A Dictionary of the Revolution focuses on the language that Egyptians speak. It is not an investigation of the language of media, the rhetoric of the state, or the terminology of history books, although it might encompass all of these things. This project is concerned with documenting the lived experience of Egyptians and the language used to describe, classify and signify that experience.
By the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, new terms had emerged in the Egyptian colloquial Arabic to describe events, to label groups and individuals, and to spell out political phenomena. A Dictionary of the Revolution will collect and define new terms born out of the 25 January Revolution, and re-define old terms whose meanings have shifted since the uprising began.
I've restructured the rewards over on the right. Now, with only a $50 donation, you'll receive a copy of the Dictionary of the Revolution in the mail as soon as it's printed, including shipping anywhere in the world! I can't officially change the rewards that have already been claimed, but if you've already pledged, you'll receive rewards at the new levels.
I’ll travel with my team throughout Egypt this fall and winter, interviewing people in Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla, Suez, Port Said, Ismailia, Luxor, and Aswan, asking them to talk about different words in the dictionary. We’ll make the best effort to talk with as diverse a group as possible, with regard to gender, age, political and religious affiliation, and personal experience of the revolution.
I’ll create a definition for each term through a collage process, one I’ve developed through my work on other books and texts. After transcribing selections from the recorded interviews, I'll cut and paste them together to create a plural, collaged voice. No original spoken words will be changed. The dictionary will be presented in a bilingual edition of Egyptian colloquial Arabic and its English translation. It will be printed and bound in Egypt and distributed internationally.
Why make this book?
To put it simply: to record history. The dictionary is a documentary project. It is one way of mapping the major changes happening in Egypt right now. But this is no typical history book—it’s a unique document of the diverse personal and political views of Egyptians, represented by their own words. I’d also like to note that this is "a dictionary," and not “The Dictionary”; it is one of many possible variants produced through the same process.
How will the money raised be spent?
The Arab Fund for Arts & Culture has already contributed some funds to the project, but I need more money to cover all the costs. That’s where you come in. Your contribution will go towards:
• Travel expenses for the project team to conduct interviews in Alexandria, Mahalla, Port Said, Suez, Ismailia, Luxor and Aswan. All of these cities and towns have played an important role in the revolution, but are often overlooked in art and documentation projects—lost in the shadows of the capital. ($2,700)
• Publicity, including design and hosting of a website for the project ($1,500)
• Paying a designer to create the cover of the dictionary, and artists to create illustrations in the pages. ($1,500)
• Costs of the book launch in Cairo this spring ($500)
• Kickstarter fees ($300)
Who's in charge of the project?
I work with language the way a sculptor works with stone, or a weaver works with yarn. I sculpt collections of language into objects: texts, books, postcards, video, etc. You can see some of my previous work at my website.
I developed this composition technique in previous works, including my books Forgery and Minced English. American Book Review called Forgery “a profound meditation on the architecture and history of Chicago…[an] evocation of the past’s disturbing and total persistence in the present.” I collaged the 90-page lyric essay from found material, including newspaper articles, legal briefs, history books, and online posts, combined with my own writing about the city and my life in it. I used a different technique for Minced English, drawing entirely from a single source, the Oxford English Dictionary. I systematically chiseled from this massive text to create entries for 29 terms for people of mixed race, tracing a history of racism in North America and the UK through the evolution of the English language.
I’ve been living a few blocks from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo since 2010, which means I’ve been close to many of the significant events during the revolution. In 2011 and 2012, I worked as program director at artellewa, an art space in an informal area on the outskirts of Cairo.
I’m also a book designer and bookmaker. Over the years, I’ve made over a dozen limited edition artist books by hand. I’ll be doing the typography and layout for the Dictionary once all the collecting, weaving, and sculpting is done.
Risks and challenges
Making any artwork in Egypt these days is risky and challenging, as you might know from reading the news. In particular, the last few months have been unstable, with frequent street clashes, curfews imposed by the military in the most politically active governorates, and a general sense of discouragement for revolutionaries. Because this project requires a lot of travel in the country, we might face delays and cancellations in transportation. I'll always be looking to keep the team safe, so if it looks like conditions at our destination aren't favorable to work, we'll wait until a better time. I hope that this won't delay the production of the book, but ultimately, safety comes first.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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