“Embroiders of Actuality”: transformative artwork by the people
Embroiders of Actuality courtesy of Artellewa

CAIRO: “Embroiders of Actuality” is an exhibition of community artwork displayed in Artellewa, an art space located in the heart of Cairo’s Ard-el Lewa neighborhood, whose artists, Aglaia Haritz from Switzerland and Moroccan Abdelaziz Zerrou, seek to create an artistic platform for women.

The artwork consists of 36 images of prominent Egyptian women throughout history and up to present day, printed on textile. Each piece contains unique embroidered patterns from the Ard-El Lewa community and members of the Huda Shaarawi Association. The images are meant to commemorate the impact of strong Egyptian women on their society in a variety of fields, from social rights, education, literature, arts and culture, to medicine, sports, and politics.

Huda Shaarawi, Egyptian feminist leader and nationalist, Bothaina Kamel, Egypt´s first female presidential candidate, and poet Imane Mersal are some of the 36 women featured through this project. Others include figures such as Cleopatra, Lotfia El Nadi, the first Egyptian woman to fly a plane, and well-known actress Mariam Fakr Eddine.

The purpose of the artwork was to create a dialogue between the women embroiders, said Aglaia. During their working sessions, they sew together and read texts about the women they were working on, she told The Cairo Post. “The young women who participated are strong women with bright futures.”

The fact that the artwork took place in Ard-El Lewa, which at first appears to an outsider as a convoluted maze of unpaved, narrowed streets, is no coincidence. “We wanted normal women” to participate in the project, said Aglaia to The Cairo Post. “We wanted a mix of very different women to sit and talk together,” she said. For this reason, the significance of the artwork does not lay solely on the striking final product, but rather on the process.

Abdelaziz describes the project as social and political in essence. By bringing local women together “the problems in their lives came up,” she said. “This project gave them the opportunity to do something for themselves.”

The vision of “Embroiders of Actuality” is global in scope. The artists intend to bring the project to different countries across the Arab World. The beauty of the artwork is in its versatility, since the creative process is intrinsically tied to the women´s position.  “It will never be the same,” said Aglaia. Each woman has a different story and will react differently to the project, she said.

“Embroiders of Actuality” is at once artwork, a community project, a reading session, everyday conversations, and a kind of ethnographic study for the artists. But above all, “Embroiders of Actuality” is about resistance,” said Aglaia. “Not the revolution of the police, the guns, and the stones, but the everyday revolution; change.”

The artwork will be on display until Dec. 15.

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