Maha Maamoun: On the Rise of Independent Publishing Initiatives

By Essayed Taha

Maha Maamoun is a Cairo-based Egyptian artist. She holds a BA in Economics and an MA in Middle East History from the American University in Cairo. 

In her work, Maamoun examines prevalent visual and literary imagery as an approach to reflect on the cultural fabric weaving in and through us. She has exhibited globally, including at the Jakarta Biennale, Sharjah Biennale, Guangzhou Biennale, and museums like MoMA and the Met. 

Maamoun also works on collaborative publishing and curating. She co-founded the non-profit Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo in 2004, serving on its founding board. In 2012, she founded the independent publishing initiative “Kayfa ta” with Ala Younis: a platform for publishing, research, and art coordination focused on alternative publishing practices, especially in the Maghreb and Mashreq. It commissions the “Kayfa ta” or “How To” book series and exhibitions exploring the arts of publishing, starting with the exhibition trilogy “How To Reappear” 1 & 2 and “How To Maneuver.”

In response to the first question about the challenges she faced and how she adapted, Maamoun wrote: 

“What is most interesting to me is the rise in independent publishing initiatives – that is, publishing projects originating outside the mainstream publishing industries. These range from one or two person initiatives producing creative publications in small print runs or limited handmade editions, to alternative “publishing house” models. These various initiatives are learning on their own, with almost no prior publishing experience, about the various obstacles and possible solutions. Some projects know one another and share their experiences and resources when possible, though it isn’t easy and hopefully all will find success and sustainability.

“I’ve been part of this changing landscape as a co-founder of the publishing initiative Kayfa ta. Together with Ala Younis, we founded Kayfa ta in 2012. Since then, we have actively learned about alternative publishing histories in the region, published our book series, and curated exhibitions presenting existing work while commissioning new research and art relating to the expanded field of publishing. Through our work, we met various artists, writers and others interested in publishing and related questions. We actively collaborated in different ways – publishing their work, commissioning new pieces, participating in their projects, showcasing publications at book fairs and exhibitions, discussing together the problems we face and potential solutions.”

As for the second question about what brings her happiness, Maamoun responded:

“What I have described above is all happening on the margins of cultural/artistic production, which is hampered by limited resources and access, yet very much fueled by personal passion. So, it is mostly an uphill experience that is nevertheless fulfilling. It’s inspiring to see this facet of the publishing scene developing through personal initiatives emerging here and there. I hope to see more of these dots appearing and connecting.”

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