Sherin Guirguis, “Bint Al-Nil/Daughter of the Nile”
American University in Cairo, Tahrir Cultural Center // Future and Legacy Galleries // February 1 – 28, 2018
Curated by Shiva Balaghi, Ph.D.
On February 19, 1951, Doria Shafik convened what had been announced as “a feminist congress” on the campus of the American University in Cairo. Before the gathering of 1500 women, Shafik declared, “Our meeting today is not a congress but a parliament. A true one! That of women! We are half the nation! We represent here the hope and despair of this important half of our nation.” The group then marched from Ewart Hall along Qasr al-Aini street to the gates of the Parliament, demanding that women be granted the right to vote and hold public office. The protest ultimately led to a declaration by the Egyptian government in January 1956 granting women citizens the right to vote.
Nearly seven decades later, the American University in Cairo is hosting an exhibition by Egyptian-American artist Sherin Guirguis, who will be showing a series of paintings and sculptures inspired by the life, activism, and writings of Doria Shafik. “Bint al-Nil/Daughter of the Nile,” marks the first ever exhibition by the acclaimed artist in Egypt. Curated by Dr. Shiva Balaghi, the exhibit will be on view at the Tahrir Cultural Center from February 1 – 28, 2018.
The exhibition title, “Bint al-Nil/Daughter of the Nile,” conveys layers of meaning. It references Shafik’s feminist organization and a journal she edited. The expression is also deeply personal for the artist, Guirguis, who was born in Luxor and raised in Cairo until her teen years when she emigrated to the United States with her family. The works that comprise the exhibit are part of the artist’s exploration of Egyptian feminism and Shafik through the lens of history and memory.
Over the course of two years of research as she prepared to make this body of work, Guirguis integrated ideas and concepts from Shafik’s life into her own personal history and artistic development. This ongoing conversation became manifest in a collage that developed organically on the wall of her art studio in Los Angeles. A diary of sorts, the wall shows the way Guiguis translates feminist principles and poetics into her own inimitable visual language. Photographs of old Luxor from the artist’s family’s albums mix with portraits of Shafik, Passages from Shafik’s writings are pinned alongside architectural photographs, experimental drawings and sketches, swaths of lapis colored ink and patches of gold leaf. Just as Shafik wrote a thesis at the Sorbonne on ancient Egyptian art, Guirguis’ use of shapes and color are drawn from the ancient ruins of Luxor. All of it blends together into a mapping of Guirguis’ artistic practice in which traces of the Egyptian past find utterly contemporary cultural expression.
What may appear as decorative flourishes are often meaningful artistic choices. In a series of three paintings, “Storming Parliament,” Guirguis has cut intricate patterns into paper, mimicking the design of the gates of the Egyptian parliament building. She then covers the paintings with a deep lapis blue ink in gestural form, reflecting the waters of the river Nile. A third painting in the series is embellished with gold leaf, echoing the use of gold in ancient Egyptian art.