JOSEPH NAMY    work . exhibitions . radio . contact




Libretto-o-o: a stained window reflecting the bright sunshine heavy with love

2019, sound, stained glass, engraved marble plaque, wallpaper, concrete bench


Historically, the opera has been one of the most contentious spaces for art and politics. If we look at the history and resonance of opera in the Middle East, or rather, if we look around the opera, and the various details that might define an opera, from the architecture, to the props, to the written score, we can begin to understand the tumultuous relationship between politics and culture. Embedded within the window of opera is the universality of pageantry and display of a state institution; a demonstration of permanence and power.

The various elements which comprise this installation Libretto-o-o: a stained window reflecting the bright sunshine heavy with love, embodies a materiality of music and history. Stained glass windows, wallpaper, a marble plaque, together with audio works, reference nodes of expression, from personal recollection to representations of state power, and public dissent.

The design of the wallpaper is interpreted from the ceiling of the Arab Music Institute in Cairo, which housed many of the performances of the congress and absorbed and influenced many of the sounds that were being heard and discussed. Stained glass windows shine colored light into the gallery, accompanying an audio piece made up of various writers, composers, and vocalists, each reflecting in various shades the impact of opera on their lives and their cities.

We hear Halim El Dabh speaking about his memories of attending the ’32 congress as at age 11 and what a transformative experience it had on his music, directly influencing what would later become the first piece of electronic music ever made just 10 years later. The infrastructure that came out of Cairo’s opera house, which supported the congress, had a far reaching impact we’re still feeling to this day.

The engraved plaque commemorates the date the first opera house was born in the region, but is also a reminder of the opera house as a continually shifting structure; the permanence of marble marked with the unruliness of spray paint. As the operatic stage embodies the state, it also invites the frustration and protest against all it represents, as in the case of Tunis, where the opera house stairs have become a site for protest and voicing frustrations.

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Libretto-o-o: a stained window reflecting the bright sunshine heavy with love, is part of ongoing research that Joe Namy has developed over the last three years on the history and resonance of Opera in the Middle East. This body of work is inspired by twelve opera halls from around the Middle East; some no longer in existence (such as the Khedival Opera House in Cairo), others incomplete frozen spaces never fully realized (as in Charles Buoccara’s unfinished Theatre Royal Marrakech or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Baghdad Opera House designs). However, since the introduction of opera to the region in Algiers in 1853 (built for the French during their occupation), its residual impact on all music in the region has been tremendous.

Listen to the sound piece (39min):
PDF transcription of the audio stories here.


Installation photos taken from the group exhibition '32: The ReScore, curated by Bhavisha Panchia at the Sharjah Art Foundation, 2019