Hala Elkoussy, Al-Khawaga and Johnny Stories (2011)

A film in the back room tells the story of Sein, who seems to be in perpetual flight around the city of Cairo. In piecing together her story, the artist may also be piecing together ours.

Like Sein, we find ourselves lost in the city or at least the shop at 87 Sandgate Road, in which the memories pile up on the wall. In places the postcards, adverts and photos are ten deep.

The colonial past is everywhere: in adverts for stationers and soap, in baroque architectural flourishes, in notices for travel agencies selling us the pyramids.

Egypt has just had a revolution, but this was not its first. It was not even its second. But with each convulsion of revolt, the country tries to move away from British or Western influence.

The 1,000 killed in Tahrir Square might not have even been there were it not to mark so-called Black Saturday, and the 1952 murder of 50 Egyptian police by our occupying forces.

Given the amount of blood shed during the Arab Spring so far, it is embarrassing to look from the walls to the collection of books which Elkoussy has laid out on a central table.

Thrillers and travel yarns tracked down on Ebay and via the British Library catalogue remind us that Egypt has long been considered a playground by the West, albeit a mysterious one.

So her installation implicates. If you’ve ever enjoyed a film about mummies or a visit to the British Museum, there are mirrors on the wall in which you see yourself.

The surrounding ephemera points to at least 1,001 stories in this Arabic city. And it may come as a surprise to find how many of them involve Johnny, in other words you or me.

This work can be seen at Folkestone Triennial until September 25 2011. See organisers’ website for more details. And read my interview with Hala Elkoussy here.

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