Iconographic Battle: Visual Responses to Rab’a Massacre

By Nama Khalil
Submitted to Session P4919 (Contemporary Political Art of the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
One year after former-president Mohammed Morsi was elected, thousands of Egyptians called for his ousting on June 30th, 2013. Meanwhile, Morsi supporters congregated at Rab’a al-Adawiyya and al-Nahda Square; they continued their protest weeks after Morsi was removed from office. On August 14th, 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s current president, violently dispersed their encampment, marking the bloodiest day in Egypt’s modern history.

Building upon Jacque Rancière's theoretical work on politics and aesthetics, this paper focuses on the “iconographic battle” surrounding the Rab’a logo (a stark black hand displaying four fingers). I examine visual responses by supporters of the Rab’a protest, and those who opposed it, to reconstitute the narratives surrounding the massacre. Specifically, I ask: how do images reify political sensibilities that reflect existing social realities? I discuss how our knowledge of this violent event can be understood by its multiple representations. By analyzing several images, a music video, and a short film, I argue that these expressive cultural practices mirror traveling discourses and act as political agents that “redistribute[s] the sensible.”