Critics’ Picks

Maha Maamoun, Night Visitor: The Night of Counting the Years, 2011, digital video, color, sound, 8 minutes 30 seconds.


Maha Maamoun

Sursock Museum
Greek Orthodox Archbishopric Street, Ashrafieh
February 24–June 12, 2017

This museum is an ironically fitting setting for Maha Maamoun’s Night Visitor: The Night of Counting the Years, 2011, a film constructed from YouTube clips the artist compiled in the months following the initial uprising of the 2011 Egyptian revolution during the Arab Spring. The work documents a series of trespasses on the part of liberated Egyptian civilians into the hitherto hermetically sealed, intensely defended spaces of the state’s security wing, responsible for many brutal abuses under the auspices of President Mubarak’s draconian Emergency Law. The revealed gilded interiors, with their expensive Baroque furniture and gold-framed photographs of suited government functionaries, mirror the Belle Epoque architectural trimmings of the Sursock Museum, an unintended parallel that becomes all the more troubling once the video descends into bare interrogation chambers festooned with the graffitied prayers of past torture victims.

Exhibited alongside this piece is Dear Animal, a 2016 narrative film shot in Cairo and India that is based on a series of letters by Azza Shaaban and a short story by Haytham El-Wardany about a drug dealer who transforms into a goat. Shaaban, a filmmaker who participated in the Arab Spring demonstrations, wrote the letters from the perspective of being caught between human and dolphin forms as a kind of of therapy. The dreamy and often quite beautiful film, which departs dramatically from Maamoun’s earlier video collage methods, comically shifts between narrative, temporal, and spatial registers, presenting a familiar world made strange through subtle transformation and quiet reactions to sociohistorical trauma.