Publisher: Sternberg Press
Publication date: September 2020
Canvas rating: ****
In 2013 a migrating white stork named Menes was detained by the Egyptian authorities. The reason? Espionage. In truth, the bird was being monitored on its migration by a small tracking device attached to it by Nature Conservation Egypt. But when eventually released, Menes refused to fly. Locals later caught the bird and ate it for dinner.
This bizarre episode, which incited a moment of national hysteria, is used as a launchpad and lens by Cairo-born artist and researcher Heba Y Amin to reveal a region that is defined — and ultimately delimited — by paranoia over militarized surveillance technology. A deep-seated distrust, even dangerous delusion, has arisen from popular perceptions of emotionless machines controlled by the West, taught to train their cold eyes on a city or people.
With contributions from Adam Harvey, Adel Iskandar, Haitham Mossad and Laura Poitras, Amin explores the impact of drones, bombing and land surveying as high-tech forms of conquest employed by the West. The notion of the Middle East as constantly imagined and reimagined by faraway machines comes into question, where “to see is to capture and to be rendered visible is to be bound to death’ This is more than the theatrics of orientalis; this is a darker, grimmer spectacle of erasure on both a physical and psychological level. The evolution of militarized technology has changed the way the world looks at the Middle East, from a place where “death will be administered by the sky above” to one in which it is also a captured bird, viewed with distrust and refusing the sky. Then left for dead.
Amin’s book itself is a rich, expansive topography that both exposes and resists this dangerous narrative. She mixes drone theory with interviews, politics, aerial photography, news clips and archival material to produce a well-grounded volume about a fearfully timely subject.