Wednesday, 16 May 2018, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
re:work, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Georgenstr. 23, 10117 Berlin

This is What Socialism Looks Like:
Soundscapes of Memory and Archiving Practices of the Aswan High Dam Workers (1960-1970)


Alia Mossallam

(AUC / EUME Fellow 2017/18)

Chair: On Barak
(Tel Aviv U / re:work Fellow 2017/18, HU Berlin)

The Aswan High Dam re-channeled the flow of water and narrative around it. It channeled the progress of history towards post-colonial independence and industry, built a trajectory of knowledge flowing from Ancient Egyptian to Islamic Nile management technologies, and chiseled of Aswan a station of ‘transformation’ of the new Egyptian (wo)man. Official photographic archives of the Dam depict this through vast landscapes churned into construction-sites. “This is Socialism” these pictures announce, “This is modernity”. But the workers who worked on the Dam also have their archives. Visual archives of the Dam that revolve around the images and stories of those who contributed to the Dam, and memories drenched in overwhelming sonic experience. How is their own ideological experience of the Dam articulated through these archives? And how can images and sounds become a vocabulary for experiences that are either invisible to the narrative of the Dam, or threatening to its coherence?

Alia Mossallam is interested in songs that tell stories, and stories that tell of lesser known struggles and moments of popular mobilization behind better known events that mark World History. Her PhD dissertation explored a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories told and songs sung by people who contributed to milestone events of the 1952 revolution (the building of the Aswan High Dam, and the 1956 and 1967 wars). She has taught at the American University in Cairo (AUC), the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS), Freie Universität Berlin (FU) and held a series of history workshops ‘Ihky ya Tarikh’ with students, activists and artists in governorates all over Egypt, as an experiment in history-telling. She has also explored playwriting with Laila Soliman and Hassan El-Geretly as attempts to bring stories (and songs) of struggle unto the stage.
Her publications include an article on youth activism in the volume Democratic Transition in the Middle East, a workers’ history of the Aswan High dam in the Journal of Water History, and an article on history workshops in Egypt in the History Workshop Journal. She has also written for Mada Masr, Jadaliyya and Ma'azif. In 2017 and 2018, Mossallam is a EUME-FU Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, where she is working on a book on a popular history of the building of the Aswan High Dam, and starting a new project on the experience of the Egyptian Labour corps in World War I – mainly through songs, theatrics and cultural articulations of their experience on the home and war fronts.