Ahmed Basiony and the cost of revolution

The artist Ahmed Basiony was killed by the Egyptian government one year ago, on 28 January 2011, just one among the many hundreds who were lost for the revolution.  I never knew Ahmed but I knew his work and, I think, I knew the kind of Egypt he and many others wanted to live in. Egypt had seen many years of lonely, brave work by civil society activists but suddenly, within the space of a few weeks in January and February of last year, everyone became engaged in shaping the country’s political destiny.  Much has happened since then that has disappointed those hopes but it was a miracle all the same and it is important to remember that it came at a heavy cost in lives and courage.

Ahmed was a student and then colleague of Shady el-Noshokaty — an artist and teacher I interviewed for this article about contemporary art in Cairo in Travel + Leisure — who has written a moving remembrance about him with photos of his life and work, a couple of which (including the one above, taken by Magdi Mostafa the night Ahmed was killed) I have included here.  Since a lot of Ahmed’s work was with sound, in some ways the most appropriate tribute to him was by the American sound artist John Kannenberg, who posted a field recording in Ahmed’s honor made in front of the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square before the revolution.

 
4’33” outside the Egyptian Museum, Cairo by John Kannenberg
 
One of the most painful, pivotal moments in the eighteen days of protests came near the end when Wael Ghonim was interviewed by Mona El Shazly within hours of being released from prison and broke down in tears when shown photographs of the young people who were killed during the revolution. I felt at the time that this was almost a cruel thing to do to Ghonim so soon after his release, but the raw emotion of it — and the fact that he, not the regime, apologized to the families for the children they had lost — galvanized the protesters. (English subtitles can be turned on by clicking the ‘cc’ button that appears on the bottom right of the video frame after you click ‘play’ but, in truth, the power of the moment hardly requires language):

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