Paola Abenante

Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology,

University Milano-Bicocca.


You taught me what Egypt means’ : some considerations on the ambivalent spaces of the Revolution.

Starting from the description of a drawing by one of the many ‘artists of the Egyptian Revolution’, exposed for several weeks on a sidewalk in the winding alleys behind Midan Tahrir, this presentation explores the ambiguity in the definition of the (Egyptian) ‘people’ in relation to the uses of public space.  Midan Tahrir has seen indefinite multitudes joining together in a collective democratic sensibility, bridging religious and social differences through mutual help and a shared desire for change. Initially, religious as well as other socio-cultural allegiances did not come to the forefront as vehicles of or frames for the general discontent. However, soon after the first uprisings, competing ideas and claims about who the Egyptian people should be, surfaced. In this presentation I will reflect upon how these competing claims are mirrored in the different uses and definitions of public space and, vice-versa, upon how different and competing uses of urban spaces contribute to defining the boundaries of ‘publicness’ and the ‘people’. Among these, the display of graffiti, paper sculptures and drawings, and their censoring; the different spatial trajectories of the numerous street demonstrations, as well as the staging of national events; the street performances of independent artists, as well as the state-sponsored workshops organized by the Ministry of culture to revive the tradition of  al-masrah al shaar‘a, -street theatre.


Paola Abenante has obtained her Ph.D. in 2010 from the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy; she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Bergen, Norway in 2010-2011, and is now postdoc at the University of Milano Bicocca. Her research interests revolve primarily around forms of subjectivity and Islamic traditions, with a particular focus on Sufism and on Egypt. Her latest research explores the issue of subjectivity in relation to the politics of culture in Egypt.


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