Saturday May 18th, 2024
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Egypt’s City of the Dead as Seen by Acclaimed Photojournalist Ed Kashi

American photojournalist Ed Kashi guides us through his exhibit 'The Living City of the Dead'.

Farah Desouky

Egypt’s City of the Dead as Seen by Acclaimed Photojournalist Ed Kashi

At the heart of the Citadel of Salah El Din in Old Cairo, the captivating narratives of a vital part of this locale's history unfold—the stories of those residing within the 'Living City of the Dead'. As part of Cairo Design Week, the Cairo-based photography school Photopia curated and hosted an exhibition featuring the work of acclaimed American photojournalist Ed Kashi. This collection stems from his visit to Egypt in 1993, during which he spent three weeks in the City of the Dead.

At one point, Cairo's vast 13th-century necropolis, known as the City of the Dead, was primarily inhabited by caretakers, who were employed by families to tend to their ancestral mausoleums. However, with the rapid increase in Cairo's population density, driven by a housing shortage, the city's main cemetery became home to people seeking shelter.

By 1993, the City of the Dead had become a bustling hub, with over one hundred and twenty thousand residents living, working, shopping, and attending school amidst the mausoleums. Today, this population has grown even further. Makeshift huts now dot the landscape, nestled between tombstones where life somehow goes on. Amongst the grand burial sites of renowned religious and political figures from Egypt's storied past, masses of people now live and work in makeshift dwellings.

Originally tasked by National Geographic to explore urban landscapes in Egypt, Kashi and his then-girlfriend (now wife) found themselves drawn to the daily existence in the City of the Dead. Amidst the backdrop of corpses and decay, they discovered a life that, while unique, also took on elements of the ordinary and routine. Over those three weeks, Kashi immersed himself in the community, capturing their traditions—from weddings to religious rituals, schools, and workplaces.

In this exclusive CairoScene & El Fasla interview, the photographer guides us through the exhibit, where images from the past come to life within the historic Citadel's walls. Against the backdrop of Cairo's rapidly changing urban landscape, Kashi urges viewers to contemplate this archival documentation of a community and landscape on the brink of disappearance.

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