Co-commissioned with Nottingham Contemporary and the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane The Sleepwalkers is a filmed play re-dramatising the story of Raya and Sakina, the infamous Egyptian sister serial killers, who in 1921 became the first women to be executed by a legal court in the modern history of Egypt.
The two sisters, along with their husbands and two other male accomplices, were found guilty of the murders of 17 women between 1917 and 1919, most of whom were sex workers. Due to the many films, soap operas and plays that have re-enacted the gruesome murders, Raya and Sakina remain today as cultural anti-icons, reproduced within Egyptian mass culture, and Arab consciousness more broadly, as epitomising female monstrosity and horror emergent from poverty, rurality, immigration, and from what the Egyptian state regarded as inherent female depravation and moral apathy.
The film departs from a claim that Hamadeh has been exploring in her recent works, proposing that justice shall be viewed as the ‘degree to which one can access the dramatic means of representation – the measure to which one can access theatre’. This claim, appropriated from an essay by Julie A. Cassiday on the origins of the genre of ‘legal spectacle’, is elaborated upon through Hamadeh’s exploration of the figures of Raya and Sakina as a dramaturgical framework through which the history of the gendering of the justice system within Egypt and the Arab region can be understood.
Particular facts surrounding the case inform the work including: how the female victims were viewed by the state as equally responsible for their own deaths; and how despite the case’s seemingly non-political nature, it was placed at the heart of the nationalist struggle for Egyptian independence after the 1919 revolution against British colonial occupation. Through the film’s non-linear script, its dissonant audio track and the constant shifting of its characters, the relations of power between the persistent image of the female monster, the figure of the state and colonial violence are re-choreographed in an attempt to generate an alternative archive from which to understand and locate the histories of injustice in the region.
The Sleepwalkers is the latest chapter of Alien Encounters, Hamadeh’s ongoing project which aims at further complicating the notion of ‘alienness’, understood broadly as the condition of estrangement with regard to the law. For Hamadeh the ‘alien’ is a recurrent figure and a discursive tool that allows for queer modalities of understanding state-sponsored forms of violence and their enabling legal apparatuses within the Arab world.