DUST: Egypt's Forgotten Architecture, Xenia Nikolskaya, Dewi Lewis Publishing, £30.
Egypt is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and has a colonial history that stretches back centuries. From 1882 until 1952 it was under British rule although nominal independence was granted in 1922, with the exception of four ‘reserved’ areas: foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
Between 1860 and 1940, Cairo and other large Egyptian cities witnessed a major construction boom that gave birth to extraordinary palaces and lavish buildings. These incorporated various architectural styles, such as Beaux-arts or Moorish Revival, with local design heritage influences and materials. Today many lie empty and neglected, with no legislation protecting historic buildings less than 100 years old from demolition.
In 2006, Russian-born photographer Xenia Nikolskaya began the process of documenting these extraordinary structures. She gained exceptional access and photographed at some 30 locations including Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Minya, Esna, and Port Said. Sadly, the state of Egypt’s colonial architecture is now rapidly succumbing to time, real estate frenzy, and an ongoing overpopulation crisis. Since she began the project a number of these spaces have been demolished, whilst others have gone through a process of regeneration and modernization.
Dust is not just a documentation of these fascinating architectural spaces, it also traces the idea of a typology of absence. The project was completed in January 2011, just before the Egyptian revolution of 17 January.
Avoiding any kind of nostalgia, the book challenges its reader: going back to this Egyptian dust also takes us deep into our own expectations of life and notions of legacy.
Nikolskaya lives between St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Cairo. She currently teaches photography at the American University in Cairo, and works as a curator/project leader at the Swedish Institute and the Centre for Contemporary Art and Architecture, Stockholm.