Omar Sheira and Bíborka Anna Kis, are the founders and masterminds behind Blue Cairo, a digital platform that tells the stories of the city and travel using colors and feelings. Through Blue Cairo, they explain the origins of legends and traditions, with the goal and intention to encourage young adventurers to travel to Egypt.
We talk to Omar and Biborka about reimagining Cairo, digital restoration and Egypt’s Islamic history and heritage.
What is the concept behind Blue Cairo?
Four years ago, we were on a walk in the bazaars of Old Cairo and spent the whole day there. When the sun went down, we saw many tour busses arriving and scores of tourists getting off. But all the mosques of the Old City were closed for visits by that time! These tourists would never get to experience the City of a Thousand Minarets as we know it. And they would never hear of the tales hiding behind every corner.
This event was heartbreaking to us. But at the same time, it became the seed of Blue Cairo. Our goal simply became to show the beauty of Cairo to the world. To do that, we used tales, history, poetry, and fantasy, and tried to translate them into photos and videos that would tell the story of the City.
As time passed, our concept evolved. Last year, we began reimagining Cairo. We digitally restored places that were in need of restoration; and we combined elements from different eras to make entirely new buildings.
But we didn’t stop there. This year we traveled to the heart of Upper Egypt to complete the picture. We are now taking our followers 5,000 years back in time to live through the ancient history of the country.
It was a major change but we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the positive reception.
In the near future, we even have plans to tell the stories in other countries, as there has always been a dialogue between civilizations, but one step at a time for now.
“There is no Blue without Yellow or Orange.”
This was once said by the great Dutch, post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, and it is truest for Egypt.
Whether mosque or temple, every historical building here is built with sandstone. And you can only see the Golden, stone-yellow of these buildings because of the Blue.
Blue is the color of the River Nile that runs through Egypt and the Heavens above it. It is also the color to be first invented by the ancient Egyptians, over 5,000 years ago.
From your social media posts, – the one thing that shines through is your love for history and storytelling. Can you tell us more about your love for history and passion for visual storytelling?
We love Tales. From the Ancient Egyptian mythology to the Thousand and One Nights. We as humans have always told stories and marveled at their beauty. They enrich our cultures, traditions, and folklore.
History is just as interesting but a little trickier. If told in a dry way, it can be a very good way to put people to sleep. This is why we have paired history with the art of storytelling: to try and bring Egypt’s past to life, and to make it relatable.
Another key element we use is Color. Our photos and videos are always edited to have the most vibrant colors. We believe this can help people experience the stories more vividly.
Why is preserving Egypt’s cultural heritage important to you?
Egypt’s cultural heritage stands as a testimony for all that has passed. It has been handed down from one generation to another; and whether ancient Egyptian, Mamluk, or Ottoman, it helps us understand and connect with our roots.
We have been entrusted with our cultural heritage. Preserving it is important so that future generations can have that special link with the past, too.
But the first step in this process is understanding why the past is important and what it means for us today. We try to achieve that through our work.
What do you think the perceptions are of Egypt and what impression do you hope to make?
It depends on who you ask. Some in the West only see the ancient Egyptian civilization and its endless mysteries, and others in the East only see the Islamic history of Egypt and its legacy of architecture.
What intrigues you about monuments in Egypt?
Mystery. Beauty. Stories. Civilization
What aspects of Egypt’s Islamic history and heritage are most important?
Many scholars and authors agree that the Mamluk era is what shaped much of Cairo’s character, and we definitely agree.
After the Mongol sack of Baghdad, thousands of Mamluks gathered in Cairo to make it the new political center of the Islamic world. As a result, they started building the City so it can match its newfound position and their ambitions. Cairo would become the regional center for trade, learning, culture, and art.
This is why today the City holds one of the largest concentrations of historic architecture in the Islamic world. It is an endless labyrinth, marked by hundreds of mosques, domes, madrasas, khanqaahs, palaces, caravanserais, and fortifications.
Which monuments related to Muslim heritage and Islamic history in Egypt are in need of restoration and protection?
There are sadly tens of monuments in Cairo that are in need of urgent and immediate restoration. They risk being completely lost to neglect.
Among these is the Khanqah and Madrasa of Salar and Singir al-Gawly in the Sayeda Zeinab area. This spectacular monument has what experts consider to be the most beautiful example of Mamluk Thuluth calligraphy, dating back to the 14th century (era of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun).
Why do you think understanding our past helps our future?
Countries in the broader Middle East and North African region have strictly become consumerist nations. We have unfortunately contributed very little to humanity in the post four centuries, despite having been the ones to lay the foundations for the social and physical sciences in earlier eras.
Understanding our past and what role we played can help us ask ourselves an important question: are we playing this same role today?
If not, what can we do to improve ourselves, first, and our nations, second? How can we reach the level of partaking in the global discussion on building the world of the future generations? What do we have to contribute to the vision of the future?
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like? What are the opportunities and potential?
Islamic art has traditionally relied on the individual’s mastery of a craft. Its tools, on the other hand, have always been quite basic.
In the digital age, this has mostly been reversed. The individual usually doesn’t have an understanding of the fundamental principles of Islamic art, yet has the advanced tools to make it. The result is something that doesn’t feel or look as authentic as the works of the old masters.
But there is a huge opportunity here. If the study of the traditional arts is paired with advanced technology, we would be able to create something that builds on the work of the old masters.
On another note, the metaverse is growing everyday and it is an opportunity for our artists to also start building there.
For more information check out https://www.thebluecairo.com/
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.