EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 16 Okt 2019 | 17:00–18:30

»The Magical Bead of Sweat« and Other Stories: Illustrated Ideologies in High Dam Comics (1960-1964)

Alia Mossallam (EUME Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2017-20), Chair: Lamia Moghnieh (EUME Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation 2019-20)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Akhir Sa'a, May 1964

Between 1960 and 1964, many Egyptian children’s magazines featured the building of the Aswan High Dam in all their content. Comic strips, poetry and “Ask mama Lubna” columns seemed to be directed at a general childhood to be infused with high modernist socialist ideology, as well as the children of dam-builders and of Nubian communities who were about to be displaced. To think of some of the content as science fiction is not far from the truth as many of these illustrated events, scenarios and even structures appear six years prior to their realisation. This presentation will explore the visual vocabulary in these comics for how it communicates the Arab socialist worldview through the hydro-electric industrial/revolutionary project that the Dam signified.

The comics present us with an opportunity to understand what the essential components of ideology behind the Dam were - how the Dam and the Nile feature in their centrality to that and other ‘Third World Revolutionary projects’. These published illustrations can be juxtaposed against the personal photographs that the builders and Nubian families collected throughout the project. Images flowing back and forth between signifier and signified, creating a culture of visual discourse that articulated and re-articulated the project that engulfed hundreds of thousands, though not always as they chose. 

Alia Mossallam is interested in songs that tell stories and stories that tell of popular struggles behind the better-known events that shape world history. For her PhD she researched a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through the stories and experiences of the popular resistance in Port Said (1956) and Suez (1967-1974) and the construction of the Aswan High Dam through the experiences of its builders and the Nubian communities displaced by it. She makes an argument for the significance of songs as both history and historiography.
In her interest to make her research accessible to wider publics in various formats (visual, lyrical and musical), she has tried her hand at playwriting with David Grieg, Hassan El-Geretly, Laila Soliman and written her first short-story “Rawi” with 60 Pages. She strove to create more spaces for history-telling through the site-specific public history project “Ihky ya Tarikh”, in Aswan, Port Said, Alexandria and historical neighborhoods in Cairo. Within institutional (but no less experimental) frameworks, she has taught at the American University in Cairo, CILAS, and the Freie Universität in Berlin.
Alia is currently a EUME fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, writing a book on the visual and musical archiving practices of the builders of the Aswan High Dam and the Nubian communities displaced by it. As a Visiting Scholar at the Lautarchiv, she has also started a new project researching the experiences of Egyptian workers on the various fronts of World War I through the songs and memoires that recount their struggles. Some of her writings can be found in The Journal of Water History, The History Workshop Journal, Jadaliyya, Ma’azif, Bidayat and Mada Masr.

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