Meet the Egyptian Woman Who Ventured Inside the Mind of a Serial Rapist and Came Right Back Out
AUC arts student Habiba Koura has dared to go where no one has gone before - inside Egypt's prisons, to meet with serial rapists and study their psychological and physical reactions to visual stimuli...
We know that artists are stereotypically nut jobs, but Habiba Koura - a visual arts student at the AUC - has met our preconceptions of obsessive artists and raised us a spooky fascination with criminal psychology. Researching and studying the behaviour of criminals in her own time, she soon embarked on a unique project, combining her artistic inclinations with the psychiatric methods to study the psychology of incarcerated serial rapists, through a series of filmed interactions. Getting exclusive access to prisoners in Torah and criminal patients at Helwan's psychiatric hospital, Koura presents the sentenced rapists with strictly visual stimuli. The seemingly random collection of photographs is shown to them in completely silence and their physical reactions to the images are recorded by Koura and the footage is being collected to be presented on two screens - one showing what the serial rapists have seen and the other showing their reactions, simultaneously. In this exclusive interview, we find out what's driven Koura to undertake this taxing project, what she hopes to achieve and what she's learned so far. First, take a look at the first in her series of videos:
Where did you interest in criminal psychology, and specifically serial rapists, come from?
When I joined the American University in Cairo, well aware of the fact that becoming a part of the Visual Arts programme, one has to extensively research a specific topic. Criminal psychology is one of my personal obsessions, so it wasn’t just that I had to choose a topic, but I’m genuinely interested and fascinated with it. Why serial rapists especially? I've read a lot about serial criminals and I don't know... Serial rapists just happen to symbolise the big golden prized acorn to me.
Was there anything you were particularly afraid of while in the prisons?
There was no fear to begin with. It's just fascinating.
What was the prisoner’s initial reaction to your experiment?
I don't think he expected something of that sort. I think he was creeped out in his own little way, seeing as I refused to verbally interact with him. He said things like "Eh?" "Mesh fahem," "Eh dah?" then gave up and played along with the silence.
The Jazz music in the background makes the film brilliantly creepy. How did you decide what to music to use?
Nothing specific. I've been told it’s cliché, actually, but in all honesty I chose Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong (while I’m very aware of the politics behind their genre) for the irony that comes about while watching something of this category.
How much of this project was for the sake of art and how much of it was for the sake of research and activism?
For the most part, for research and activism. This was not for my senior project only, this is the beginning of a series of documentaries under the same topic that I am working on and will be pursuing in the future.
Is there anything in particular you learned while working on this project?
I've learnt that, if you're to fulfil something, don't let anyone stand in your way. Only you will understand the passion you release into something.