Documenting the revolution
October 27, 2011

Tarek Abouamin put together Preparing for the Dawn from thousands of photos he gathered from people who joined the crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Behind him are the photos Peace for Egypt by Ahmed Morcy and his own photograph, Besso.

For 18 days, the world was held spellbound as Egyptians occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against President Hosni Mubarak and an oppressive regime.

Egyptian-born Tarek Abouamin, who teaches in NSCAD’s film program, was rooted to the spot. Just back from a trip to Egypt where he had shot a documentary, he watched and worried and wished he could return as the popular uprising compelled “ordinary folks” like his parents to leave their homes and take to the streets.

“Here I was, stuck watching the most important event of my life unfold on my computer screen while a snowstorm raged outside,” says the 36-year-old photographer and filmmaker, the frustration still evident in his voice.

Once study break came around, Tarek boarded a flight to Cairo, arriving on February 19 and heading straight for Tahrir Square. By then, after determined popular protest and pressure, Mubarak had announced his resignation from office.

Nevertheless, Tarek was able to document the 18 days that led to unprecedented change in Egypt, a movement which started in Tunisia and continues to percolate throughout the Middle East. In Preparing for the Dawn, Tarek gathers photographs taken by sometimes anonymous Egyptians “who risked their lives to chronicle the events of the Egyptian Revolution and ensure that their story would reach the world.”

Out of the 8,000 images he gathered, 104 are on display and arranged chronologically—a rich recounting of those tumultuous days in January and February. In particular, Tarek focuses on four days: January 28, the “day of rage” with demonstrations centred on Tahrir Square; February 1, when people flooded into the heart of Cairo to take part in a demonstration known as the “March of Millions”; and February 2-3, “bloody Wednesday,” when violence erupted between supporters and opponents of Mubarark.

The photographs capture a range of emotions, swinging between fear and anxiety to hope and rejoicing. Surprisingly there’s also a lot of humor in the exhibition as captured in the signs of protesters that they hoist with tired smiles—“Leave already, I want to sleep” and “Leave already, I miss my wife.”

But the image that Tarek keeps drawing back to is called Martyr. Taken on January 29 from an apartment window overlooking the square, it shows a man with a bloom of blood spreading across his shirt as he’s lifted throughout the crowded square. “It says it all, I think,” says Tarek, “about the selflessness and sacrifice of ordinary Egyptians.”

Tarek calls Preparing for the Dawn, a “crowd-sourced show.” He used the same method to complete his short documentary 18 Days. The film won the prestigious Rex Tasker Documentary Award at the 2011 Atlantic Film Festival.

Preparing for the Dawn is on display at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, 1891 Granville St., to November 6. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 12 noon to 4 p.m.