A Tie Would Be Nice
Egypt and Algeria are set to play each other in football (soccer, if you please) again.
And if past experience is any indication, no good can come of it, seemingly anywhere. Violence exploded throughout the Mediterranean the last few times these passionate rivals took to the pitch, and even a London-based Algerian artist (Zineb Sedira), invited to participate in Egypt's Alexandria Biennale, had her invitation rescinded as a result (see earlier post on this here). The Art Newspaper's Claudia Barbieri has been investigating this story and today reveals that, more than simply a mockery of the biennale's mission, this decision was epically ironic:
[Sedira] was initially reluctant to accept the invitation to exhibit at the biennale. “I’d rather they’d given this opportunity to an Algerian artist living in Algeria,” said Sedira.I had a lovely chat with Claudia about this issue in which I noted that it's impossible to judge from here whether or not Mohsen Shaalan (head of the fine arts sector of the Egyptian culture ministry and president of the Biennale) was right to cancel Sedira's participation in the exhibition (visitor safety trumps everything, in my opinion, and we are simply not in a position to know what the inclusion of the work might have wrought), but the nature of the letter and its rationale offered to the artist for the cancellation was simply inexcusable. Shaalan had informed her:
But [biennale curator, Mohamed] Abouelnaga was persuasive. He had strong reasons for wanting her. This 25th anniversary edition of the biennale was to be the first since the event was established in 1955 for which the government, eager to burnish its liberal, non-authoritarian credentials, was allowing the curator carte blanche to choose his participants, rather than accepting official nominations—and he wanted it to win recognition as a top-ranking international event. “I wanted to present in Alexandria a real contemporary art event on all levels,” Abouelnaga told The Art Newspaper last month. “I selected Zineb because I have great respect for her work.”
In the biennale’s historical framework, the Mubarak government’s decision to allow curatorial freedom appears to have been a calculated, but botched, gamble—an attempt to demonstrate light-touch political confidence that a sudden crisis turned into ham-fisted bullying.
that in response to “the request of the Egyptian population and notably the nation’s intellectuals”, her invitation to take part in the biennale, starting three weeks later, had been cancelled. The reason, it said, was “recent incidents committed by the Algerian public”[...] “I thought it was a joke at first,” said Sedira. “It was shocking, I didn’t expect it. It says a lot about Egypt and its government. I was shocked at the lack of professionalism.” It didn’t help that the letter was initially sent in Arabic—a language she doesn’t read, obliging her to ask for a translation.There are signs that perhaps the Biennial will reconsider their decision and re-invite Sedira:
References to Sedira, removed from the biennale website when her invitation was revoked, have since been reinstated.But much would seem to depend on what happens in today's match. Fortunately, as the BBC notes,
Followers from both sides insist the match will pass off without incident, because the prize is not so great - a place in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, as opposed to a berth at the first World Cup on the African continent.Let's hope they're right.
Only Sedira can decide, should the invitation be re-issued, whether it makes sense for her to accept again. I would hope the Biennial goes the extra mile to encourage her. It's a shame for football politics to derail the evolution of this event into a more open important event among the international biennial circuit.