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Egyptian Artists Explore Sinai Through Art, Photography, and Storytelling

July 31, 2021
The participants visited an abandoned hotel near La Commune for opportunities for interesting photos. This photo was taken by Fagr Ahmed, who asked fellow participants to put the flash underneath to get this grand shadow and utilize its interesting features. Photo credit: Mariam Rami
The participants visited an abandoned hotel near La Commune for opportunities for interesting photos. This photo was taken by Fagr Ahmed, who asked fellow participants to put the flash underneath to get this grand shadow. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

“We wanted people to experience Sinai in a different way; to experiment with it, observe it, and dissect it,” says Mariam Shaath, the co-founder and creative director of Cocoon Cultural Center.

Painting a feeling, creating a face from a random shape, and storytelling through imagery – these were just some of the topics tackled in the five-day arts retreat titled ‘Fananin El Madina F Sina’ (the city’s artists in Sinai) event in Nuweiba, Sinai.

A plan created by participant Abdalla Soltan for his final project, where he created a story about a gang called Jazz Gang that pretend to be musicians and then pull heists – the characters and their names were based on people in the retreat and inside jokes the participants had created as a group. He wants his fellow participants to perform the story after its completion. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

Organized by La Commune Camp and Cocoon Cultural Center, the event brought together participants eager to flex their creative muscles through a condensed series of workshops with the help of three instructors: photographer Salma Olama, artist Dina Jereidini, and artist Kareem Soltan.

“We met the beautiful people of Cocoon a while back and have collaborated with them over the years and the fruit of our joint efforts has been delightful, so after Cocoon Culture Center was founded in Cairo it only made sense for our two entities to collaborate and organize artistic gatherings,” explains Layla Mazen, co-founder of La Commune Camp.

Group photo on the last day of the retreat. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath
Characters created by Tamara Mobarek. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

During the workshops, participants went through an exciting journey of learning everything from the compositional techniques of painting and the methodology of taking creative photos to learning the basics of illustration and sketching.

The choice of location in the beachside town of Nuweiba helped inspire the city-bound artists in an environment where they could truly express their individuality.

Participant Abdullah Hadidy taking a photo of details that caught his eye in the first photography exercise with Salma Olama. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

“Being in such a primitive space with limited stimuli and distractions helped people find room to cultivate a raw and real human interaction and exchange,” Shaath explains.

Mazen agrees: “Sinai is a truly magical place that gets anyone’s creative juices flowing, and we have witnessed the retreat teach attendees how to draw visual inspiration from the quirkiest and tiniest details.”

Final project by participant Amina Khalil: a mixed media collage about empathy and grief. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

After the workshops, as well as fun nights of creativity-boosting games, each participant got to work on a final project combining different elements from the various art forms they explored during the retreat.

“We wanted to bring these different mediums together to show that you don’t have to conform to a specific medium to call yourself an artist,” Shaath explains.

A piece called “Mornings, Mountains & Mindsets” by participant Wessam Wafik, who was experimenting with double exposure.

The event was open to anyone interested in the creative arts, which helped attract emerging young artists who may have been hesitant to attend an arts retreat.

Writer and artist Fagr Ahmed explains that they joined the event because they strived to be around a community of artists working with different mediums.

“I was a bit intimidated at first because I don’t have any formal art training and it’s still something I’m experimenting with. However, [the retreat] gave me a renewed sense of confidence in my unique and specific practice, which isn’t something I would have necessarily gained from a formal arts education,” they explain.

Discussing color theory: mixing and complementing colors with acrylic paint. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath
Some of the pieces created by the participants during the retreat. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

Shaath agrees, noting that it’s normal for artists to be shy at first since it’s a “vulnerable practice,” but is delighted that the participants managed to express their individuality and “develop as conceptual thinkers, creative practitioners, and collaborators.”

‘Fananin El Madina F Sina’ was the first arts retreat organized in collaboration between La Commune and Cocoon, and the organizers are planning to host similar events in the future.

Participant Wessam Wafik capturing photos at Wadi El Wishwash. Photo credit: Mariam Shaath

“We plan on collaborating with Cocoon [again] in the near future in several ways; either we’ll be hosting them for artistic retreats or inviting them to take part in our events,” Mazen says.

“We have already discussed audio boot camps, writing, and even photography and painting exhibits.”

To stay up-to-date with future events, follow the La Commune and Cocoon Cultural Center Instagram pages.

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