Student's View of The A77A Project

Egyptian Leadership: From Sacred Pharaohs to Corrupt Politicians

An Exhibition Review of Khaled Hafez’s The A77A Project: On Presidents & Superheroes

Written for ART 221: Global Contemporary: Recent Art Movements Around the World

by Lindsay Alexander

Khaled Hafez could have been a doctor. President Nasser of Egypt, with the amount of power he possessed, could have been a great ruler; however, neither of these events occurred. In doctor-turned-artist Khaled Hafez’s video titled The A77A Project: On Presidents and Superheroes, produced in 2009, he addresses the corruption of Egypt’s political state in the late 1960s under President Nasser. The A77A Project was created in a studio in Cairo, Egypt under Anubis Productions with support from the Transart Institute, located in New York, New York, where Hafez received his Masters of Fine Arts, and Danube University in Krems, Austria. Credits toward the end of the video attribute 3D animation, editing, and the music score to Ahmed El Shaer. Other names are presented as contributors to the final piece as well. In the three minute and 30 second long video, Khaled Hafez utilizes numerous media including animation, photography, painting, illustration, and music, as well as abstract elements, such as binaries and symbolism. Other than the main message of these elements, they also raise issues regarding the role of women in Egypt and the portrayal of the human body.

The A77A Project opens with a photograph in the recognizable painting style of Hafez. High saturation colors stand out against blocks of white in the background. About six naked male figures varying in size stand as the camera zooms in on the middle figures. Suddenly two of the characters, one with a Batman mask and one with the head of an animal, begin to multiply and march out of the picture plane. Afterward, a naked white-colored man walking on a deserted street appears on the screen. The masked characters arrive and seemingly enter his body, after which the white-colored man develops a mask reminiscent of the Egyptian god Anubis, or a jackal (“Animals in Ancient Egypt”). After this transformation, the man begins a journey in which he walks through slums, violence, and disturbing scenes. Jubilant music plays simultaneously with Nasser’s presidential resignation speech. After altering a sign that says “Presidential Election” into “Presidential Erection,” the figure walks into a tent being held open by a seemingly uneasy woman, and the video ends. Egypt’s history must be grasped in order to understand Hafez’s criticism of the nation’s political system.

Before the Six Day War against Israel in 1967, Nasser appeared as a reformist due to his achievements, such as attaining independence from Britian, which removed foreign monarchy, in addition to nationalizing the Suez Canal and supporting the building of the High Dam to increase industrialization and wealth (Stephens). He also supported social reform and improved education. However, in reality Nasser struggled with organizing Egypt and its nation-states, a confusion that resulted from their new found freedom and inexperience in self-rule. Instead, Nasser used secret police,censorship, and armed force to instill order, as opposed to constructing and implementing a definite political system. Additionally, a large increase in population in Egypt led to extreme poverty and unemployment. Severe debt overwhelmed the country as a consequence of Nasser’s excessive use of the military. Furthering the debt, he rejected Western alliance proposals and chose to intervene in foreign countries like Yemen. The Six Day War undid most of his progressive efforts. Generally speaking, Nasser was a superficial leader, and in reality he did not take enough proper action to rule Egypt (Stephens).

After applying knowledge of the history of Egyptian politics in the late 1960s, and understanding President Nasser’s role, Khaled Hafez’s purpose in The A77A Project elucidates. The jackal-headed figure, the protagonist of the video, may represent Nasser or a political figure in general. He acquires the jackal head after the multiplying masked figures transfer it to him, possibly symbolizing a bestowal of power or leadership. In ancient Egyptian culture, a jackal-headed pharaoh represents the god Anubis, the god of death, mummification, and afterlife (“Animals”). It is notable that the video was created under “Anubis Productions,” as attributed in the credits. Hafez’s representation of the protagonist character as a god is an indication of power and enlightenment; however, the fact that he chose the god of death has further implications. Through this choice, Hafez may be referencing an opinion about Nasser, that he may as well have been a “dead” leader in the sense that he did not make any progress during his reign. Or, Hafez may believe that Nasser should have been assassinated. Lastly, the character may symbolize a “ghost” of a leader, who metaphorically haunts Egypt and its future, floating through scenes of violence without taking action. Another symbol of power is the Batman mask. In pop culture, superheroes represent the supernatural, strong, and mighty, someone people count on to “save the day.” Aside from the masks, each figure has a perfect idealized body. For these reasons, these masked men could represent a powerful army. Additionally, the fact that they multiply quickly may be an indication of the importance that Nasser placed on the military and his overuse of soldiers in civilian areas. As the video progresses, the protagonist continues to prove himself corrupt.

