The Fourth Pyramid Belongs To Her | '16
sneak peak

The Fourth Pyramid Belongs To Her, is an ongoing photographic body of work in which I draw analogies between the experience of losing my grandmother and the many attitudes towards death that have surrounded me growing up in Egypt; a country shaped by its history as the necropolis of an ancient civilization buried under years of sand. An oblivion to this essential character seems to prevail. A reflection of it is in how the picturesque image associated with the mention of Egypt; of oversized pyramids hiding underneath them carefully wrapped mummies, is hardly perceived beyond its touristic frame, as a human burial ground. Similarly, the nationwide cemetery has changing faces. It hosts a multitude of visitors: mourners, undertakers, tourists, archaeologists, smugglers, and sometimes boys playing hide and seek, each relating to this environment of death in their unique ways. Its ambiguous character allows it to be framed as a touristic site, a a workspace, a green park, a storage room, a clinical fridge, a vast desert, or even a domestic space. By juxtaposing these conflicting yet coexisting attitudes, the project acts as a visual commentary on contemporary perceptions of the dead in Egypt. It particularly reflects on the impersonal attitude towards ancient remains, by portraying my grandmother as a pharaoh and thereby instilling my ancestors humanity.
I was seventeen when my grandmother passed away, yet my parents did not want me to attend her funeral. Gradually, the family fell deeper into a heavy silence that was present in her absence. Eight years later, I made a strange connection between how I have never visited her grave and how I have not attended any of the frequent school trips to the pyramids of Giza. Curiosity drove me to discover a cemetery next door, and there for the first time I saw a coffin enclosing a man being taken down to his grave. What I remember the most was how the gravedigger amusingly called for his coworkers to assist him in carrying down the largely built dead man. The more time I spent at that graveyard, the less inappropriate a lot of things seemed to me, and the more insensitive I appeared to the rest of my family. The traces of my grandmother, however, appeared more vivid than before. Her absence was suddenly more visible, and the silence that prevailed whenever she was supposed to be present, whether physically or in the mind, was calling louder for the resurrection of her memories. For time has rendered her as only an abstract part of our former life. She is the pharaoh, remembered through his traces, yet never through his words and personal traits. She is the pyramid, admired for its structure, yet never for the role it played when it was still alive.
There are many attitudes that Egyptians have adopted towards death. There are those hiding behind the high walls that surround the newly built cemeteries, avoiding even the mention of the proximity of death. Others only perceive it as a saddening event and are consumed by it in mourning while never taking off their black clothes. There are a lot who do not see it especially when it is related to pharaonic times; as they wait in line to enter tombs admired for their mysteriousness, architectural mastery, and historical value. While some are working closely in comfort to it, and it becomes a recurring part of their everyday lives, like those in graveyards or morgues. And there are even those who seek it, whether in the form of suicide or in risking their own lives by illegally digging under their houses, or during archeological expeditions in search for a buried dead treasure. The shaping of those ways of perceptions came as a result of how the history of Egypt unfolded in relation to its unique nature as a necropolis of an ancient civilization. The earliest western expeditions that traveled to Egypt in the late eighteenth century documented extensively the whole country. This representation has many implications on how Egyptians themselves perceive their history and their ancestors. This is an essential aspect of my exploration in this project.

  • 1/20 The day I called on my courage and told my parents that I'd like to photograph her grave, they reflected my own hesitation and wished her to remain undisturbed. Instead I felt her proximity in a cemetery near her house. [Cemetery in Ard El Gold, Cairo]

  • 2/20 The 'Sound and Light' show performed at historical sites in Egypt illuminates necropolises and funerary temples in multiple colors. I sat down among the viewers looking at the theatrical play as the sphinx was given a voice, and the tourists were firing the flashes of their cameras. [Necropolis in Giza]

  • 3/20 In an Egyptian film, the daughter of the sun God was depicted as a human being with supernatural magical powers. One scene lingered long in my memory; when she slept in a fridge thinking that it was a coffin/ [Found Archival Image, from 'Bride of The Nile', directed by Fatin Abdel Wahab, 1963]

