Islam Aly, “The Square, Al Midan”

A view of the book with the front cover, the sewing, the colored and laser itched edges.

Another view of the book with the front cover and the sewing and the colored edges.

The book opened showing the front and back covers and the itching on the sections.

The sections of the book with the laser cut words in Arabic Kufic script “al-sha`b yurid isqat al-nizam” – “The People Want to Bring down the Regime”.

The last section of the book with the words “Al Saa’b Askat al Nezam” with its English translation “The People have brought down the Regime”.


Islam Aly (Iowa City, IA)

The Square, Al Midan
Laser Cut, edge painting, laser etching
Edition of 40
20 sections, each section four folios, total of 160 pages
4.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 inches

When I make a historical book structure, I go through a learning process. I learn the history as well as the different physical aspects of the binding such as how a book form is constructed in a specific sequence. I learn about the use of different materials such as paper, wood, leather and dyes. I learn to make choices in selecting and replacing traditional materials that I don’t have access to. I use these different experiences to enhance my work in making artists’ books and to use historical and cultural references from these structures in the actual content. In essence, I wish to explore new ways to use the rich structures of historical books in contemporary artists’ book practice and incorporate contemporary content into strictly historical structures.
Historically, these structures used a lot of text, either calligraphy or print, and they sometimes also included illustrations, illumination, and images. I explore different ways to add alternative content to these structures while keeping their appearance and integrity. I want to reuse these rich structures and give them a new life as artists’ books. I am using two main themes. The first is abstract, where I’ll explore texture, color, and form. The second is language; I am interested in the similarities and differences between English and Arabic languages. For example: writing, pronunciation, letterforms and typography. I am also examining pieces where these themes will intersect through the use of material. In my work I experiment with different techniques on handmade paper such as laser cutting, waxing, stitching, and paper dyeing. My book art reproduces familiar book structures that embody the heritage of book history but contain some of the wonder that can come from contemporary book art.¬¬

Description of the work:
Egyptian uprising called for democratic reform. Tahrir Square in Cairo became the focal point and the most effective symbol of the protests in January and February 2011. For 18 days Egyptians repeated the slogan: The People Want to Bring down the Regime (al-sha`b yurid isqat al-nizam) until the regime stepped down on the 11th of February 2011. “This book focuses on the revolution slogan ‘al-sha`b yurid isqat al-nizam.’ Using Arabic Kufic script the words of the slogan are repeated in an ascending sequence. Section 19 contains the English translation for the slogan ‘The People Want to Bring down the Regime.’ The last section contains the time and date when the regime stepped down along with the sentence ‘Al Saa’b Askat al Nezam’ with its English translation ‘The People have Brought down the Regime’. “Cairo’s map is laser engraved on the book covers. Three edges of the book are colored then laser engraved to show the streets of Cairo.