But a Shadow of Myself

     But a Shadow of Myself is a collaborative, intercultural, intergenerational, interdisciplinary project in which participants use silhouettes to address themes of identity, communication and diversity.
     I entered into this project as an artist and teacher living in New York, having a lifelong fascination with the problem of communication. I had been coming to Cairo for a few years, and had been thinking of ways to work on an art project with people here.
     In the spring of 2009, I facilitated a silhouette self-portrait project with high school students in New York. The students brainstormed words and images to represent themselves, worked in teams to trace their silhouettes, and combined their silhouettes with words and images to create collaged self-portraits. They then made paintings based on those collages.
     I brought artwork from the New York project to Cairo and worked with the outreach program at Townhouse Gallery to bring a similar project to adult workshop participants. The Cairo artists drew pictures and wrote about the self-portraits of the New York students, and then made their own self-portraits. I then went back to New York and facilitated the project with another group of high school students, and a group of working artists. The participants in Cairo and New York wrote and drew about each other’s work, videoconferenced, and worked on collaborative drawings. The project came back to Cairo in the summer of 2010, at El Nahda Culture and Scientific Renaissance Association (Cairo Jesuit), and the new Cairo group went through the same process.
     Some participants with digital media skills have made videos based on this project, and there is a shadow theater form of the project being developed as well.
The project is flexible and dynamic, each individual, group, and context shaping new changes. It has grown from a self-portrait project to one in which self-portrait is a springboard for communication and collaborative drawing.
     It has also evolved from one woman’s idea, (mine), into a group enterprise based in   two very different places: Egypt and the United States. I had no idea when I started that I would meet friends in Cairo willing to embrace the project completely, and that I would be entering into an intense level of shared decision making with people from across the Atlantic. I feel fortunate in this respect, and there has been a significant learning curve. We are working together to approach funding institutions, host organizations, and new participants. Given the global political climate, we have found it necessary to take care in the way we move forward with our project, doing our best to understand the ramifications of even our most basic decisions. Many people have volunteered weeks and months of their lives to make this project possible. We hope that it communicates the spirit of mutual learning upon which it is based.
Alexandra Zevin
Project Facilitator