This week in Al-Akhbar English, Sayyid Mahmoud reports on the work of artist Ahmad al-Labbad and his efforts to capture the public art which appeared all over Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere during the January 25 revolution – “the largest open art exhibition the world has ever known.”
For Labbad, the the graffiti, symbols and placards were valuable records of the revolution – and ones that reflected the people’s experience. In Mahmoud’s words: “The graffiti glowed brilliantly from the minds of Egyptians who joined in the revolution.” Not only did Labbad photograph the works but he has also categorised them according to their subject and date.
And it’s just as well he did. In his words:
I imagined that the revolution would spur us to reconsider the value of the idea of accumulati. It is unfortunate that Tahrir Square was subjected to a frightful operation that erased the artifacts of the revolution. The removal of all the paintings and writings that appeared in the seventeen days prior to Mubarak’s stepping down were done under the pretense of cleaning up. Magically, all forms of graffiti were removed from the walls. Thus, under the charge of ‘beautifying the city,’ the authorities launched an attack on history.
Anne Picot, Sydney recordkeeper and co-founder of the Recordkeeping Roundtable reflected on Labbad’s project this week in the Archives + Records Google group:
These conscious endeavours to create public, preserved records of momentous events which challenge our traditional notions of the archive I find tremendously exciting. They are putting the understanding Australians have long argued for – the archives/recordkeeping as instrument of accountability – front and centre of the task of preservation but at the same time it is active community memory/monument making and celebration of events they have themselves participated. Nothing could be further from the passive subjects of history which is the role ordinary people usually find themselves depicted in, in our official archives.
Labbad’s project a great example of how technology, free flow of information and generational change have created the impetus for people to participate in the recordkeeping process to form archives that show and confirm their experience. As Anne notes, such participatory archives serve as important counters to those formed by business or government recordkeeping, with the State or corporations controlling what evidence is made, kept, destroyed or revealed, through the filter of their political, economic and moral values – and often with governance around such processes that is closed, discouraging society’s gaze.
At this point in history we have more power than ever before to create, share and sustain community driven archives like this one. As recordkeeping professionals we should be embracing and helping however we can with these efforts – for example, how could this important collection be connected up online with the body of records being made available via the National Archives of Egypt’s Committee to Document the Jan 25 Revolution led by historian Khaled Fahmy? (as described in a previous post) A distributed, non custodial archive of the revolution that truly meets what we fondly call in our appraisal practice ‘community expectations’. Surely if we are about creating super structures for contextualising and pluralising archives, this is a way we can contribute.
Labbad has contributed his own amazing work to this collection; go to the full article here to see images that he made to explain the demands of the revolution; Ya Halawet al-`Adala [The Sweetness of Justice], Muhasaba [Accountability], Tathir [Purification], La Nisyan [No Forgetting] and La Tasamuh [No Forgiveness].