Aya Nassar: ‘A hole with a view on the Nile’

Abstract: In this presentation, I want to experiment with making sense of the haunting presence of ruination, destruction, and debris as a mode of relating to Cairo in a post-2011 moment. I start with an urban void, a city gap, where a building once stood and is there no more! The building narrates the story of a museum that never came to be. It is a building that served as the municipality of Cairo, the headquarters of the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt, the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (NDP). A building that burnt in the revolutionary days of 2011, that stayed as an undetermined ruin-in-the-making for four years, that was explosively destroyed in May 2015, and that was meticulously and slowly deconstructed throughout 2015, leaving in its place an uneasy hole on the Nile.

The presentation traverses between my personal story with a building, and my research puzzlement with the capital city of Egypt as the space of postcolonial ambition and disappointment from 1952 onwards. I use the case of this building to academically make sense of  cities, ruins and memory. To grapple with the postcolonial “tragic afterlives” (Scott 2013) of the Arab spring, ruins, modernity and (post-)coloniality  (Edensor 2007, Gordillo 2014, Stoler 2013). Ultimately, however, to explore a little my personal ambivalent spectatorship of the destruction of a symbolically charged building as a hole-making process.

Bio: Aya Nassar is a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Studies (PaIS), the University of Warwick. She works on the politics of space in her home city Cairo.

Image credit: Fared Kotb, 2015.