A quick chat with Cairopolitan's founder Ahmed Hefnawy.
How did it all start?
"It was a no revelation that Cairo's identity always had a certain added-on flavor that distinguishes anything that relates to it. Initially, the idea was to make a portfolio of my personal drawings. It showed an appreciation to/affection towards recognizable Egyptian icons and identities, and most probably because Shennawy and I have been a bit of orientalists, we were pretending to put ourselves in the shoes of a non-Egyptian and try to see Egypt through his eyes. That’s when playing around with the identity started and it is what has got us this far. I wanted my portfolio to reflect something about my identity, I might not be proud of myself but I am certainly proud of what I create. "
"It started with illustrations and cartoons on Cairo which were influenced by the pop culture of the city, manifested in theaters, street signs and overall architectural identity… this was the visual memory and the unintentional archive that one is born into, and it contributed in turning the project from a mere comic book into working in the advertising industry."
How did your work in advertising benefit you now?
"Graphic design and photo montage is what made these products turn out to be in a very different shape/form and through different methods of execution. Working in the creative industry made the concept turn into imagery, whether drawn, sewn, printed and manufactured or some other form that is not merely a drawing. What made the idea turn into an actual project is that one started believing in these trivialities, what I couldn’t easily achieve at work, I did through this project and that’s when I started to adapt a new mode of thinking, which is to be the first customer to your products. "
Why did the project take 12 years to launch?
"It took all this time simply because it was a step that one couldn’t consider to be a protagonist, so it was always secondary… it couldn’t obtain the main role mainly because of work. But what I considered at some point is that these things needs to get the main role, and that is because Egypt is rich in icons but lacking in those with taste and will to play around it. The Egyptian buyer is not accustomed to products of this sort, as the general taste is declining. This project confirms that these icons have a presence and an impact. They are a part of us that we can neither deny nor hide, but something that we need to see for what it truly is. When we were doing the Baladi Pouch, one of the women working on it said: “wasn’t there anything other than the Baladi bread? We grew bored of it, would have been nice if you’ve made a Hamburger! Or when people see the Passport and are ashamed of it and what to rid themselves of it instead of acquiring it even though it’s what reflects our identity the most. "
" The main goal of this project is to shed the light on the Egyptian Identity through innovative means, it has to bear meaning and an opinion to draw people’s attention. It is as if we’re trying to give the Egyptian Identity a voice, hoping they might start seeing this identity differently. Therefore the project is trying to crystallize this identity in a certain manner. "
What do you hope to achieve with this project?
" I hope that someday it won’t still be the case that Egyptians are buying souvenirs of the London Bus and the Eiffel Tower, why is this still being sold in the market, we ought to have souvenirs of our own, this project aspires for Egypt to be on the arts/cultural map and reestablish that position as it has been drifting away and losing its shape/character in that process. The objective is for Egypt to acquire its shape and voice again."