Anubis walks past disturbing scenes throughout the video such as car theft, a woman begging to a line of soldiers, depreciated slums, and even dead bodies. However, the figure remains unresponsive in each scene, avoiding the events transpiring around him. Hafez parallels this concept to Nasser’s lack of action. The figure stops moving only once to have his photo taken, which could be a possible remark toward a political leader’s tendency to be more interested in public image than in executing reform. Another detail that subsists throughout the video is the jubilant music. Happy and upbeat melodies play as death, murder, theft, and violence take place. Pairing lighthearted music with alarming images fosters a disturbing atmosphere. Hafez echoes the cadence of the music with the walking rhythm of the protagonist, conveying the idea that only he hears and enjoys the music, while other characters in the video seem to be out of sync with, or unaffected by, the beat. Anubis remains joyous in his spry step and cheerful music, despite the immorality surrounding him and despite his responsibility as a “God,” or leader to help them. As a final jab, Anubis adds to the corruption by changing the word “Election” to “Erection” on a sign signifying the location of presidential elections. Changing this word to a sexual reference undermines the political system, similar to the disorder that Nasser yielded. Another striking aspect of the video is Hafez’s choices in representing women.

Women appear four times in the entirety of the video, usually as helpless and inferior. First, a woman dressed in a purple hijab begs to a line of armed officers. Aside from her gender, she draws attention due to the contrast of her purple dress against the soldiers’ black garb. She is emotional, while the soldiers remain unmoving. She is alone, while there are numerous men. As a result, she appears weaker than the men, and unheard despite her efforts. Later, a similar animated photograph appears in which a silent woman drifts through a scene depicting a line of armed soldiers. In her black niquab she is barely noticed, soundless, without a say, without an opinion. Women appear again when Anubis walks into a photo being taken of a group of six females in niquabs. A contrast between his white body and their black clothing is immediately evident. His nakedness juxtaposed with their extreme concealment further entices the viewer. Through this scene, Hafez nearly mocks the religious dress code which forces women to cover their entire bodies by highlighting the fact that men could walk around naked if they so wished. Lastly, a woman appears in the final scene, opening a flap in a tent to allow Anubis to enter. She appears terrified and alone, as if she does not wish to be standing at this tent. Her terror in combination with the mystery of what the tent holds may be allusions to prostitution or illegal events in general. She appears involved in whatever corruption is ensuing in the tent. Additionally, the masked bodies in the first scene as well as Anubis’s are chiseled, while the women are portrayed realistically without exaggeration. Further, Nasser’s speech includes a reference to “brothers,” evidently not including women in his intended audience. Gender is a major disparity in the video, yet many others exist as well.

Khaled Hafez’s propensity to utilize dichotomies as a tactic in The A77A Project is notable. Examples already mentioned include bright colors against white in the opening scene, as well as the contrast of the white naked Anubis with women in black niquabs. Hafez’s utilization of the supernatural and idealized God Anubis is opposite the devastating slums he walks through. Also, his use of the Egyptian god as a character contrasts the use of Batman, in analyzing ancient versus modern allusions to power. These contrasts instill a reaction in viewers and further validate Hafez’s assertions.

Khaled Hafez’s video is meaningful, however some weaknesses persist. The A77A Project exhibited on Lehigh University’s campus, as well as the English translations on the screen, indicate that the video is intended for an international audience. These translations are weak and include words such as “Thanx” instead of “Thanks” and “till” as opposed to “until.” One of the lines specifies Nasser “took a decision,” instead of “made a decision.” As a younger artist, perhaps Hafez lacked the funds for a proper translation, or perhaps he did not actually intend Americans or Europeans to fully understand the work. Additionally, the location of the screen in Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University may hinder the effectiveness of the film. Positioned just outside the main gallery, the viewing plane is exactly perpendicular to the entrance of the main exhibition, resulting in other museumgoers passing through the line of sight to the video. However, his message overcomes these minor weaknesses, and Hafez’s video makes a significant statement.

Hafez manages to bring back to life an issue from the late 1960s in Egypt, and revalidate distaste for President Nasser and politicians in general. In 2009, it is curious that Hafez would choose to raise an issue that occurred decades earlier. Perhaps a similar situation was occurring in Egypt in 2009, and Hafez created The A77A Project in an effort to parallel the situations. Nonetheless, Hafez’s clever use of opposites, animation, photography, satirical humor, and soundtrack through videography as a medium all contribute to the theme. Like most pieces of contemporary art, The A77A Project reads like a riddle in which meaning is not readily evident. Especially for the average viewer, the arguments do not immediately emerge, and it is likely that research as well as watching the video several times is essential to a comprehensive understanding. However, contemporary art is beneficial in in enlightening viewers to international issues from around the world, however indirect. To quote Hafez in an interview with Jenny Meier, “What I care about are the social changes that came as a consequence to political and military ‘experiments’ that Egypt, the Middle East region and the culture had undergone in the past 40 years” (Hafez). Khaled Hafez recognizes the great scale of power held by political leaders in the Middle East, and is concerned with the fate of other citizens of Egypt and the Middle East when these leaders fail to foresee the outcomes of their actions.

Works Cited

“Animals in Egypt.” S.P.A.R.E. Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt, 2010. Web. 20. Sept. 2014.

“Khaled Hafez.” Interview by Jenny Meier. 2012: n. pag. Web. 21. Sept. 2014. <>.

Stephens, Robert. “Nasser Elected President of Egypt.” History Today. History Today, 2012. Web. 19. Sept. 2014.

Written September 24, 2014

Khaled Hafez: The A77A Project (On Presidents & Superheros) is now on view in the Virtual Gallery just outside the Main Gallery.

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