Persistence Through Joy

SOMETHING ELSE III, Off Biennale Cairo


A group exhibition curated by Power Ekroth and Sara Rossling at Something Else, Off Biennale Cairo within the large biennale exhibition. 'Persistence Through Joy' shows works by artists Afrang Nordlöf Malekian, Ida Idaida, Ikram Abdulkadir, Leif Holmstrand, Maxime Hourani, Salad Hilowle, Sigrid Holmwood, Tamara de Laval, Theresa Lekberg & Kateryna Seheda, Theresa Traore Dahlberg and Valeria Montti Colque.

The exhibition and international exchange are supported by the Swedish Arts Council and IASPIS, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee´s International Programme for Visual and Applied Arts.

Read the two curatorial texts here in a short version of the digital exhibition catalog.

Graphic design: Hanna Bergman & Engy Aly


SOMETHING ELSE III, Off Biennale Cairo

Chief curator: Simon Njami

Arranged by: Darb1718

What then?

Exerpt of the overarching biennial theme.

By Simon Njami

The work is done,’ grown old he thought,

‘According to my boyish plan;

Let the fools rage, I swerved in nought,

Something to perfection brought’;

But louder sang that ghost, ‘What then?’

In this historical site (the Citadel of Saladin), we are going to convey ancient memories in order to dream of new futures. It has always been foolish, as suggested by the poet W.B. Yeats, to ever think that the work was done. The work is never done. On the contrary. It is a never-ending process of awareness and actions. There is always something else to be discovered, something else to be formulated, something else to be invented. This is our commitment. 

We shall respond to the question posed by the poet. What Then? Our answer will be Something Else.

Persistence Through Joy

Sara Rossling 

The joy of collectively coming together around a table, sharing food, a political manifestation, or a festival is a yearning for togetherness and curiosity, celebrating a joint moment without necessarily sharing the same perspectives. Large-scale cultural events are commonly described as transformative experiences by those participating, bringing feelings of connectedness and a willingness to help others. In a period of abrupt changes, uncertainty, and media scaremongering about the future, gatherings in public are more crucial than ever to fuel a plural society, meet others, and disseminate thoughts. Following a pandemic, the worst thing we can do to ourselves is to continue to ‘keep our distance’ and stay in isolation.

On a deeply female and spiritual plane, writer, philosopher, and activist Audre Lorde writes in Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” Lorde acknowledges the transformative nature of collective joy and how it builds relationships beyond place and culture. Something Else Off Biennale, Cairo operateson a similar logic of what community in art can do by bringing artists, curators, and audiences from all over together at the medieval Islamic Citadel of Saladin. Overviewing the city, on top of the Mokattam mountain, the historic fortress Citadel resembles a town on its own. Inviting the off-biennial to this landmark site says something important about trust. The city hosting the biennial allows the Citadel and its architecture to become something else that brings forth new ways of being, artistic visions, and future imaginations.

From a Swedish perspective, in autumn 2023, trust is at stake, as individuals’ trust in public society is threatened. The Swedish government has proposed a new law that requires public employees to report individuals without a residence permit. The law will restrict undocumented migrants’ access to their fundamental human rights. If implemented, this will undermine democracy and significantly diminish trust in state institutions. It will scare people from joining public events and visiting public hospitals, schools, and libraries, thus not having the possibility to get aid, education, or meet others. The social exclusion will worsen for these people, already ‘invisible’ and fragile in society.

In ancient Egypt, inspired by the cycles of nature, the Egyptians saw time in the present as a series of recurring patterns. The myths describe the actions of the Egyptian gods as a means of understanding the world around them. Festivals and religious ritual offerings to the gods were essential to handling the unknown future. From a secular view, we know it is not gods who rule the future. With a large portion of imagination and simultaneously an understanding of the smallness of humanity, it lies in our hands to push for social justice and change. Looking back at our ancestors’ decisions and actions from where we are standing in our current time of several new global challenges, the biennial asks us: What then?

Our task is to encourage each new generation never to stop taking their rights to the commons and speak up for everyone’s right to public space — go out, see with your owneyes, seek answers to your questions, make acquaintances with strangers, and share joy. Persistence in the cultural sphere is not about protecting conservative traditions. Rather, it is about the importance of recurrent creativity in the public as a strategy despite difficulty or opposition. So, let’s call out our inherent power that Lorde refers to as “a resource that lies within each of us, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” And let’s collectively celebrate the potential of an unknown tomorrow to withstand dark speculations about the future.