When most people think of Egypt, the predominant image that comes to mind is the Pyramids. Yet, the history and heritage of this country is vast and diverse, something M.H.P. alum Rei Harada ('08), who is a researcher for the International Center for Cultural Heritage Conservation, Faculty of Fine Arts of the Tokyo University of the Arts, discovered after working for the Grand Egyptian Museum’s Conservation Center in Cairo for two years. Historic Cairo, in particular, is a city straddling two times; it is an urbanized area surrounded by monuments built in the 10th century. The desire to create a more representative, visible identity for Historic Cairo that is cohesive with its continued modernization, spurred a scholarly partnership between Rei and colleagues from Japan and Egypt. In collaboration with residents and policymakers, Rei’s team leverages the city’s physical monuments and cultural traditions to build a holistic narrative for its community as it looks to its future.
“Historic Cairo has been a World Heritage site since 1979 and has benefited from conservation work by the Egyptian government and other countries,” says Rei. “However, there are issues; one being that tourism doesn’t connect to the daily lives of the local inhabitants. Since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, illegal tall buildings have been constructed and historical houses demolished. Our ambition is to make historical monuments and traditional habitats part of the identity of the inhabitants and communities. At the same time, heritage should be used and have functions in keeping with modern development, so that they can be inherited by the next generation.”
This goes beyond the preservation of physical objects; Rei’s team has engaged in significant local outreach to communities and stakeholders, organizing more than 20 workshops on a variety of preservation and revitalization projects over the past two years. When local women expressed an interest in learning craft art indigenous to Egypt, Rei’s team organized classes and an exhibition. They have also arranged public hearings and design competitions. “Through these experiences,” says Rei, “we collect their voices and give them opportunities to reflect their opinions to Egyptian policymakers.”
Learn more about Rei’s work by visiting the Cultural Property Restoration Project’s blog, here.