  • 4/20 [Written Reflections on the death of my grandmother]

  • 5/20 Many mummified ancient Egyptians are placed on display in museums, while the mere idea of treating similarly any of the deceased from later historical periods is frowned upon. A mummy is hence merely a fascinating object of science. [Museum in Leiden]

  • 6/20 [Found Archival Image, from the family photo albums of my grandmother, date unknown]

  • 7/20 Far from the bustle and the noise of tourists who roam across this postcard scenery, the sacredness of these tombs may come to mind. Their iconic shapes were drawn, photographed, studied and admired ultimately to become a symbol of anything other than a human's burial site. [Necropolis in Giza]

  • 8/20 She would lay down to rest her back. I laid there next to her after lunch, staring at the ceiling, and trying to open a conversation even though she wished to enjoy the silence. I remember the sound of her breathing, though my memories tend to merge with my imagination. [Grandmother's House]

  • 9/20 Small statues and figurines were placed inside of pharaohs' tombs as part of their preparation for the afterlife. Now they are found stacked in souvenir shops. The most famous bazar in Cairo is Khan El Khalily; which was once the burial site of the Fatimid caliphs. [Bazar in Old Cairo]

  • 10/20 Letters were found in ancient cemeteries reflecting a form of belief in a communication with the dead. The ancient Egyptians would sleep near their deceased loved ones to meet them in dreams. Many now reside in the 'City of the Dead', due to difficulties in finding affordable housing. [Cemetery in Cairo]

  • 11/20 The field of Egyptology brings a lot of pride to Egyptians, even though it was born during the French occupation of Egypt and flourished with colonialism. [Found Archival Image, from The World Digital Library, 'Description of Egypt, Second Edition. Antiquities, Volume One (Plates)' 1820]

  • 12/20 The temple believed to be built in the sacred location where Osiris was buried, is the pilgrimage destination of some Europeans. Perceived by the locals as worshipers of Isis, those visitors wear all white and meditate inside for hours. [Portrait of my sister, Temple in Abydos]

  • 13/20 The relation between dreaming and communicating with the dead is in no doubt in relation to the perception of sleep as a form of death. The dreamer lingers with a body attached to the space of the living and a spirit floating in the realm of the dead. [Cemetery in Ard El Golf, Cairo]

  • 14/20 Many coffins and sarcophagi were found open and their contents damaged or stolen when re-discovered by an archaeological expedition. Thieves hoped to find mummies for the jewellery burried with them. However, they still are haunted by the idea of a pharaohs' curse. [Museum in Cairo]

  • 15/20 Displayed under gallery lights, these frozen exhibits appear vivid due to their choreographed poses, even though they are in unperceived slow decay. The alive-looking dead creatures represent our human desires to document the fleeting world and to defy its temporality. [Museum in Giza]

  • 16/20 [Found Archival Image, from the family photo albums of my grandmother, date unknown]

  • 17/20 During the building of Egypt's High Dam, some temples were rescued from the flooding of the Nile and were moved to a higher ground. Many are now slowly decaying under water, perhaps waiting until one day a curious expedition re-discovered them. [Funerary Temples in AbuSimbel]

  • 18/20 We roamed around picking figs until our fingers were numb from the irritating thorns. Later, I learned from the gravedigger that these plants cover a land where many are buried without headstones. Those forgotten became marked by a plnat that grows despite itself being forgotten. [Cemetery in Cairo]

  • 19/20 The tombs of Saqqara are maze- like corridors, with false doors and many undiscovered treasures. In the Book of the Dead, souls jour- ney through this area of the desert which is described as a barren and dry land with narrow tunnels in the underworld. [Necropolis in Saqqara]

  • 20/20 Many tombs are now empty, others are visited for the drawings carved on their walls, while some are re- buried after their curious analy- sis and documentation have taken place. Museums on the other hand are packed with artifacts and are in constant need for additional storage space. [Museum in Cairo]