2020 - Ongoing
Cairo, Muḩāfaz̧at al Qāhirah, Egypt
The first seeds of my identity were planted in El Mehalla Al Kobra, my home and where I was born. El Mehalla was one of the most popular cities in Egypt. Known as home of Egyptian cotton, and an important center for harvesting and spinning white cotton. My great grandfather was one of the first merchants in the city to lead the initial stage of the popular “manufacturing” textile trade at the time. In 1969, my grandfather established his textile factory in the city and my father joined him in the 80’s.
Uprooted and extracted from its ground, I see myself reflected in the cotton’s journey. It embodies my history and personal identity as I continuously try to become. The white cotton flower endures change internally and externally until it is loomed into woven and drawn fabrics. Likewise, I feel similar, trying to adapt to the outside world. Growing up in the midst of all current of change of Egypt. Caught between hands and air, trying to weave my existence in today’s current. I fear losing my last threads living only through my history.
In 1969, 3 million acres of cotton were planted. Making it the highest in the history of cotton cultivation in the country. As the cotton dispersed over the years, cultivated lands were shrinking and the egyptian farmer was seen as an enemy, replaced with the new industrial agriculture policies. Subsidies were reduced and neoliberalism policies were implemented. Egypt started to focus on export industries and decreased the cotton production. Emptying factory walls and turning them to piles of dust. As the cotton cycle changes, My father started to opt for imported cotton from countries such as Pakistan and Greece. While most of the Egyptian cotton supplies were exported abroad.
The cotton is a major symbol for us as Egyptians. It’s part of our cultural wealth, heritage and history that ties us all to our past. The cotton is my past and my present, its the threads that will continue to weave no matter how worn out it will get. My project aims to find answers.With the new social, political and economic privatization of the public sector, the country aims to revive the cotton industry. Investing billions in what would be the largest textile factory in the world built on the grounds of El Mehalla, as well as developing new ginning factories to replace the old ones, improving working conditions making a need for more cotton to be produced. As new private sector investors plan to bring back the Egyptian cotton, will they be able to retrieve the white gold of the past ?
I imagine my story coming together as a book and an oral history website documenting my personal and national history. I invite the audience to join me in a conversation about identity, both personal and national. One that unfolds the history of Egypt and one that ties all socio-economic and political factors of a country that have long been known by the white cotton. As we experience the cycle of growth differently, some of us will be planting their seeds now others will be harvesting, while others will be learning to let go and weave their threads of their present into their own white gold.