Grey Space, Tahrir Laser: Conspiracy, Critique and the Urban in Julie Mehretu’s Depictions of Revolutionary Cairo
- 232 Downloads
This chapter explores the relationship between conspiracy and the city by drawing together in comparative analysis artist Julie Mehretu’s paintings series ‘Mogamma: A Painting in Four Parts’ with ethnographic research in 2011–2013 revolutionary Cairo, as well as reflexive scholarship on critical theory. Mehretu strives to represent the ‘grey space’ or ‘thirdspace’ of symbolic urban fora such as Tahrir Square through a process of marking, layering and erasing. What remains is a depiction of the city as defined by the gap between that which is spontaneous and that which is planned, most evident when considering urban violence. The telescopic complexity and disorientation in interpreting symbolic sites when confronted with transformational political events, where both the big picture and the small picture cannot be witnessed at once, evokes both the central argument of Bruno Latour’s landmark essay, ‘Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?’, and the logic sustaining many of Egypt’s conspiratorial tropes—tropes that in turn provide an ideological infrastructure for violence. If this disorientation is understood anthropologically as a mass ritual process for which symbolic city space is the necessary stage, then it follows that the urban and conspiracy necessarily intersect. I conclude by outlining some of the central characters of urban conspiracy and violence in revolutionary Egypt, showing how, especially when times are uncertain, they are imagined as thriving between planned and spontaneous spaces.
KeywordsGray Space Tahrir Square Ritual Process Thirdspace Human Spontaneity
- ANSA.it. (2016). ‘Union leader says he reported Regeni’. ANSA. Online Source: http://www.ansa.it/english/news/general_news/2016/12/29/union-leader-says-he-reported-regeni_1a92ce8b-d9e5-4b7b-90b7-ca1de442958f.html Accessed 9 January 2017.
- al-Ibrashy, M. (2015). ‘Confusion or Stupidity in Post-Tahrir Egypt’. The Funambulist. Online Source: https://thefunambulist.net/podcast/may-al-ibrashy-confusion-or-stupidity-in-post-tahrir-egypthttps://thefunambulist.net/podcast/may-al-ibrashy-confusion-or-stupidity-in-post-tahrir-egypt Accessed 10 June 2017.
- Al Jazeera.com. (2014). ‘Egypt’s Sisi Cleared for Presidential Bid’. Al Jazeera. Online Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/01/egypt-sisi-given-rank-field-marshal-201412713125673146.html Accessed 9 January 2017.
- Armbrust, W. (2013). ‘The Trickster in Egypt’s January 25th Revolution’. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 55(4), pp.834–864.Google Scholar
- Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.Google Scholar
- De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Economist.com. (2016). ‘A movable beast Egypt’s bureaucrats can act fast when they want to’. The Economist. Online Source: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21702181-egypts-bureaucrats-can-act-fast-when-they-want-movable-beast Accessed 9 January 2017.
- El Kadi, G. (2012). Cairo, Centre of Movement. Marseille: Insitute de Recherche pour le Dévelopment.Google Scholar
- Ghosn, R., Jazairy, E. H., and Ramos, S. (2008). ‘The Space of Controversies, Interview with Bruno Latour’. New Geographies: Design, Agency, Territory, 0, pp. 122–135. https://www.academia.edu/11620650/The_Space_of_Controversies_An_Interview_with_Bruno_Latour
- Holston, J. (1989). The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Hrw.org. (2014). ‘All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt’. Human Rights Watch. Online Source: https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/08/12/all-according-plan/raba-massacre-and-mass-killings-protesters-egypt Accessed 9 January 2017.
- Kandinsky, W. (1977) . Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Sadler, M. T. H., trans. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
- Mbembe, A. (2001). On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Mehretu, J. (2011). ‘Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture with Artist Julie Mehretu. In: Smithsonian American Art Museum’. Online Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCIDZVPaNWk Accessed 9 January 2017.
- Mehretu, J. (2013). ‘Julie Mehretu Interview: The In-Between Place’. Louisiana Channel. Online Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38uTZCU0VqQ Accessed 9 January 2017.
- Simone, A., and Pieterse E. (2017). New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Soja, E. (1996). Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Thomassen, B. (2009). ‘The Uses and Meanings of Liminality’. International Political Anthropology, 2(1), pp.5–27.Google Scholar
- Turner, V. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Cornell: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Whitecube.com. (2013). ‘Julie Mehretu: Liminal Squared (1 May–7 July 2013 at South Galleries and 9 × 9 × 9, Bermondsey)’. White Cube gallery. Online Source: http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/julie_mehretu_liminal_squared_bermondsey_2013/ Accessed 9 January 2017.