Can you share your family’s migration story from Egypt? When did you leave? Where did you end up?
I left Egypt with my family when I was 6 years old. We moved to Dubai, and also lived in the UK briefly when I was growing up. I moved to London for university and that is where I am based today.
What motivated you to get into illustration and Graphic Communication Design? And can you introduce your work?
Like most children, arts and crafts were a great part of my childhood. I grew up surrounded by a creative family, who encouraged my love for painting and the arts. My uncle noticed my interest in painting and drawing faces especially, and taught me much of what I know now, he himself was a painter and inspired me a lot (may God rest his soul).
As I learned more about the art world, I noticed a lack of established Arab/North African artists in popular culture, perhaps this is what subconsciously made me believe it should remain a side hobby. Even though I studied Art throughout my education, because I never heard of Egyptian female artists, I simply believed we did not exist or fit in this world.
When I reached my final high school year, I decided to pursue law, as I cared about several human rights and social issues. Long story short, a conversation with someone special, sparked and reconnected me with my love for art and design. I ended up specialising in illustration in foundation and later on for my BA, Graphic Communication Design.
Now, through my art, I draw inspiration from the beautiful design elements found in the Arab landscape and seek to promote narratives representing different Arab social groups. I aspire my work to serve those societies through artistic expression and representation. I have come to realise that design has the power to create new narratives and rewrite existing ones, and when approached with anthropological research, it can change perceptions through tackling and solving the issue at its core.
How does your background (both professional and personal) shape your work? And how does your work connect you to Egypt?
When it comes to my work and Egypt, it has become an accurate depiction of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I began creating work about my hometown when I was 17, one of the pieces I painted, still resonates with me “Cairo behind me, Cairo within me.” I was actively introduced to Egyptian film, art, and music during my upbringing, and growing up in a journalistic house, politics. I guess it was inevitable for me to explore such a big part of my life and identity, and I am still in my early journey to understanding the meaning of that.
In one of my most personal projects, Bel Hana Wel Shefa, I illustrated family recipes in the form of a cook book while also celebrating the material culture of Egyptian food through nostalgia & kitsch. The cookbook exists as a collection of my childhood memories, honoring the people that have impacted my life. Feeding each other is the way my family, and many Arabs, express their love. Remaking a dish not only reminds me of those moments but also presents itself as a form of preserving our heritage. The anxiety here is not losing the actual recipes, but losing a part of you, and essentially your identity. Through collaging objects, colours, and textures, I try to evoke certain sentiments surrounding family traditions and nostalgia. I also added QR codes to access interviews and conversations surrounding those dishes, as well as nostalgic tunes such as Abla Fadeela’s intro “Ya Welad Ya Welad.”
How has your work been received in your immigrant communities?
I was very touched by how the Nubian online community reacted to The Nubian Story. I reached out to over 50 Nubian identifying individuals through Twitter and Instagram and asked them to share their experiences in a survey-like interview. They shared this wealth of information and confessions with me. Even though this project started at university, I always felt that I had a duty to spread awareness surrounding this indigenous Egyptian group, considering their massive impact on Egyptian culture and tourism. The Nubian Story reached the Do The Green Thing exhibition for COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and was even featured in the Guardian. With the support of @nubiangallery and @qratenubian, I hope that the Nubian community felt that we represented their beautiful culture, heritage, and story accurately and powerfully.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
Without a doubt, it is interacting with people from all sorts of social and ethnic backgrounds and collaborating with them. This year I have been lucky enough to work on NGO projects based in North Africa, and use design as a tool to aid projects with a social justice purpose. Whether that is food relief NGO, illustrating merch for charitable groups, or simply creating work that celebrates Arab and North African societies, I find joy in merging my personal values with my practice. Worth 100 Women was and still is a project I sometimes feel is bigger than me, with 54 Egyptian women painted and more to go. It was the first project where my concept spread beyond my social circle, and brought other women on board in actively claiming back and creating our own narrative.
What were some of the challenges and obstacles you faced?
My biggest challenge, one I am still facing, is finding where my work stands. Again with the lack of Egyptian artists in the wider field of art, it is sometimes difficult to see where your work can exist if it has not been acknowledged before. It is up to me to familiarise and educate myself with today’s MENA art and design landscape. I am on a hunt to consciously collect a list of BIPOC creatives, both in the past and today.
What advice do you have for others wanting to follow a similar path?
Follow your own string of inspiration. I would definitely recommend exploring themes and topics that are actually important to you on a personal level, rather than just following what you believe is trending. Also as hard as it is, I really would recommend putting your work out there as much as you can. You could be struggling with imposter syndrome, but some people would really appreciate something you might not be seeing about your own work. Don’t be afraid of creating work that is just for yourself to explore, because you will find a lot of other people resonating with it. Lastly, you have to believe in the work you are creating, it won’t be getting the attention it deserves if you are hiding it from the world!
Egypt Migrations is always looking for people to contribute to our digital initiatives. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join or support the organization.
Farida Eltigi is an Egyptian illustrator and Graphic Communication Designer exploring culture, representation, identity and diasporas. She was brought up and lived in three vibrant cities; Cairo, Dubai and London. She believes that her experience of living in those incredibly diverse environments has influenced her to become a naturally intrigued person in different cultures and observe how those diasporas and migrant communities interact with one another and grow. Her work revolves around and is driven by highlighting and celebrating Arab visual language and design.