Alberto Marchioretto, Justin Linds

An interview with Ganzeer

About Amsterdam-Noord and the perception of time

Ganzeer is an Egyptian artist and one of the Mapping for Tourists (now Noord) participants, working on the creation of an exhibition and the first Arabic travel guide to The Netherlands.


Ganzeer. - Participating artist Noord. Picture made by Lars Wannop, August 2010 in Amsterdam. Lars Wannop

With: Ganzeer

What is the most striking difference between Amsterdam-Noord and Cairo?

In the neighborhood where I live in Cairo, as well as here in Noord, they’re tearing down a bunch of old houses and constructing new buildings. These two processes of development are, however, quite different. I barely hear or feel any of the work being done in Noord, whereas in Cairo it is super present. I wake up and go to sleep with it. I think it's because in Amsterdam water jets are used to soften the buildings. In Cairo the way of working is certainly less considerate.

Can you tell us something about what you're working on?

I think Noord is often referred to as a unified place. However, Noord varies quite a lot depending on where you are. Some people spend their entire lives in one neighborhood. They don’t know what it’s like elsewhere. I noticed that each neighborhood has its own distinct character. For instance, the NDSM area is a young, hip, arty, creative place. It obviously wasn’t like this when the area was a dock yard. What I’m trying to do, is visualize the characteristics of each neighborhood by designing an actual character to fit it. The character is designed in accordance to the borders of each neighborhood. As the borders and characteristics of each neighborhood change over time, so do the characters.


(Re)Development Areas in Noord - A map of the re-development areas in Amsterdam-Noord, acquired from Ganzeer

Has anything unusual happened to you in Noord?

Actually, yes! The day I arrived, I was biking around the neighborhood to get acquainted with things, and I noticed this girl on a bike with a broken chain. She was performing this maneuver I hadn't ever seen before: pushing the bike as fast she could, without having to pedal. As I was biking passed her, she looked at me and said something in Dutch that I couldn't understand. She then reverted to English and asked me if I was going to the ferry. I told her I wasn't, but I could if she needed a lift. She did, and she just asked me to bike straight ahead and she would hold onto my hand. She was obviously in a hurry, kinda nervous, and going out of her mind. I asked her how often the ferry comes and goes, and it sounded like she said "every 30 minutes." But just to make sure, I asked her: "Every 30 minutes?"

"No," she said, "every 3 minutes!"

"So you mean... if you miss this ferry, to be able to catch the next one, you will have to wait for 3 whole minutes?!"

"Yes," she said very nervously. And it seemed like she was starting to eye my pedaling, so I told her "Okay, I better pedal faster then! Are you holding on tight enough?" To which she said "Yes yes! Go go! Okay, thank you very much!"

Wow. Did it strike you as strange that she was freaking out over a lousy 3 minutes?

Well yeah, that was the whole thing. It was really weird, this whole different perception of... time, I guess.

I know! In Amsterdam, people would be like "Oh, this bar is nice. Is it far?" But everything is within ten minutes max, y'know?

Everything! There's no such thing as "far" in Amsterdam. I remember talking to one of the Mediamatic interns. Amber, I think. We were waiting for the ferry or something, and she was kinda agitated to have to wait. So it's not just this one freaked out girl with a broken bike. I told Amber it's no big deal really, it's kind of nice to have a short break from biking. You get a nice breeze from the water. It's fine.


Ganzeer, E7na Magazine, Ramadan, 2007 - Full page illustration for a feature shedding light on the holy month of Ramadan in Egypt. Made by Ganzeer, one of the Noord participants. Full page illustration for a feature shedding light on the holy month of Ramadan in Cairo.

Where does the name Ganzeer come from?
Five years ago I was setting up a creative studio with some friends. We needed a name and I wanted something Arabic/Egyptian, where the letter forms would be as easily pronounceable in English as in Arabic. Moreover, the name itself – “Ganzeer” – in Arabic is kind of like a bike chain, and the concept in my head was that we're a bunch of individual creative artists, but also connected. A bike chain keeps things moving, y'know? Shortly after that, however, we were no longer working together. I was just working on my own, so the name "Ganzeer" became associated with the work I do.