Tashkeel kicks off 2021 Autumn Season with an illustrated exploration of the city of Cairo

‘Cairo Illustrated: Stories from Heliopolis’ is visual artist Nora Zeid’s ode to the often-overlooked intricacies of her hometown, depicted through digital and hand-drawn illustrations. The exhibition marks the 13th public outcome of Tashkeel’s Critical Practice Programme since its inception in 2014.

As part of Tashkeel’s 2021 Autumn Season, the exhibition opens on 14 September with black-and-white illustrations that explore the bustling Egyptian city around the themes of memory, tourism and infrastructure.

This is Nora Zeid’s first solo exhibition and the conclusion of the 2020 edition of Tashkeel’s Critical Practice Programme (CPP). Over the past year, Nora researched regional perceptions through illustration, design and psychology, exploring how one might change the narrative of stereotypes and provide a new perspective that could change behavioural development. She was mentored in this endeavour by the leading design professional, researcher and educator Ghalia Elsrakbi, and Möbius Design Studio co-founder, Tashkeel member and American University of Sharjah lecturer, Hala Al Ani.

Driven by a desire to re-establish her relationship with the city of Cairo, Nora Zeid gathered memories from the neighbourhoods. She found that each memory was tied to the next by space, adding a virtual layer of historical facts to these personal experiences. This created a duality, between the personal and the general, the small and the big picture, making the topic of heritage more accessible.

“To walk in a busy street of Cairo is to have your senses saturated and overwhelmed as you scramble to process the immense amount of data before your senses. Every inch of the city demands your constant, and undivided attention,” says Nora, the American University of Sharjah graduate who currently works as a designer at Abjad Design.

“My practice is driven by a desire to re-establish my relationship with Cairo through close observation. In order to understand my hometown better, I wanted to bring the bustling city to a momentary standstill.”

Nora explains that her illustrations freeze intimate moments in space and time, with the black-and-white aesthetic simplifying scenes and allowing the city’s complex tapestry to shine. “As buildings, objects and people fade into the distance, they become more and more abstracted, blending into the rich and complex texture of the cityscapes depicted.”

Lisa Ball-Lechgar, Deputy Director of Tashkeel, says the exhibition is a timely commentary on the ongoing debate around urbanisation, socio-economics, heritage and belonging.

“The value of built heritage in Cairo – and Egypt as a whole – has been greatly tied to age, its celebration often reserved to Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic sites. Even then, their value is mostly linked to tourism. Nora’s exhibition aims to question how Cairenes define and interact with heritage, starting with the district of Heliopolis.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a printed catalogue featuring contributions by Mahy Mourad, architect and professor at American University of Cairo; and Omniya Abdel Barr, an architect, heritage expert and Barakat Trust Fellow at Victoria & Albert Museum, London. A digital version of the catalogue will be available using the QR code displayed in the gallery.