Grazia Gunn reviews 'Cairo: Histories of a City' by Nezar AlSayyad

Cairo: Histories of a City

by Nezar AlSayyad

Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $45 hb, 344 pp, 9780674047860

Italo Calvino once wrote that ‘cities are like dreams: their rules seem absurd, their perspectives are often deceitful, and everything in them conceals something else’, hence ‘we should take delight not in a city’s wonders, whether these number seven or seventy, but in the answers a city can give to questions we pose, or in the questions it asks us in return’. Nezar AlSayyad reminds us of Calvino’s remark in this marvellously learned and readable study, which traces the major changes to the urban form of Cairo from the time of Rameses II (1290–1224 bce) to that of Osni Mubarak in the twenty-first century, and which poses, in this same spirit of enquiry, a number of suggestive questions.

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Grazia Gunn

Grazia Gunn

Grazia Gunn is a Melbourne-based historian, art curator and critic. She  taught Modernism in the Department of History of Art at the University of Cambridge from 1995 to 2003. A former Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne (1989–91), she was curator in the department of International Art at the National Gallery of Australia (1981–89), curator of the Monash collection (1975–79), and curator at the Melbourne University Gallery (1971–73). She was project officer, International and Australian Touring exhibitions, Visual Arts Board, Australia Council (1974–75). At the 1988 Venice Biennale she was commissioner and curator for the Australian Pavilion. She has published extensively on contemporary art in Australia and overseas, and is the author of Arthur Boyd: Seven Persistent Images (1985). Her current project is The Modernization of Egypt and the Dynamics of Cultural exchange 1798–1882.

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