Cultural Recoil

Cairo, Egypt, 2022

There are many reasons why we have chosen Egypt, after Albania and Morocco, as the destination for this third phase of our comparative research. What struck us the most was MASS Alexandria, a non-profit space —founded by artist Wael Shawky in 2010— with a vocation for artistic practice, research, and education. Unfortunately, ten years later, this experience has come to an end. It is a common fate for many artist’s initiatives and independent spaces dedicated to experimentation in Egypt. It is as if the wave of the Arab Spring and the failure of the protests had produced a real undertow, some form of cultural recoil in which there is no longer room for autonomous voices in a narcotized society, drowning into a system that is even more oppressive than the previous one.

Some critics acknowledge how intimist voices are emerging in the new Egyptian art scene, projected inwards to give room to a pars construens that it is now slowly moving again, step by step, taken by individuals, rather than a collective. Belonging, hope and inclusion are replacing the themes of resistance and political conflict. Perhaps this is the only way to express oneself when public space is denied? Tahrir Square is a visible example of this—it is now constantly guarded and occupied by hundreds of pots with olive trees that do not allow assemblies. Or think of the neighborhoods of Bulaq and Downtown Cairo, where historic buildings are being demolished or intentionally left in ruin to eliminate all traces of neighborhood networks, replaced by skyscrapers and luxury condominiums monitored by a multitude of cameras.