Artistic Couple Beautifying Cairo with Leslie’s Lost Art and Cairo’s Dish-Painting Initiative


Every once in a while, an artist comes along and touches the lives of many people around us. Whether the initiative is made to send a message or just bring a kind of joy in the darkest of moments, artists make it their mission to express a certain feeling and make a difference through art.

This time, not one, but two artists have started two fascinating initiatives in Egypt to help spread the beauty across the city that has been dawned with a darkness throughout the past couple of years.

An American couple submitted applications for a residency program at Artellewa because they both felt that their understanding of the world was limited by having never traveled in Africa or the Middle East.

When they found out that Artellewa Art Space was looking for international artists to come here, they thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about Egypt and to live and work in a different culture from the ones they were familiar with.

Jason Stoneking and Leslie McAllister are working on several new initiatives designed specifically for Egypt, but today, we would like to introduce two specific projects that this fascinating couple has started here: The Cairo-Dish Painting Initiative and Leslie’s Lost Art.



Tell us more about the purpose of each initiative




Leslie: Lost Art is an interactive street art project. I find discarded items in the street, paint street scenes onto them, and then leave them back in the street for anyone to find. So after I’ve turned a random item into an artistic piece, I leave the choice to whoever comes across it to decide whether it is something  worth saving or is considered to be a form of “art” or just a piece of trash.




Jason: The idea behind the Cairo Dish-Painting initiative is to encourage people to use these dishes as a tool for expressing their individual creativity. When we look out across the Cairene skyline, we can see that there are millions of people sending and receiving signals from their homes. But all the devices sending and receiving those signals look the same, so the skyline doesn’t reflect all the different inspirations, talents and ideas of all the people in the city.

My hope is that painting the dishes would be a fun and easy way for people to express themselves and share the beauty of their creativity with their neighbors and with everyone who looks out across the skyline.



How did it start?


Lost Art #15-Al Azhar Park-the release_Oct112014_0038
Leslie’s Lost Art at Al Azhar Park


Leslie: I came up with the idea for a few reasons, one is that I found myself tiring of the gallery concept. I didn’t just want to make pieces for established art spaces and try to get collectors and critics to validate my work and tell others that it was worth owning, but wanted to make things outside of that context and let the people in my community decide for themselves whether or not what I had made was ‘art’ or had ‘value.’

Another reason I was attracted to this idea is that I have always had a hard time letting go of my work, so this is kind of therapy for me. It’s an opportunity both to offer something to others and to let go of my control over the finished pieces.




Jason: The idea started when I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Egyptian artist Hany Hommos, on his balcony and I commented  that I was surprised to see so many dishes (since they’re not as common in the States). And he replied that he thought they looked kind of depressing.

So I suggested that we do something to try to make them fun, and use them as a way to empower people to make their skyline look however they want it to look.



What do you hope to achieve with your projects?




Leslie: The ideal objective of the project would be that people find the pieces and enjoy having them. I would love to think that finding them might make people happy, and that people might be momentarily liberated from the notion that art is something to be bought and sold in a closed space.

I am hoping that I have the opportunity to travel to many different parts of the world while I’m still doing Lost Art. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep working on this series, but I would love it if I had the chance to leave paintings in lots of different countries.

Jason: My goals for the project are both ambitious and humble. On the one hand, I would like to see this idea spread all over Cairo and see the entire skyline blossom in bright, beautiful, happy colors. But at the same time, if even a handful of people are made happy by this idea and feel like I have made a mall contribution during my stay, that alone would mean the world to me.



How have people responded?




Leslie: A few people have already written to me to say that they had found the paintings. One person sent me a photo of the painting where it now lives, in the window of her workplace. Another person found a painting and started adding to it with his own painting ideas!

So far I haven’t heard back yet from the ones I’ve done in Cairo. I left one at Midan Tahrir and one in Al-Azhar Park. Yesterday I painted one at Midan Bab-el-Louq, which I will go out and leave there when it’s dry. There are lots of interesting places to paint in Cairo, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty of chances to hear back from someone here eventually!

Jason: So far I have received a hugely positive response. My neighbors here in Ard-el-Lewa have been very supportive. When we paint on the rooftops here, the children lean out from the windows smiling, waving and clapping for us.

The last time we painted, several kids from the building came up to offer their help. And a few people cheered from the street. One girl yelled, “Do them all!” which made us smile. We’ve also had some positive feedback from people in other parts of Cairo, several of whom have already begun to paint their own dishes.



How could one participate?




Leslie: When I leave the paintings out in the street, I always leave the address for my Lost Art blog written on the back, along with the date and my signature. I always hope that the people who find the paintings might take the time to contact me, and maybe send in a photo of the painting in its new home.

When I was a little girl, we did a project in school where we tied our address to a balloon and released it into the sky. Later on, another little girl in another town found my balloon and we began writing to each other. That memory is a big part of the inspiration for this project.




Jason: This is definitely something that anyone can do. It’s not very difficult or very expensive, and I am happy to help anyone who has any questions about how to do it. Eventually, that is the aim of the project, for people to feel like they can all do this themselves in any way that inspires them.

I don’t want to do them all myself or have the idea just be about me. I want to see the people of Cairo expressing themselves in all kinds of different and unique ways. I hope that eventually the project will continue without me when I’m gone.



So Jason, How does one paint a satellite dish?




The steps are pretty easy. First, you want to gently clean your dish to remove dust and bird droppings; soap and water should be fine. Just take care not to disturb the angle of relationship between the dish and the arm. Then you want to use, ideally, a matte, lead-free paint (not gloss and not metallic) so that you don’t increase the amount of heat you’re reflecting over time. Any brand is fine, and any paint store can help you with this.

We only paint the surface of the dish itself (front and back) and not the arm or the sensitive equipment at the end of the arm. The arm can be covered while you’re painting if you want to make sure not to get anything on it. And after that, all that’s important is inviting your friends, expressing yourselves, and having a great time!

What role does art play in your lives as a couple? 




Jason and I are two very different kinds of artists. I work more with visual media, while Jason works more with words and performance. Because of this, we often have the opportunity to collaborate on projects and help each other express things by sharing our skills.

I think this teamwork strengthens our relationship, and also helps us open our minds to seeing the world around us in different ways. So I think working together makes us better both as partners and as artists.



Do you have further plans on artistic projects together?




Jason and I are always working together on something. He helps me with all my projects and I help him with all of his as well as the few projects that we share equally. We’ve been talking a lot lately about designing and proposing installations together for other residencies, so I imagine there’s a lot more collaboration in our future!


WE SAID THIS: To find out more about these great initiatives or participate, like their Facebook pages, Cairo Dish-Painting Initiative  and Leslie’s Lost Art.