Transparent Existence

Magdi Mostafa. Transparent Existence. 2014.

“Transparent Existence is a site-specific sound and light installation created underneath the Mawlwian Museum in Islamic Cairo. The artist conducted research into the architectural history of the museum itself, which houses artifacts pertaining to Sufi rituals and a theatre for traditional Sufi dancing. In the course of his investigation, Mostafa found that the original building dates from over 650 years ago, and originally served as a school for husband- and father-less women and children; later, that structure became the foundation for a Sufi religious site, before finally being converted into a museum. Only recently did archaeologists discover the building’s historical foundations, and at the same time, discovered the burial site of five anonymous individuals at that lower, 15th century level.

Intrigued by these multiple and interpenetrating layers of history, as well as the contested identity of the forgotten dead, the artist conceived of a project that would call attention to the site’s invisible past. Mostafa created an interactive light sculpture beneath the museum, tracing the outline of a courtyard fountain that had been part of the original structure. A 16 channel sound system pervaded the entire underground chamber, emitting recordings of a Sufi vocal performance, digital sound elements, and ambient sounds recorded by the artist inside the museum and in the surrounding streets, including the creaks and thumps of dancing on the wooden theater floor that rests above the installation site. The lights responded to this sound, illuminating, flickering and disappearing according to the intensity of the noise, thus acting as a visual metaphor for the unstable, wavering mechanics of memory itself.”

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