In the murky waters of the Mediterranean lie the ruins of Alexandria’s fabled lighthouse, a wonder of the ancient world destroyed by earthquakes in the Middle Ages. While mapped by archeologists, most of these 2,000 stone remnants will never be retrieved and reconstructed: the Pharos Lighthouse can only be inferred. But above the surface, the lighthouse is ubiquitous in the modern city, its image wholly imagined, with little resemblance to the stones at the bottom of the sea.
In a richly braided, intimately told narrative of text and image, New York–born artist and writer Ellie Ga (born 1976) takes the reader with her on dive boats and into the water, behind the walls of hidden museums, through city streets pasted with political graffiti, into the offices of archeologists and the homes of Alexandrians—just as Egypt is on the cusp of its first post-revolution election. Ga’s investigations into the lighthouse chart the charged spaces between the historical and mythological, between the translated and untranslatable, between the unearthing of memory, the circumscription of the past and the potential of the present. Ga’s subject is ostensibly the Pharos Lighthouse, but her own gorgeously constructed palimpsests reveal a multitude of possible truths: Square Octagon Circle becomes a prism through which to see the nature of the unknown.