Wekalet Nehna

In collaboration with La Companyía -Susana Moliner and Marta Vallejo- who curated this project and its exhibition, as well as actively participating in the development of works that originated from the Behna Agency archives.

The departure point for ‘Wekalet Nehna’ was the investigation of the film archive, the graphic material and writings from the ‘Behna Agency’, one of the epicenters of Egyptian cinema and therefore of the Arab world, during the 30s and 40s.

It was first the first time an artist was invited to reuse the archival material of the Egyptian films produced or distributed by this Alexandrine company, as well as the space that had remained closed for over 50 years. However, with the pressing current Egyptian “reality” -after the Arab Springs, and its subsequent effects- my intention was not to dwell in that nostalgic past. I used the archive  -that is not alien to any Arab viewer- to reflect on us, and specifically in Alexandria today.

The title of this project “Wekalet Nehna” is a play on words with “Wekalet Behna” (Agency Behna), in which “Behna” surname of the family that owns the agency, becomes “Nehna” which translates in Arabic “We”. In this project, the film agency becomes our agency, distributor of secrets and encrypted messages, in the streets of Alexandria, subtle and elegant, arranged and mysterious appointments, among characters from the past that allude to this present.

This project “We Agency” made in Residence in Wekalet Behna, art and archive center. Alexandria-Egypt, contains the following video-installations: ‘The beginning’, ‘And their eyes’, and the works I did in collaboration with the artist Maxon Higbee: ‘Nothing to declare’ and ‘A man in our house’.

The Beginning

Video-instalation / 1 canal / 1min loop (endless)

Installation View Museum Numismatico
Installation View Museum Numismatico
Installation View Museum Numismatico
Installation View Wekalet Behna Alexandria
Installation View Wekalet Behna Alexandria
Installation View Wekalet Behna Alexandria

The film departure point is a sequence from the film “Abi fauq Shagara ” (My father above a tree, 1969) The video consists of a series of endless kisses between Abdel Halim Hafef and Mervat Amin, while the title “End ” appears and disappears in a loop without beginning or end.

This sequence recorded in an Alexandria beach almost 50 years ago, was the opening piece to the exhibition at “Wekalet Behna” Art center in the same city. Those kisses on the screen, which have no place in today’s Alexandrian streets or public spaces, however are revisited daily in the local TV. Nostalgia for that celluloid time, which was not entirely true then, also.

This video is part of the project “We Agency” (Wekalet Nehna) composed of a series of 5 videos made in Residence at the Wekalet Behna, Art center and Film Archive in Alexandria, Egypt.

And the Eyes

(part of the Wekalet Nehna, We Agency, project, 2016) 1min 30

Installation View
Installation View

This animation is made up of a cut out image from one of the Egyptian Golden Cinema age’s actor, Mohammed Fawzi, His face is animated to one of his tunes “Habibi wa Aineiya” (My love and her eyes).

After finding archive intact images of Mohamed Fawzi’s poster at the old film distribution agency: Wekalet Behna, which remained closed for over 50 years. These images were for the poster to promote the rising star at that time.

In the animation the image of Fawzi is reproduced,  as a sort of strange mountain range made up of heads,, then all choreographed move to the rhythm of the song In a sequence of the film  “Kul daqa fi qalbi” (Every beat of my heart,1959). Mohamed Fawzi sings “Wa Aineiya” while he imagines her amorous object Samia Gamal as she dances.

The animation, with a certain sense of humor, gradually reveals the singer’s eyes, while his words allude to that platonic and erotized female gaze, by reversing it.

Nothing to Declare

(part of Wekalet Nehna, We Agency project, 2016)

2min 30 / Archivo de película

Maxon Higbee and Nadia Hotait

Screening at Cineteca
Installation View

We intervened a musical sequence of the film  “Taxi El Gharam” (Taxi of love) (1953), in which Huda Sultan and Abdelaziz Mahmoud sing the song after the one the film is titled.

“Taxi al Gharam” was one of the films that Behna Agency distributed inside Egypt and abroad.

In our version, the voice the singer that dubs the part of Huda Sultan, instead of keeping the real romantic song, she sings to us the filled-out forms for the National Egyptian customs in1953. This is just after Nasser’s revolution. Our made-up song mentions the details of the forms and the places to which the film rolls traveled that year, Beirut, Iraq, Tehran … but at the end, we continue to hear “love taxi, you do not need wings or motor…”

The evocation of these daily forms, and the countries that received the films, intends to be an evocation of that past, and placed us in this present, 60 years later. These films, as they were themselves a taxi of love, traveled an Arab geography extremely different from the current one, in constant conflict and adversity.

This video is part of the project “We Agency” (Wekalet Nehna) composed of a series of 5 videos made in Residence at the Wekalet Behna, Art center and Film Archive in Alexandria, Egypt.

Waiting for the man in our house

Project Wekalet Nehna, We Agency, 2016

Maxon Higbee and Nadia Hotait

Film poster

Since 2011, an atmosphere of police control and surveillance have taken over every corner of Alexandria. In fact, we could easily observe a police officer and a video surveillance camera, which had been installed shortly before our arrival. This agent and the device were dedicated to stalked the activity of the art center and the activists who met in the cafe’s courtyard.

We remade the poster of the Egyptian film classic “Fi Beitna Ragol” (A man in our house,1961), the story narrates the moments before the Egyptian revolution of 1953 that led to Nasser to power. A young man (Omar Sharif), a member of the resistance, seeks refuge in the house of a politically passive family after killing the prime minister for his acts of treason.

We work from the original film poster, and replaced the three main characters of the original film with the figure of the video surveillance camera, its screen monitor and the agent who was watching us. The “man” in “our house” is not anymore that young man-woman full of dreams of freedom, but the possible embodiment of the generalized surveillance system which currently lives in every Egyptian house in the form of suspicion.

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C/ Antonia Domínguez,5, Madrid, 28039


Nadia is the co-founcer of The Windor, an artist run space which promotes multidisciplinary art and experimentation.

Laaventura is the audiovisual production company, created by Laila and Nadia Hotait with the goal of working in film, video-art and documentary with other producers, distributors and creative people.

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