Through subtle but pointed interventions, Shadi Habib Allah sheds light on systems and subcultures that are largely ignored by, or invisible to mainstream society. His work may take the form of sculpture, video, or installation and often incorporates the documentation of an action. In Daga'a Habib Allah captures his stop-and-start journeys through the remote areas of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, beyond the popular tourist destinations of Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab. South of this resort-dominated area, the Peninsula is largely composed of closed military zones and traversed by Bedouin peoples, some of whom are involved with smuggling. This bustling trade is, as the artist notes, a byproduct of Egypt’s longstanding negligence of the Bedouin populations and its exploitation of their territories.
Shot by Habib Allah over many months, the nonlinear video charts multiple trips in which the artist passed through one Bedouin network and into another, as if he himself were a smuggled good. From one perspective, his voyage can be seen as a straightforward business transaction: for the required sum, and with the proper access, he is smuggled from the southern Sinai desert deep into its more remote and neglected areas. From another vantage point, it presents the potent machinations of political invisibility, as the Bedouins leverage their ongoing legal marginalisation and deep familiarity with the desert to defy military surveillance and thrive, albeit illegally, by locating routes through a terrain that otherwise seems open and unmarked. In the work, the Bedouins are presented anonymously, with their faces blurred both to protect them and so as to not break the social contract of the journey. Habib Allah’s palpable lack of agency and personal mobility throughout the process, which is amplified by rapid cuts within the video meant to mirror the quick, tactical routes of the smuggling process, finds parallels in broader legal regulations on immigration that restrict movement on the basis of national conflicts.
This work was originally commissioned for the third New Museum Triennial, Surround Audience.