Idlers' Logic, 24 min, 2003, video still
Courtesy of the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo and the artist
Since September 11, 2001 I have been continuously collecting and using stock images of a social and political nature in my mixed media works: images of riots, confrontations, masses in fury, images of combat, war, personal pictures of 'terrorists' and those of 'simple' people of North African and Middle Eastern features, features that would alone be enough to make their owners suspects of terrorism and make them enemies of modernity and of the free world.
The 'label' of North African, Arab or Middle Eastern describes me as well as other artists, politicians, scientists, lay-people and idlers scattered all over the world.
I wrote Idlers' Logic between August and December 2002. The 24-minute film, shortly followed by the 5-minute experimental video 'Obsessive Compulsive Neurosis', depicts three idlers of North African / Middle Eastern features locked up in a space. We discover through the scenes that, though idlers, they are not without talent.
The lead character turns out to be a trained singer, another character is obsessed by Hollywood action movies, and the third creates and plays indigenous musical instruments (the aboriginal didgeridoo).
Through equivocal Arabic (Egyptian) songs, some of them created during the politically effervescent years of the 1960s, and through excerpts from slang phrases and stock images of tele-news and commercial Egyptian films, the viewer receives a reflection of what flows in the minds of our three protagonists. Then we are able to navigate a process of 'socio-political revisionism' of the last four decades of regional history, tackling along the way the three Oriental Taboos: sex, politics and religion.
Selected infamous déjà vu scenes of kisses, (from commercial movies of the post 1967 era* when mainstream Egyptian cinema went trashy leading to a total film industry apocalypse in the seventies), are inserted within scenes to accentuate the idler's state of mind and its relation to the current global consumer culture.
Inserted phrases on the screen like "elly yetgawez ommi a'olloh ya ammi" ("whoever marries my mother I call uncle") first appeared in a stage performance of the same era of socio-political disappointments. Currently such a phrase implies a continuous change in allies and flexibility of ethics and values, for anyone can be an ally/uncle at any given moment.
"El amaleya fel namleya wel kezaza fel bazzaza": "the operation is in the kitchen cupboard and the bottle is in the baby's feeder", a phrase used sometimes in slang humor to signify simple jargon, first appeared in a black comedy of the late 60s after the 1967 military setback/defeat. The phrase was a cynical/sarcastic acid critique of the jargon of the inexperienced political and military leadership of the time.
A similar jargon appears today from leaders of Hegemony and superpowers who frame smaller nations with labels like 'weapons of mass destruction' and 'threat to the free world' etc.
Several phrases of a satirical nature appear on the screen throughout the 24 minutes and help the viewer smile his way through the intense history of four decades.
The Hollywood-obsessed character plays with and handles handguns and pistols throughout the film without uttering a single word. Through his North African / Arab features and his toying with guns, he delivers a virtual message that defies all labels: "I am Egyptian, I am African, I am Middle Eastern, I am Arab, I like guns that I did not invent, I get all my ideas and inspiration from your movies, and I do not care if you terrorist-label me or not".
The scene of gun-toying alone creates the short film 'Obsessive Compulsive Neurosis', where two protagonists, the singer and the Hollywood-obsessed, exist and interact without words in a cadre or frame, repeated several times to create a suspenseful atmosphere of confusion and lack of confidence, as if role-playing for a serious imaginary act to come. We see evidence that the whole scene is a big lie, an act, just like the notorious movie 'Wag the Dog'.
The didgeridoo player looks totally absorbed in his rhythm and percussions, delivering another message of carelessness: "though I have Middle East features, I do not follow your CNN or other satellite news bulletins, so you cannot Wag-The-Dog me too".
The singer of the three takes the viewer through a chain of equivocative-double-meaning songs that covers nudity, sexual preference, religious trash, sexism and other taboos.