One of the first goals of state power, is in controlling the body by direct engineering of the containing space and time. It is often one of the most common scenes to be performed by the stifling regime. (the term “regime” here does not only refer to the political regime(s) as States and/or governments, but it includes any set of correlated conditions to organize the execution and production of any entity: Knowledge, society, power, authority and etc.). Not merely the ‘Corporal Body’ is under the power of repression and/or dominance, but all manifestations of bodies, starting with the biological body, and reaching all the way to the linguistic and the cultural ones, given that they are corporal extensions. Regimes generally regulate the public space (affecting the concept of the private space), and for this to be regulated, the individual bodies and their belongings are controlled, monitored and excluded throughout and from different spaces managed or affected by the power. In the Arabic speaking region the use of public space has been as limited as personal freedoms were. Such freedoms diminished in an accumulative way, particularly since the importing waves of petro-dollar consumer-oriented religious culture, upon the mass immigrations of non-Gulf Arabs to the Gulf area and back. The ‘group body’ was nourished with this, on the expenses of the individual body, its rights and needs. Biased and politicized religious interpretations of everything in daily life provided the state and the society a power over the individual, transforming religion into a commodity. The violent impact of controlling bodies (politically, culturally, socially and individually) led to the reinvention of public and private as notions and as practices in Egypt of the 21st century. This has been one of the main battles between the state, society and individuality in the latest years.
During the Arab revolutionary waves, which should not be seen as a relational exception when looking at the structure of the society and its relations of production, the body still- together with all its manifestations- appears in a state of confrontation with power and its dynamics. Perhaps the state of revolt the body now is witnessing in that context, is of an intensified refusal and resistance against waves of alienation it has been subjected to lately.
Our bodies are physical and conceptual constructions. They are reactive, they are engineered, they are recycled and reproduced within specified and intersecting spaces. Such spaces are composed of three elements in an interacting mesh-like relationship:
Environment/ Physical space
Discourse/ The mesh of relations between the different signifiers
Artistic practices based on movement expression in space should not be dealt with as an exception or a separation from the ‘expressivity’ of the human body through its daily life and its floating with or against the power. “Expressivity” in its production, its recycling of meanings and concepts. It should also not be seen as a distraction away from the expressivity of the human body; starting from the physiologically derived bodily expressions, and reaching to the “civilised” manifestation. This separation is a product of the power of repression and prohibition created between meaning/ signification, word/ body, and hence the monopoly of meaning/ signification is at its basic nature one of the most pronounced mechanisms of repression. By this, the formation of meaning bypasses the word, and is hijacked by mechanisms of the hegemonic discourse that controls the generation of meanings and their re-creation and recycling. Let’s take Civic Spaces :”City” as a specific example. City is a modern space constructed to guarantee/provide its inhabitants: individuals and groups, the required conditions to maintain their “Biological livelihood” including: free movement, Bodily Organic Excretion, Bodily Safety, and Nourishment. And what is seen as the ‘modern’ aspect of this human invention/ City, that it should regulate properly all of those conditions in the shortest time period. City in this case is an organic space which provides only the basic biological needs for bodily/biological survival, but it won’t be any better “expressively” than the Stone – Age Cave which provided shelter, security, excretion and reproduction necessities as well.
And, perhaps this is what could be read throughout a history of repression and tyranny, and the confrontations with the repressive powers at times of Arab revolutions. It started first through the body as a materialistic word by its presence in public spaces (built and controlled by the authority) to send a clear individual message. It is not an exceptional idea -through out different contexts of history- to do so, yet it is because the body/ word is a physical construct that exists and that expresses, and it has its space and place, and as always in relations with other constructs. And we can refer to Yi Fu Tuan the renowned Geographer when he said: “Space is about freedom and Place is about security” in his book ‘Space and Place’.
In this same light we can see the symbolic/ the meaning of “Khaled Said” as an embodiment of the word repression, where the word itself becomes the meaning of the meaning, in a Shakespearian sense almost, even if the history of bloodshed and violations of bodies was never new to the structure and history of the Mubarak regime. Khaled Said’s case though can be seen as an embodiment of a large stratum of the Egyptian youth, and this was the first spark of expressivity that revealed and disclosed the significance and the importance of the body in the practice of ‘expression’ of liberation after 30 years of oppression. We saw how a body/Idea was confronting materialist power; power exerted over the body itself.
