By Jamie Lee Cue
Sharif Ezzat is an Egyptian-American multimedia artist based out of San Francisco, who uses his works to reflect his views on issues such as the environment, politics, the future, and the importance of family. Through the use of his website, and his business Goodfood Productions, Sharif Ezzat has become a well-known author of electronic literature creating many pieces such as “Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky,” that allows the imagination to roam.
Ezzat’s piece, “Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky,” was first published on his site in 2006, and still exists as his only multilingual piece. It uses flash animated English text with an Arabic voice over and a simple starry interface to convey stories to the reader. The sky represents a collection of stories and tales that the narrator seems eager to share. The interactive aspect of the piece is represented by blue stars, which, when clicked, contain stories, as you bring your mouse up to a star, it states the question that the narrator asked responding to the story, which usually also acts as both the title and the first line of the short poem or story contained in the star. The interface along with the voice of the narrator gives me the image of sitting around a campfire listening to stories under the stars. Although the interface is a rather simple one, it is extremely peaceful and well done, creating the calming atmosphere of the story.
The narrator further creates the atmosphere for the stories, as he speaks in Arabic, bringing out the languages soothing quality and making the reader feel at peace, along with the sound bells chiming in the background. The narrator also seems eager to tell of the stories that he has acquired asking questions such as: “shall I tell you of my water, which is getting thirsty?” The narrator reminds me of an oral society where elders pass their knowledge down to younger generations through the use of stories. However, the use of a foreign language made me feel like an outsider to an older native society as I sat around a campfire listening to their history represented by the star’s stories. The narrator in this piece, acts like that of a storyteller and told important life lessons to younger generations through the use of stories.
On the other hand, the stories themselves focus on the environment, people and places and deal with a simple idea or feeling. Although the stories are moving and compelling, offering the idea that change is needed, they are neutral in the fact that they offer no notion of how to change just noticing that there is a problem that is unsolved. This is one aspect of the piece that I think is really interesting, it leaves a piece of the story up to the reader’s imagination to make up the history of the tribe and to see if the cousin could eventually stay faithful to his wife and lead a happy life or if their family was to be torn apart. The ending question usually goes back to reflect the issue or idea that is being discussed.
Overall, this piece was one of my favorites acting like a passageway into another culture and another way of living other than our own. It is simple to relate to the stories and yet they seem so distant, in that they end neutrally without any conclusion whatsoever. The use of the simplistic interface added a nice touch to the already peaceful piece, however, the bells tolling in the background was a little off for me. I was expecting the calming noise of water on a lake or the sound of a gentle breeze going through the trees. Although the bells added a mysterious quality to the stars and therefore to the piece, it took away a little bit of its realism, making the piece harder to enjoy.