Beyond the Binaries

Beyond the Binaries: A Seminar on the contested terms of “Modernism” and “Contemporaneity” in Performing Arts across Contexts

NVIC – Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo
April 20, 2015

Moderated by
Ismail Fayed (writer researcher)

Doaa Aly (visual artist)
Gabo Camnitzer (artist and teacher)
Mona Gamil
(new media artist and contemporary dancer) 

Alexandra Stock (curator and artist)


While in the West terms such as, “Modernism” or “Contemporary” seem to evoke a certain historical trajectory and a specific accumulation of historical events and artefacts, in the Middle East and the Arab-speaking world, the terms evoke different experiences, and in many cases almost used interchangeably. There can be no argument as to the fact that Arab-speaking world was integrated into the international system (1840-1990) in many ways and in many forms, whether through colonialism, war, the mandate system, zones of influence, the two World Wars, the Cold War, and so on. The political and economic integration of the Arab-speaking world into the international system, sometimes forcibly, does not necessarily mean that Arab states and societies wholeheartedly embraced or experienced “Modernism” or “Contemporaneity” at the same time as the West or even the same way.

One of the earliest artistic practices to be ushered into the era of “Modernism” was performing arts. As early as 1869 Yaqub Sanu staged the first prototype of theatrical “revue” inaugurating the first staged performance on a Western-style stage and within the modern notion of a theatre setting in Cairo. And since then theatre has undergone drastic changes in relation to the state (from the state being a patron, to the state being sole producer to the state being an antagonist), which created different experiences on what performance means across time. The rise of neoliberalism and the atrophy of the state as the architect and producer of artistic and cultural practices, parallel to the fundamental changes brought to societies through globalism and capitalist infiltration created a vacuum that raised fundamental questions on what it means to stage performance, here and now, and what constitutes “contemporaneity” for performing arts.

Through dialogue with Swedish partners on the different experiences of the concepts of “modernity” and “contemporaneity” for performing arts, the seminar seeks to show and contrast how these experiences created different or similar realities and how can we envision a future for performing arts at time of unpredictable and fragment political and social reality.

The Art Consulate is an international mobile platform for dialogue, theoretical exchange and the performing arts. “Missing Rooms” is The Art Consulate’s first project between Cairo and Gothenburg.