Doa Aly

Doa Aly

Hysterical Choir of the Frightened (HCF)

Single channel digital film projection, 16:9, 2014, 3 min 45 sec

On the 25th of January 2014, people gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the first anniversary after the military coup of 2013. Only supporters of the army’s actions were admitted into a square under heavy surveillance. All opposition marches organized by the Muslim Brotherhood taking place in the vicinity turned into massacres. The proximity of the celebrations and killings led journalists to call it “the day of death and dance”. On the 26th, journalist Wael Abdel Fatah started his daily column with the words: “Jihadi madness versus the hysterical choir of the frightened”. (, January 26, 2014)

The idea for HCF came while attempting to deconstruct this phrase, as an instance of paradoxical revolutionary rhetoric, but also for its negative bearing on the questions of agency, responsibility, and authority. The sentence describes the masses on both sides of the revolution as driven by either fear or fanaticism, culminating into the dramatic juxtaposition of death and dance. Using these words denied the crowds all responsibility afforded by reason and self-governance. The textual denial of a consciousness of responsibility excluded both (revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries) from an intentional involvement in historical progress; they were removed from history. The formulation also meant that a return to history, to responsibility and participation, would imply the acceptance of death as the ultimate ethical frontier of an economy of sacrifice and individual responsibility .

Hysterical Choir of the Frightened (HCF) is the enactment of this possibility by an allegorical authority, feminine, non-hysterical, unafraid, and accountable. It features a choir of four women openly advocating killing, quietly citing passages from the Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1791). In these passages, De Sade’s protagonists repeatedly defend killing as a natural inclination, whether by murder, legal execution, or suicide. The synchronized interleaving of the voices contrasts with the voices of the crowd and the speech of the masses, evoking the manipulation behind crowd dynamics and creation of ideological automata. The choice of De Sade’s writing evokes the shock and horror of The Reign of Terror, echoing the dissonance between celebrating the ‘revolution’ over the dead bodies of the Islamists protests. HCF was commissioned by the 36th Eva International-Ireland’s biennial: AGITATIONISM, curated by Bassam El Baroni.

Installation view, CCS Bard, The Filament and the Bulb, 2017