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Nubian Architecture: Historical anchors to a contested genealogy

PhD researcher: Menatalla Ahmed Agha
Supervision in Cologne: Dr. Heinz Felber

This Doctoral project investigates the effect of DIDR (Development-Induced Displacement and Resettlement), a subset of forced migration, on gender and power relations in the built environment. Nubians in Egypt and Sudan were early refugees of this scheme. This research project focuses on the case of Egyptian Nubians who were displaced by the Aswan High Dam in 1960s, to a high modernist housing project planned and built by the state to accommodate 50,000 Nubian families. The state named this project “New Nubia,” but Nubians refused to used that term and instead expressed their aversion towards the project by calling it “Tahgeer” meaning displacement.

This project looks through the lens of Nubians at their settlements or so-called “Tahgeer,” in order to understand 1) how the built environment offered by the Egyptian state has contributed to the marginalization of Nubians, and the disenfranchisement of women? 2) and how did Nubians, especially Nubian women, respond through built interventions and spatial practices, that contributed to empowering the Nubian cultural institution? And 3) which lessons can we draw from these practices in order to refine our current understanding of public and private spaces and gendered drives of spatial production?

The research activities in the department of Egyptology in UniKoeln are conducted in a visiting capacity, under the supervision of Professor Heinz Felber. The visiting project seeks historical anchors for the larger research, as it draws upon a comparative study between the Nubian house before and after the involuntary resettlement on the one hand, and the dwelling unit offered by the state versus the current state of the inhabited and altered houses, on the other. In the first part, we explain the detected discrepancy between Nubian domestic architecture and the dwelling units offered by the Egyptian state. Second, we unravel the development and changes in modes of spatial production affected by the change in the gendered contract, but also by political and religious shifts, and therefore affecting the power structures performed by contemporary Nubian houses and their surroundings.

Methodologically, the research is situated on the crossroads between archaeology, auto-ethnography, architecture, post-colonial theory and feminist scholarship. By means of mapping changing spatial phenomena, this paper conducts a critical analysis of the spatial phenomenon in a twofold way. Firstly it does so by confronting the history of architecture with critical historiography, and secondly, by erasing the - sometimes unintended- separation in archaeological narratives between Nubian history and contemporary life, while asserting the continuity of this culture and its spatial production.