This year’s Iconic City exhibition during Dubai Design Week takes us to Cairo to discover over 65 Egyptian creatives contributing to the city’s design landscape. Selections sits with Mohamed Elshahed, curator of ‘Iconic City: Cairo Now! City Incomplete’ to learn more about what was on show.

Mohamed Elshahed is a Cairo-based architect and founder of local Architecture and Urbanism blog Cairobserver, founded after 2011. He is also an academic, art historian and recently curator for the British Museum’s Modern Egypt Project.

‘The exhibition is a first of its kind’ says Elshahed. ‘Egypt has a very rich exhibition history that ranges from Art to industrial shows, going back to the late 19th century. But in terms of designs, this is unprecedented. However, the possibility to highlight and showcase design work and its progress is non-existing. This is really quite special’

The exhibition was put together when Elshahed started connecting with people he already knew in the the arts community, followed by an open call on his platform, Cairobserver, from which he compiled a list of 110 design initiatives.

‘I was looking primarily for innovation’, he explains. ‘I chose designers who aren’t taking the easy route – the ones who aren’t essentialising or self-orientalising which is very popular in the Middle East because it sells. Unfortunately the inherited orientalism of the 19th century via European colonialist’s mindset has been adopted as national imagery within the Middle East. It’s something that needs to be combated not be embraced’.

The other mission of the project is to create a record of the present in terms of design in Cairo. It was very important for him to choose people connected to the Egyptian present, hence the title Cairo Now.

Elshahed believes that If we don’t document what is going on, it becomes irrelevant, as if it never happened.

The exhibition focuses on different aspects of the incompleteness of Cairo. From buildings that are half finished to incomplete dresses, while revisiting fading craftsmanship, building Cairo brick by brick.

By Anastasia Nysten