the significance of any one of these locations. I would say a lot of those ideas are not being generated by us Americans or from the United States Embassy. These ideas come in from the community and are then reviewed and a decision is made it to where to put resources. We closely work with the Egyptian government as partners on all of this work. 

For example, the Imam Al-Shafi Mausoleum was very much a partnership between the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, probably a few other ministries as well, and the US government. This was a priority project for the Egyptian government. This was a priority project for the US government. And those interests met.