STATES OF POSTCOLONIALITY/EGYPT






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Publication: Fuse Magazine
Author: Badger, Gina
Date published: October 1, 2011

To describe our state as postcolonial is not to say that colonialism is over, a thing of the past, but instead to insist on a certain historical continuity. It is a gesture against willful forgetting, a taking account of particular lineages of subjugation in order to underscore the importance of resistance, sovereignty and solidarity in the present. It acknowledges an extended age of empire in which neoliberal capitalism has largely taken the place of classical colonialism. It is to say that whether we like it or not, we immigrants, natives, settlers, refugees- we who make up the populace of a geography sometimes referred to as Canada-are bound together by an internationally recognized state that was founded under an imperialist agenda. Canada is a settler state. We are cognizant of our own postcolonial position when we ask: what does inhabiting a state of postcoloniality mean for the politics of the present?

Reaching beyond our locality and taking a regional approach to this question, the States of Postcoloniality series begins by turning its attention to three specific locations: Egypt, the (Canadian) Arctic and Lithuania. Working across the tensions generated by a grouping of vastly different regions, we hope to see if there are shared conditions that can work to define postcoloniality. Further, we hope that identifying these conditions we will help to build robust practices of sovereignty and solidarity.

Focusing resolutely on current events and issues, the series grounds these larger questions of postcoloniality in specific examples and lived experiences. Compelled by the infrastructures and economies of contemporary art as much as its varied and specific content, we will feature the work of critical programming institutions and curators in addition to artists and writers based in postcolonial states. We aim to build a robust lexicon of practices and ideas that envision states of postcoloniality characterized by social and environmental justice.

In the issue you hold in your hands, we have assembled a contemporaneous archaeology of this year's ongoing uprising in Egypt. As the first in our series on States of Postcoloniality, this issue implicitly draws connections between this year's uprising and a longer picture of Egypt's modern history. Since full British withdrawal from Egypt following World War II, the country has been subject to military rule that, at press time, has not been fully cast off. We will leave it to the political analysts and historians to carefully construct a narrative that convincingly links Egypt's last year to its more distant past. For the time being, we offer our readers a collection of interviews, arguments and images that work to filter and process aspects of this year's uprising. We ask how the nascent and marginal infrastructures of a contemporary art indigenous to Egypt might provide the tools to retake "the means of production of the present." [1]

A plurality of names and terms is symptomatic of history in the making. Uprising, revolt, revolution, pro-democracy, Arab Spring, January 25th Revolution, and so on, each making its own argument about the context, nature and durability of this year's political upheavals in Egypt and across the Middle East and North Africa. Remarkable resonances exist between events of 201 1 and of 1 91 9 (also variously described as uprising, insurrection or revolution). Nominally part of the Ottoman Empire at the outbreak of World War I, subject to occupation by Britain since 1882 and one of its protectorates since 1 91 5, Egypt was on the verge of becoming a full colonial state. Following WWI, the populist Egyptian Wafd Party planned to send a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference to demand that Egypt be recognized as an independent nation. Instead, four Wafd leaders were arrested and deported, sparking waves of mass demonstrations and peasant revolts. Although Britain was forced to concede Egyptian independence in 1 922 and subsequently dissolved their protectorate, British military occupation continued until 1 952. In 1 923, a 30-member legislative committee instated a new constitution, ushering in a period of liberalization and paving the way for the revolution of 1 952 and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Arab socialism.

With this history in mind, this issue's contributors can be seen as archeologists of the present- sifting, scrutinizing, preserving and juxtaposing an unending accumulation of events, images and thoughts. Unable to make conclusive statements (and perhaps not believing in them anyway), we nonetheless understand that some kind of material practice must accompany this tenor of political turmoil. Bassam el Baroni, in conversation with Nahed Mansour, insists that it is extremely risky to work with the materials of the revolution, that artists need the distance offered by time to exceed smartypants (and half-baked?) political commentary. Despite this, a moment of lived politics cannot be severed from the practices that employ form and rhythm to work through the present What is then the form, the rhythm?

Reflecting on two separate film programs screened this year- one shot in Alexandria by a French filmmaker, the other a collection of recent Egyptian cinema screened in Toronto-Aliza Ma suggests that perhaps the most useful perspective on revolution is an oblique one, an engagement with peripherally relevant images providing a focus analogous to the disarming optical effect by which certain stars are only visible when we look at them slightly askance.

A more direct engagement with the material conditions of this year's uprising is offered by Themba Lewis' photo essay through which we learn that, prior to January 25, 201 1, graffiti did not really exist in Egypt. Over the last nine months, resistance has been made visible on the surfaces of the city: rallies announced, important dates recorded, martyrs honored. Less about art than about communication, these painted signs become part and parcel of an active political process. Similarly attached to material manifestations of struggle, Olive McKeon, activates dance analysis to consider the embodied politics of riots, particularly the Battle of the Camel, waged in Tahrir Square on February 2.

What we hope to have assembled here is an open-ended inquiry that has reigned in both unguarded optimism and excess cynicism to consider the possibilities for politically engaged and relevant material practices in a time of incredible political upheaval. Next up in our States of Postcoloniality series is our Spring 201 2 issue devoted to an exploration of indigenous cultural sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for our Winter 2011 issue, featuring Peter Morin's Museum, Etienne Turpin's exploits North of Architecture and an interview by Nasrin Himada with the New York-based collective Red Channels.

[1] Claire Fontaine. We Are All Whatever Singularities. Seif-publishcd, 2006.

Author affiliation:

Gina Badger with the FUSE Editorial Committee

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