Last supper

Between Grand Hôtel and Riddarhuset

 

Ahmed Al-Nawas

In 1889, orientalists gathered for a unique event in the united kingdoms of Sweden and Norway at the Eighth International Congress of Orientalists. This congress was the first of its kind in the Nordic countries and was celebrated in grand settings in Stockholm, Uppsala, and Christiania (now Oslo).

Behind this significant event was the extremely wealthy Count Karl (or Carlo) von Landberg, who not only funded the festivities with his own resources but also managed to inspire King Oscar II to support the project. The king, fascinated by Egypt and the East, decided to deviate from the Eurocentric tradition of the scholarly community and invited “oriental” scholars to participate in the congress as contributors and scholars, rather than having the “East” solely as the subject of European research. Seven participants came from Egypt, two from Algeria, three from Japan, four from India, and four from Iran.

In his opening speech at The House of Nobility, Landberg, as the director of the conference event, criticized the Western-centric research on the Middle East and the Far East. He also emphasized the importance of tolerance and collaboration with oriental scholars. This inclusive hospitality did not please European orientalists, and the participation of oriental scholars sparked much criticism. The fact that “oriental” participants dressed in their “national costumes” and presented their papers in their own languages did not gain approval from all European participants. Most of these languages were incomprehensible to European orientalists, and most of the presented papers were considered to lack scientific value.
Orientalist research has been criticized for being the Western gaze towards the East. However, my interest lies in the East’s gaze towards the West. In my own artistic research, I focus on the delegation from Egypt, which crossed the sea to Southern Europe and then travelled through Europe by train to Sweden. One member of the delegation wrote a travelogue.

I aim to reconstruct the poems composed by the conference attendees. Additionally, I seek to recreate Landberg’s speech at the House of Nobility, as summarized in the Egyptian travelogue.