Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man (Ongoing)
Access key: Wheelchair access, Audio-description, Subtitles (English)
In 2017, Egyptian Berlin-based artist Mahmoud Khaled presented a Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man as part of the 15th Istanbul Biennial, an installation consisting of household items that amalgamated to form an entire home. The belongings, including furniture, books and art, provided insight into the fictional life of a queer Egyptian man imagined to be living in Istanbul—a character of Khaled’s creation, but whose story is based on an incident that took place in May 2001, when fifty-two gay men were arrested for attending a party at a floating gay nightclub on the Nile in Cairo.
Charged with “habitual debauchery” and “obscene behaviour”, these men were beaten and abused in jail and subsequently subjected to a five-month-long public trial with extensive and consistent media coverage, during which they were outed and shamed. Throughout, homosexuality was presented as “un-Egyptian”; a crime that in turn became a catalyst for debate on rights of LGBTQIA+ people in Egypt. The Unknown Crying Man Museum stages the fictional story of one of these men a decade into life in exile, speaking through objects that both reveal and conceal this personal history, whilst alluding to the policing of desire, and the effects of hostility on the life of its imagined protagonist.
Presented as a loan from the Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man, Khaled's installation as part of the Brent Biennial begins with a video tour of the house as it was installed at the villa of ARK Kültür cultural space in Istanbul, before giving way to the bedroom of the Unknown Crying Man. Here, in the most intimate part of the home, we permissibly intrude as visitors entering a private space. Whilst raids on LGBTQIA+ individuals and community spaces are largely seen as something of the past within the UK, widespread raids with the purpose of the detention and deportation of migrants continue to take place across the country under the Hostile Environment policy. Highlighting the violence of political persecution, Khaled’s installation poignantly reminds us that no human’s life is ever illegal.
Reproduced as part of the Brent Biennial 2022. Courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.
Mahmoud Khaled explores identity and intimate dynamics, while questioning the larger structures that produce them. Engaging with the burden of nostalgia and state-sanctioned processes of constructing collective memory, Khaled reproduces artifacts of dead ideologies and thinks of those who were crushed in the process of their erection, recording their presence of marginalised bodies through their absence. His work complicates and appropriates form to offer virtual proposals that rethink justice and imagine possibilities for a redemptive future.