International Women’s Day 2015: Egyptian women, the Egyptian way

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The contemporary Egyptian art scene has been and continues to be filled with the contributions of Egyptian women of all backgrounds and all ages.

Writers, painters, visual artists, vocalists, actresses, and art enthusiasts all have had their immense contributions to the ever-thriving Egyptian artistic scene.

To mark International Women’s Day 2015, we commemorate Egypt’s women artists, those among us and those who have passed, whose works resonate in both local and international circles, and who left an imprint on their respective artistic fields that is duly worthy of attention.

Each woman immortalised an aspect of Egypt in her work, be it the traditional arts, poetry, cultural traditions, or ‘the Egyptian woman.’

Especially to those whose loss constitutes the gravest of all, we present this list of seven influential Egyptian women artists. The contributions made by all Egyptian women artists surpasses the narrow scope of just simply an ambitious undertaking.

Today, we celebrate women in all professions, be it artistic or otherwise.

1. Radwa Ashour

(photo: al-Akhbar English)

Radwa Ashour is a renowned Egyptian novelist who authored a number of short stories and novels. She is the author of The Granada Trilogy and Al-Tantouriyya (translated as The Woman from Tantoura), two of her most widely acclaimed novels in which the diaspora is central to the themes.

Additionally, Ashour co-edited, alongside a number of female academics, The Encyclopedia of Arab Women Writers: 1873–1999 which was published in 2005 by AUC Press.

Until her death in late November 2014, Ashour was professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cairo University and had also taught at Ain Shams University in Cairo.

2. Faten Hamama 

(photo: variety)

Famed Egyptian actress Faten Hamama starred in a plethora of feature films from the late 1940s until the early 1990s. Hence, her participation in a number of international film festivals and a recipient of both national and international awards.

Hamama is indeed an icon of the Egyptian noir-et-blanc era — the “Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema.”

As an actress, and many times a vocal political and social dissident, Hamama was keen on highlighting gender inequality in Egypt in many of her films, the most notable being Al-Bāb Al-Maftūḥ or The Open Door, directed by Henri Barakat in 1964.

3. Ahdaf Soueif 

(photo: Al-Ahram Weekly)

Ahdaf Soueif, author of The Map of Love, In the Eye of the Sun, and Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, is a prominent Egyptian novelist and political writer.

Soueif holds a PhD in linguistics from Lancaster University and is also the recipient of a number of international awards. Her 1999 novel, The Map of Love, was short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

Additionally, Soueif is a prolific political and cultural writer, and many of her contemporary writings are published in The Guardian.

4. Sherwet Shafie 

Sherwet Shafie is one of Egypt’s well-known arts curators. Owner of the Safar Khan Art Gallery located in Cairo’s Zamalek and Al-Gouna, Shafie has been a central figure in the Egyptian arts scene for decades.

(photo: Safar Khan)

Shafie’s immense contributions to modern/contemporary Egyptian art reside in her compilations — in both television broadcasts and published books — of important works by renowned contemporary Egyptian artists.

She is accredited with establishing Channel 2 of Egyptian television, often viewed as the source for arts and culture. She has also featured on the international arts scene on a number of occasions.

5. Inji Aflatoun 

Inji Aflatoun is considered one of the central artists in, and founders of, modern Egyptian art.

Aflatoun was both an artist and an ardent political and social activist, a fact that inspired her artistic projects.

Living and working through a critical time in Egypt’s history, Afflatoun’s work is the epitome of the struggles of her time and, in many ways, of her life.

(photo: Invaluable.com)

6. Dina El-Wedidi

Dina El-Wedidi is a young Egyptian singer, guitarist, composer, and storyteller. She is best known for singing old Arabic verses to contemporary beats and tunes, creating music that is on the rise on a number of playlists.

El-Wedidi has had a number of collaborations with international artists. In 2012, she won the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, by which she had the opportunity to be mentored by, and to hold a tour with, the famous Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil.

(photo: Dina El-Wedidi’s Website)

With songs like Ghanī yā bent, El-Wedidi also sings about the plight of young Egyptian girls and women, and through her music urges them to run, dance, and sing — in essence to embrace life, a message that lies at the heart of International Women’s Day.

7. Hanan Ghanem 

(photo: ArtsMart Gallery)

Hanan Ghanem is an Egyptian painter and artist who is most famous for her portraits that feature women in different settings and through diverse moods.

An invocation of traditional Egyptian artistic elements, as seen in the motifs that adorn the women’s head-wear in one of her paintings shown below, is central to Ghanem’s art. Other non-Egyptian elements are also strongly invoked in her work.

The centrality of women to her art was made clear by Ghanem herself when she once said, alluding to one of her projects titled Colourful Passions:

“Colourful Passions is an ode to the courageous life force that makes us, to the diversity and beauty of all the women who struggle to survive the boundaries of their existence, an ode to the goddesses we are born to be and a celebration of the feminine force that is nature at its purest form.”