In Cairo, a special exhibition is being held at the Tahrir Cultural Center of the American University. Like a call from the heart to revive the memory of an Egyptian feminist forgotten for too long : Doria Shafik.
Emblematic figure of the women’s liberation movement in Egypt in the 1940s, Doria Shafik is an Egyptian poet, journalist and politician. Among other things, she allowed women’s to be granted the right to vote under the constitution of 1956, after a hunger strike that made her famous all over the world. Despite the importance of her contribution in Egyptian society evolution, her memory has been erased by generations of governments.
Icon of the Egyptian women liberation
Born in Tanta, in the Nile Delta, Doria Shafik is the youngest Egyptian to have obtained the French Baccalaureate at only 16 years old. Very smart, the girl manages to get a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture, which allows her to pursue her studies at the University of Sorbonne in Paris. After a Phd in philosophy, she later returns to her native country, with great reformist ambitions and dreams of female emancipation. But she is quickly stopped in her tracks, when the dean of the faculty refuses her a teaching position, considering her as too “modern”.
Far from being discouraged and against all odds, Doria Shafik keeps getting involved in Egyptian women’s education, and becomes editor-in-chief of a french speaking literary and cultural magazine s “the new woman”. She also begins several hunger strikes to demand both respect for women’s rights, but also denounce the dictatorial regime of Nasser, which cost her to be banned from the press and her magazines from circulation.
Entitled “Daughter of the Nile” (Nile girl or Bint el Nil in Arabic), this exhibition which pays her a tribute and organized at the Tahrir Cultural Center of the American University of Cairo, is inspired by the magazine of the same name founded by the young woman and published in Arabic. Released in November 1945, its purpose was to encourage women to take a stand in society, and later became a political party fighting for their better inclusion into the country’s policies.
Reviving a forgotten memory through art
It’s an other contemporary Egyptian artist, Sherine Guirguis, now living in California, who came up with the idea of an exhibition to pay homage to Doria Shafik’s work and fight. In troubled times in Egypt, it seemed necessary for the artist to revive this voluntarily erased memory “II came across her name when I was doing research around Feminist histories in Egypt and the middle east and found that there was almost no information on here. I later found out that her work had been intentionally erased from history. I think the work Doria did throughout her life had a great impact on the country and it’s important for us to remember this history today. I also related to her feeling of distance from her homeland and incorporated a poem she write about that in my work.
Born in Luxor and raised in Cairo, the artist who emigrated to the United States in 1989, has a relationship of thorns and love with her country of origin, which is at the heart of her practice. She never stops to study the ambivalence of his dual nationality “Being bi-cultural also means that you are not really home anywhere. This research is part of my artistic practice. ” Like an ethnologist, she likes to explore cultural identities and exhume forgotten heritage like One I Call, a sculpture she made for the Palm Springs California Biennale Desert X, which takes the shape of pigeon towers traditionally found in deserts and villages of egypt, and where she questions the notion of migration and space in desert communities. Or Cairo Trilogy, a set of three sculptures reproducing the repetitive moucharabiehs patterns, and inspired by the work of the literature Nobel prize Naguib Mahfouz’s which depicts the evolution of Egyptian society after the postcolonial reconstruction.
“Focus to her acts and writing not her looks”
Continuing her solo exhibition “Of Thorns and Love”, presented at the Craft and Folk Museum of Los Angeles, the painter exhibited with “Daughter of the Nile” a series of abstract paintings portraying the Egyptian feminist icon, that she never represents figuratively but with flat areas of bright colors or floral patterns. A way of focusing on the poet’s achievements and not on her appearance, she tells us “ I also felt that Doria’s elegant look and fashionable dress was often used as a tool to dismiss her work. So this way my work brings focus to her acts and writing not her looks. “ I felt that Doria’s elegant look and fashionable dress was often used as a tool to dismiss her work. So this way my work brings focus to her acts and writing not her looks. “
The exhibition also features rare publications from the American University Library in Cairo, such as unpublished pictures of Shafik’s women’s march to get the right to vote. In this way, Sherin Guirguis manages to give back the place Doria Shafik deserves in the history of Egypt.