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 "The Core Utopian City: On Activist Practices in and beyond Tahrir"

by Mikala Hyldig Dal

Design and Activism:

Perspectives on Design as Activism and Activism as Design

2018, Mimesis International Publishing





“Media-archeologists of the future might mark 2011 as the year of transition from a locally disparate politics of dissent to a global protest culture. What we have been witnessing this past decade could be the emergence of a new visual regime in which geographical distinctions are dissolved into networked singularity.

The following essay is sparked by my observations of rapid changes in Cairo´s public space during three years of daily passage through the city in the wake of the January25 revolution. During this time I was researching iconography in Egypt´s political transformation(s) and teaching art and design in GUC and AUC in New Cairo City. I will discuss art and design practices as integral to the political struggle that made midan Tahrir a global icon of civil dissent. I will also suggest that the history we touch upon is still in a state of becoming.

The aesthetics at play in the simultaneously unfolding Arab uprisings resonated in protest movements in Turkey, North America and Europe by introducing a new form of political engagement. A new sensitized field of experience that testifies to a shift in the location of politics and unsettled the balance of existing power structures.

Considering political action as an integral form of experience engaged in a process of shared worlding, the place of politics always relates to public space and the interrelation of a plurality of human bodies in this (Butler 2015). How did the experiential field activated by the movements of 2011 feel like? How was it formed and formatted, which were the architectural designs, visual codes and modes of togetherness that defined its axis? In the ruptures of 2011, can we trace the outlines of a social sculpture in which artistic practice is integral to political participation?


“The core utopian city” was a nickname given to midan Tahrir by protestors who turned the heavily trafficked roundabout in downtown Cairo into a place for living. The place came to host a cluster of tents that offered shelter during nightly sit-ins. It contained a people's kitchen and provided treatment for medical emergencies. It also embraced a speakers corner, a public video archive, a stage for music and theatre performances, a painting work-shop – and an ever changing image gallery of photographic prints and graphical posters promoting new political groupings, commemorating victims of regime violence and invoking social engagement. The images created in this space spread out to murals throughout the dense architecture of the capital and, via online media, entered the global imaginary.”

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