Speaking at Egypopcult Conference (Nagwa Bakr, Egypt, ITP 2019)

Written by Nagwa Bakr, NMEC, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (Egypt, ITP 2019)

It was a great opportunity for me and my friend Basma Selim, Director of the Baron Impane Palace, Cairo, that our joint research paper titled “The Seventh Art, and the Civilization of the Seven Thousand Years: Reframing Popular Culture and History” Case study: Egyptian Cinema has accepted and presented at the International Seminar Egypopcult: Reception of Antiquity in Contemporary Popular Culture organized by the Egypopcult Project and hosted by the Center for History of the University of Lisbon, Portugal between the 24th-26th January 2024.

This exploratory project aims to promote these studies by creating a space for multidisciplinary scientific debate and exchange. This collaborative initiative will be channelled through the creation of a database and a scientific network, both unparalleled, which can be used as an essential source for future research nationally and internationally. It also seeks to provide new approaches to the multiple recreations of Ancient Egypt in contemporary popular culture. During the project implementation period, team members and collaborators will be responsible for entering information on popular culture works that refer, explicitly or implicitly, to Egyptian civilization. In addition, the IT platform will allow the exchange between organizers and users to continuously supply it with new content and comments.

Read more about the project https://egypopcult.com/

Nagwa stood next to an Egypopcult poster with colleague.

Our research primarily delved into the influence of Egyptian cinema on the perception of Egyptian popular culture concerning the portrayal of Egyptian antiquities. Initially, we approached the subject theoretically, examining the interplay between the seventh art, Egyptian cinema, the connection of antiquities to cinema, and the depiction of Egyptologists in both international and Egyptian cinema.

On the practical side, we conducted interactive workshops with various segments of the Egyptian public to explore how cinema shapes their perspectives on antiquities. During these sessions, we showcased segments of Egyptian films containing scenes featuring antiquities. We engaged participants in discussions about their perceptions of antiquities based on these scenes, followed by an analysis of the contextual significance of those scenes in relation to historical studies and their impact on the collective consciousness of Egyptian society.

Two important films in the history of Egyptian cinema were presented with academic and field analysis. The first film, “Adrift on the Nile, 1971”, reflects the intellectual classes dealings with Egyptian antiquities. The narrative tells the stories of a group of disappointed friends, who meet on a boat to smoke hashish and chat, disappointed by the nationalist and making jokes about it in their casual conversations. The master scene is shot in a museum built around a statue of Ramses lying on the ground. In a wide shot, we see the group climb the statue; they look extremely small compared to the colossal Ramses. The women rub their bodies against the Pharoah’s chest and head. In a close-up, the youngest woman torridly locks lips with him. The men regroup and sit around the statue’s stomach and pubic area and start smoking hashish from a shisha. They crack jokes about pharaoh that he seemed to have a temper to smoke hashish like us. The final joke that makes them explode into laughter comes when one of them asks how history did ‘not mention this information?’ And the answer is ‘if history was aware, he wouldn’t have let a group like us insult him in this way.’

In the other film “The Bride of the Nile”, the events revolve around a geological engineer who goes to Luxor to follow up on oil exploration. He is prevented from doing so because the area is used as a cemetery for the brides of the Nile. In addition to that, people confirmed that the curse of the Pharaohs would fall on them if they were digging. The engineer sees in a dream a beautiful girl dressed as the bride of the Nile called Hamis, who tells him that she is the daughter of Aten, the sun god, and the last bride of the Nile, and her father sent her to prevent the violation against of the tombs of the brides of the Nile.

Poster illustrating a man listing up a woman, with Arabic text.

Some of results of the research:

  • Antiquities in Egyptian cinema are largely presented as places that sell weapons and drugs, and as a garbage dump.
  • Photographing the ruins of antiquities and that they are places for illegal activities.
  • The punishment for looting antiquities is often confined to one or two scenes in movies, without depicting parents or teachers explaining the importance of antiquities as reflections of our history and identity.
  • Egyptian monuments are used as a backdrop to the narrative, typically functioning as silent reminders of Egypt’s colossal past.
  • 4 of the roughly 4,500 Egyptian films produced in about one hundred years of cinema recreate the world of Ancient Egypt.
  • Dozens of films feature romantic or tourist visits to pharaonic sites, turning these into the modern notion of spending leisure time.

The research received a positive comment from the participants representing diverse countries and cultures. Notably, our work provides a unique perspective on Egyptian antiquities through the lens of Egyptian audiences and viewpoints, offering a contrast to Western perspectives.

We are honored to have been invited to join the project team and look forward to exploring further diverse approaches to present Egypt and its history through the authentic perspective of Egyptians, which was admired by participants from different countries, for the first-time reflecting Egyptian cinema, Egyptian antiquities, and their impact on Egyptian popular thought.

The entire conference is an opportunity to know about popular thought around the world regarding Egyptian antiquities through games, comics, and cinema.

It was also a great opportunity to reunite with my colleague Dr Elidabete Pereira from TheMuseumsLab, and visit her beautiful town Évora. Elisabete took us to visit prehistoric site the Cromlech of the Almendres, which is a megalithic complex like the Stonehenge site in England.

We also visited the city of Sintra, one of the World Heritage Sites, with its buildings and distinctive heritage.