Doa Aly

Doa Aly

MAGNUNA means madwoman in Arabic

Research and performance project, 2019 – present

 “Many hebephrenics were accepted as ’majdhubs’, even abnormal motor behavior was tolerated as long as there was no extreme catatonic  excitement. For example, Safi-D-Din Ibn Zafir (d. AD 1283) in his biography, wrote of a holy woman in Giza, Egypt, who stood for a long period in a field without any protection from the sun or the wind. She was fed from time to time, eating whatever was given to her.”           

        —Hanafy A. Youssef, Fatman A. Youssef, T.R. Dening, “Evidence for the Existence of Schizophrenia in Medieval Islamic Society,” History of Psychiatry, vii, 1996, p. 59.

MAGNUNA is a practice-based project dedicated to the ambiguous narratives of female madness in Arabo-Islamic literature from the Middle Ages. It assays a feminist, historical discourse analysis of medieval Islamic madness and its contemporary reverberations by examining how the identity of the majzoub (“attracted by God”) was formulated, and the socio-cultural factors involved in the categorization of madness as holiness.

MAGNUNA is a groundbreaking, multidisciplinary project dedicated to the narratives of female madness in Arabo-Islamic literature from the Middle Ages. There is a long literary tradition in Islam that connects madness with poetry and mysticism: the notion that the mad are otherworldly, with access to some hidden truth. Magnuna is the colloquial Egyptian form of the Arabic word ‘Majnuna’; which derives from the verb ‘Ja-na-na’, meaning to disappear. ‘Junun’, or madness, is the disappearance of the mind.

The project unfolds over two stages: a research and a series of performances. The research consists of finding, collecting and archiving mentions of female madness in the medieval Arabo-Islamic literature between the 10th and 14th centuries. The research is deployed in the creation of choreographies.

MAGNUNA 1: Hayouna

Live performance, 14 min 54 sec, 2022

“Hayouna” (ha-yu-na) is the first performance in the project MAGNUNA means madwoman in Arabic. It is based on the character of Hayouna al-Majnuna (Mad Hayouna), a Sufi mystic who lived in Iran in the 10th century. The only recorded mention of Hayouna is in al-Naysaburi’s Wise Madmen, written before 1015-16 AD. Her existence is recorded in five pages (in the oral tradition central to Islamic sacred texts), as a woman who vacillates between ecstatic rapture and suffering. She was seen at Souk Al-Haddadin (the Blacksmith Market) skipping and singing Ya malek la-a’oud (my Lord I do not go back), to the sound of hammering metal. The pattern and choreography are based on the description of Hayouna’s gestures, her own use of the market’s sounds and rhythm to perform a physically active meditation. Hayouna is performed by Noura Seif, and commissioned by the Bergen Academy for Art and Design, for the exhibition Social Acoustics, curated by Brandon Labelle.