EGYPT: DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES
Curated by Ali Hussein AlAdawy
Featuring: Atteyat El-Abnoudy, Maged Nader, Mohamed Abdelkarim, and Assem Hendawi.
Online Screening and discussion: December 7 – 24, 2023
Free / $5 Suggested donation
The program includes an online discussion between the curator, scholar Mariz Kelada, and filmmakers Maged Nader, Mohamed AbdelKarim, and Assem Hendawi.
EGYPT: DREAM AND NIGHTMARES is a film program investigating questions of utopian dreams and dystopian nightmares in modern and contemporary Egypt following the army officers movement in 1952. This survey features works by filmmakers and artists from different generations who work across various film styles and narrative frameworks.
The first three films – Permissible Dreams, Rawya, and Girls Still Dream – are by the Egyptian feminist filmmaker Atteyat El-Abnoudy (1939-2018), whose initial artistic projects were documentaries made as part of a generation of artists and intellectuals working within the decolonial and national liberation movements of 1960s Egypt.
Her project primarily focused on producing prolific images of grassroots and marginalized people’s struggles for national independence–individuals and groups who were consistently forgotten and omitted by the official narratives engineered by the postcolonial nation-state. We see in these three films how she negotiates different frameworks related to producing so as to convert her films into democratic spaces. Among them are close-shot images of women struggling stubbornly to achieve their utopian dreams of autonomy, agency, and survival through education and hard laborious lives; they further deconstruct the systemic patriarchal structures and top-down modernization of the centralized Egyptian state project.
The remaining three contemporary films were created after the modern collapse of this national order which was instigated by the monstrous military power, itself born from the same national structure it annihilated. Since 2013, the current military ruling regime has diligently worked to dismantle national infrastructures and push them towards total collapse; it is a project emerging from the same national cosmology it sought to dismantle.
Maged Nader’s Most of What Follows Is True, immerses viewers in this collapse through a Bazinian-style long tracking shot leading towards the “Mystic;” a journey symbolizing the quest for truth. Here, the disappeared is metamorphosed into the flowing waters of forgotten memory. In Mohamed Abdelkarim’s Gazing ..Unseeing, views of vacant urban landscapes reflect speculative imaginaries of the failure of ahistorical, romantic “Back to nature” utopia of withdrawal and isolation, turned to a hyper-capitalist nightmarish dystopia of new-old real estate gated compounds. Ultimately, Assem Hendawi’s Everything Under Heaven presents a world made by theory-fiction CGI images that go beyond the hegemonic history of national cosmology towards “DESERTROPISM.” This signifies that a new political conceptualization of spatial and temporal infrastructures as well as orders are necessary for futurability. Perhaps the utopian images of hard-working girls and women in Atteyat’s films, struggling for their agency and autonomy, still resonate and echo in retrospect as a potential deliverance for the future
This program is standing in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people in Gaza (currently facing genocide and war crimes) as well as all people everywhere fighting for their decolonization and survival.
Ali Hussein AlAdawy, October 2023
Permissible Dream, Attiyat El-Abnoudi, Egypt, 1983, 31 minutes Permissible Dreams traces the life of Oum Said, a woman farmer living in a small town on the Suez Canal. Although she does not read or write, Oum Said is her family’s economist, doctor, and the planner of its future. As she dreams ‘to the limits of her possibilities,’ her family’s economic situation ultimately depends on normalized unwaged domestic labor and small-profit entrepreneurship.
Rawya, Attiyat El-Abnoudi, Egypt, 1995, 16 minutes A portrait of an ambitious peasant female artist.
Girls Still Dream, Attiyat El-Abnoudi, Egypt, 1995, 24 minutes The film realistically portrays the challenges facing girls in a country where one in four marries before age sixteen and one in five ever attends school. A striking view of how Egyptian women still struggle for such basic human rights as education and the avoidance of compulsory marriage.
Gazing… Unseeing.Netherlands, Mohamed Abdel Karim, Egypt, 8 minutes. Gazing… Unseeing speculatively envisions a dystopian future scenario of an Egyptian city post-disaster. Floods have taken over the West Sahara, setting off a string of corporate and governmental measures to control the rioting population. The film is based on an interview with an imagined fugitive. Through different positions, ideological turns, and questions on economic sovereignty, the interview imagines the future of the greens’, governments’, and private sectors’ relations to infrastructure, privatization, ecology, surveillance, and migration.
Most of what Follows Is True, Maged Nader, Egypt, 2020, 11 minutes A man returns to his neighborhood looking for his brother. He faces the destruction of his old area which has become a featureless wasteland. He keeps looking for his brother’s traces, but all he finds is the urban legend about his disappearance.
Everything Under Heaven, Assem Hendawi, Egypt, 2022, 17 minutes Everything Under Heaven is a poignant journey through Egypt’s history, encapsulating time as a flux between the old and the new, converging the past and the future. The narrative focuses on the post-1952 era, where a newly formed state seeks to establish itself through grand infrastructural projects that reflect its national cosmology. However, as it battles against the tides of time, it faces challenges in aligning its infrastructure’s materiality with its story. It uncovers the paradoxical intersection of speculative statecraft and finance, scrutinizing their shared reliance on the hyper-emotional—how belief makes itself real in the world. From the 1952 revolution’s national cosmology to the rise of global information technologies, the narrative chronicles the clash and synthesis of different cultural elements and the contorting face of sovereignty. As the city becomes an infinite algorithm, the film reveals a dystopian reality: a city that will never exist, perpetually caught in a loop of creation and consumption. The film is a mirror of the consequences of globalization, where the realm of territory transcends geographic and political borders. As the state’s power flows through the veins of cloud and fiber-optic cables, a revolution sparked in 2011, causing a rift in the national cosmology. The state, in a desperate attempt to regain its lost sovereignty, uses the desert as a canvas to carve out its new capital. “Everything Under Heaven” is a testament to how a nation’s identity evolves in its pursuit of sovereignty, financial speculation, and control over the sands of time.
EGYPT: DREAM AND NIGHTMARES is curated by Ali Hussein AlAdawy and is part of ArteEast’s legacy program Unpacking the ArteArchive, which preserves and presents 20 years of film and video programming by ArteEast. The program includes an online discussion between the curator, scholar Mariz Kelada, and filmmakers Maged Nader, Mohamed AbdelKarim, and Assem Hendawi.
Image Credit: Girls Still Dream (film still), Attiyat El-Abnoudi, Egypt, 1995, 24 minutes