During the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt since the eruption of the Egyptian revolution, there have been other confrontations at moments of revolt and of spatial manifestations that reveal the significance of the body and its reaction to ruling power relations over space and bodily existence. All dynamics of meaning and significance production were in a complicit conspiracy against the ‘Tahrir Girl’. Be it the religious institutions which through the years framed private bodily freedom as the opposite of the collective body’s freedom and integrity. More specially if it is a feminine body, a body expected to be always ruled, owned and controlled by the masculine one facilitated by different types of ideological religious discourses. This control is prolific in Egypt, reaching different levels of the political economy’s core basics. Several institutions intrusive strategies collaborated on the violation of the expressive human body first (with many crackdowns on artistic entities and individual), and then on female bodies specifically. March 2011, during protests led by women, forceful ‘Virginity Tests’ were conducted by the state against the will of arrested female protesters. Such repressive procedures that have been established on the grounds of violating the Body/ Word, under the guise of protecting a value, or the socially constructed meaning of “ethics” is part of the regime’s control over the body. In this sense one wonders how or why the body of an artist could be separated from such a reality. One also wonders how the body organizes itself, choreographs itself and responds to movement within such conditions. The constant violations become reality, and perhaps this is the ‘political performance’ we are looking it; the tension between the bodies, the state, the violations, the choreographies.
Expressive movement based artistic practices are not separate – and perhaps are the only artistic practices that are not separate- from life, the public space, the private space, the existentialist space of the human being as a whole through all its developments and syntheses. The body is affects and is affected by the political and social fields that surrounds it, as power has a direct impact on the body. Power invests the body, marks it and discriminates against it, trains it, tortures it, recreates it and ignores it, includes it in its discourse and other manifestations of power in order to fulfil its discourse related aims leading to the continuity of power’s control over the individual and the collective consciousness, rotating the moral/ ideological forces towards it.
The body can be considered as an effective force when it is possible to produce it/ to position it, given that the body is both an objective entity, and an entity that is produced, simultaneously. Producing bodies is not merely done through creating it as a tool of violence or an ideological structure or construct, but can also happen by directly subjecting the body to a physical relation with its immediate environment, as part of the duality of the influential and the influenced, without even a direct violent intervention. This fulfilled force can be calculated, organized, legalized, controlled, even if it sometimes remains unnoticed or undefined. We can identify some of different manifestations of bodily significant signs in Egypt in the control of body and space. For instance, bearded males and veiled females are legally forbidden from appearing on national media channels as representatives or as news anchors, despite the fact that they represent numerical wise a great deal of the population. Body-politics played a clear role in issuing judgements through racial and social classist discriminations. This has been used often to incriminate the revolutionaries by the opposing regimes (whatever the regime is). Arrested Egyptians of a visibly darker skin colour and coarse hair have been judged as ‘thugs’ and described as ‘threats’ to the society, by the national media.
The body within public space is subjected to all those indirect constructs of power relations, that are produced through dynamics of the repressive discourse, and political economy within the structure of the system and of the society. In this context, any abstract movement of the body is in conversation and is in the nearness of all such powers, constantly producing a discourse and a counter-discourse, rendering the body expressive; an expressivity that needs no theatre or stage, where the body itself becomes a state of expressivity.
The body within such conditions is a body that forms its own flexibility and is a resistant body all at once. The body’s flexible expressivity while confronting power and its many effective forces is a mode of resistance and of dependency all at once. Such engineering, together with its resistant or dependent discourse manifestations, could be read through analyzing the forces present within a scene of resistance of power. Dance, for instance, as a form of physical expression in a public place, confronts at the moment of its happening all power constructs; these political constructs that give themselves the right to define, and to own ‘public places’, and thus decide upon the presence or absence of the body in it, even when the nature of ‘public places’ is defined by the fact it is publicly owned, where all are equal in its ownership as per the contract between the citizens and the institution/ the state. These confrontations extend to the conceptual structures that make the movement expressions tied up within the system of right and wrong, generated by the culturally hegemonic construct, be it religious, social, political or from the perspective of sexuality, all of which agree on controlling the body, its movements, and its relation with itself or with the other.
The body remains the subliminal space of the individual self from one direction, and that of the society from another, and hence, the body becomes an organic part of the ‘discourse’ of both involved parties at times of confrontations between the individual self and the society-self, and the power caused by the ‘self’ in its two manifestations eventually influences the body leading it to express this power itself through one mode or another. This corporal expression becomes then a ‘text’ expressing the individual and the society, or more precisely: the word and meaning, and reading such corporal expressions is a reading of the development of the relation of the individual-self to that of the societal, within the space that brings them together: the body. One can see this by studying photographic images capturing body movements in any city, and what this movement signifies and the powers that influence it. Physical movement in space in a city like Beijing, is different from movement in Cairo, and both are different from Riyadh, or Beirut, and others.
And any ‘physical taming’ or ‘engineering’ of the body and its movement, whether from a self-perspective, or one enforced by the societies and the selves of its individuals- or all- controls and fetters the body’s self-expressive capacity, all done for the sake of the powers that monopolize meaning. It is the body that is the basis of sustaining all confrontations, and the dynamics of roles and social relations, from the position of power and the individual. It is here that the importance of corporal expressive arts emerges clearly, not as a divertissement, but as another facet of life’s facets.