Cairo Tower and King Kong: Utopia, Nostalgia and Cairo’s archives of pictures

Just came came across the Sunduq El-Dunia interactive website, and fell in love with it.  Partly because what I feel as an archive-anxiety about the history and memory of the city; which is developing in a lot of uncomfortable ways into projects of branding, gentrifying and fetishising the city;  at the same time as access is becoming increasingly difficult for researchers and the public at large. A symptom of a curating fever of the everyday that is not mundanely available or relatable anymore.

  This anxiety  is also showing itself in digital practice of nostalgia specially on Facebook  (read on that here by Lucie Ryzova), also by neoliberalising both the archives (again by Ryzova), and the spaces they archive (the most obvious example is the re-discovery of downtown as a site of nostalgia, redeemed heritage, and haunting).

I love how this project is bringing is curating pictures from very very different registers; personal collections, vintage pictures, Facebook pages trivia and memorabilia, and the way it overlays this in a map of time and space. There is a short video on earlier installations in Copenhagen (reported on here):

And two introductory videos in Arabic and in English.

My first find on the website was this beautiful collage.

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Soad Hosni stared in the movie “A rendevouz at the Tower”  (1962), which is adapted from from the Empire State Building celebration  “An affair to remember “(1957).

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The Egyptian movie quickly followed the inauguration of the Cairo Tower in 1961. A lotus shaped 187 meter modernist tower, designed by Naoum Chebib, located in Zamalik

(sources of pictures:  Samir Raafat, The Cairo Tower, Cairo Times, 16/10/1997)

The collage though instantly brought to my mind Susan Buck-Morss treatment of “King Kong” along with the Palace of the Soviets.

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She looks at them as an “assault of the skies”..

“Can they” she writes ” as dream images, be made to speak to each other, circumscribing two complementary economies of desire? Lenin has in common with King Kong the fact that both are symbols of the masses, displayed as spectacles for the masses. Like all dream images their meaning is ambivalent, vacillating between a desire that is expressed and a fear that holds it in check.”

The Cairo Tower, not as grand as any way,  didn’t receive a even proper presidential inauguration. However it has it its own very contradictory  urban myths that enmesh it into the politics of cold war and de-colonial struggles. On one end rumour has it that it was Nasser’s middle finger to the American attempts to bribe him out of supporting the Algerians, on the other rumour also has it that it was a communication station with training and support from the CIA (accounts of these stories are summarised here and here and remain unverifiable).

Susan Buck-Morss’ subtitle goes like:  The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West, and a picture from a project about Utopia has got m  to look also in-between.

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