EGYPT: DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES
The program includes a recorded 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 real 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 spark and echo in retrospect as a method for a way out.
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
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.