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These Artists Staged a “Wheelchair Invasion” of Cairo’s Streets

The site-specific performance was intended to promote conversation about urban accessibility

If you were around downtown Cairo recently, you might have caught sight of a wheelchair caravan rolling through the city. The spectacle, called Mission Roosevelt, was part of a performance for the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival staged by the artists who founded and make up the Tony Clifton Circus. Twenty volunteers strapped themselves into wheelchairs and rode through town in an attempt to conquer urban space on two arm-powered wheels.

“Mission Roosevelt sets out to cross the urban space. It uses the wheelchair as an instrument and a tool, as a metaphor of the disparity through which to conquer the city,” they write on their Facebook page. “It is an experience of town planning, a performance appealing to the participation of the public which, installed on wheelchairs, is transformed into a kind of firing squad, in one merry war machine. Mission Roosevelt is an invasion of the city.”

A participant in this video produced by Medrar TV described the experience as “scary” in the beginning, because the chaos of Cairo’s streets offered plenty of opportunity for collision. It’s important to note that most of the participants were able-bodied. There appear to be a few people among the convoy who use the wheelchair on a regular basis, as a tool for navigating the world; they donned shirts that delcared them “differently-abled.” When the performance was over, the Tony Clifton Circus donated the chairs to those in need.

The artists of the Tony Clifton Circus say the project uses wheelchairs as a way to interrogate social perceptions of disabilities; specifically, they were interested in the fact that the wheelchair was inscribed with an “international taboo” that “crossed borders,” even though the chair symbolizes, for many disabled people, a tool of access and freedom. They’ve staged Mission Roosevelt in different parts of the world, including cities in Italy, France, and Lebanon. Because these stagings are site-specific, they help examine the particularities of urban accessibility in each city and how urban design accommodates disabled people.

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