6 SEPTEMBER 2021: Despite living more than 3,000 kilometers away from Egypt, when 22-year-old illustrator and graphic communication design student Farida Eltigi was assigned a project titled Design and the Collective National Identity for her studies at the University of the Arts London (UAL).
Having lived in Cairo, Dubai, and London, she is intrigued by different cultures and finds herself driven to explore how diasporas grow and develop.Showcased at the University’s virtual exhibition and on billboards around the United Kingdom, Eltigi’s works share one thing: they tackle the Egyptian identity from a different angle; from collaborating with Nubian voices to create The Nubian Story to exploring Egyptian society’s perspective of women through Worth 100 Women.
Eltigi talked to Egyptian Streets about her work and her aspirations
What made you decide to become a graphic designer?
I have always loved art and painting, but at the same time, I am really passionate about social and cultural issues. I found that Graphic Communication Design sits between both, as your role is to create designs that function beyond a purely aesthetic purpose. I am personally motivated by a need to preserve Egyptian visual culture through design as it brings me closer to home.
Your work is described as “an exploration of identity,” can you elaborate on that?
My cornerstone investigation is titled ‘Design and the Collective National Identity.’ For as long as I can remember, the western production of film, art, music, and literature has created an Orientalised, misrepresented, and stereotyped portrayal of Egypt within an ancient Egyptian framework and neglected its other varied cultures and history.
As a designer from a country with such a fertile culture, I believe that it is essential for me and the new generation of designers to look within and find the visual elements to redefine the Egyptian collective identity as accurately as we can.
What made you specifically choose Nubian people as a subject? What is the objective of the project?
The Nubian culture is undeniably a prominent aspect of Egyptian culture and stimulates our tourism.
However, we do not discuss nor address the tragic amount of discrimination that Nubian Egyptians face on a daily basis. Meanwhile, they are at risk of losing their language and history.
What’s the objective of the Worth 100 Women series? What messages do the designs seek to deliver?
When a woman is strong and independent, the popular saying goes worth a hundred men (Be 100 Ragl in Egyptian). Though this statement is intended to be a compliment, it is quite problematic. By reconstructing it to ‘Worth 100 Women,’ I am pointing out the patriarchal undertones of our dialect. The on-going poster series aims to empower women through a representation of a large and diverse portrayal of Egyptian women
Considering the constant comparison of Eurocentric beauty standards, colours, classism, and general negative social stigmas that Egyptian women face, this project allows them to be in the spotlight for once; choosing how they appear in front of the world. I am proposing the project to “hypothetically” exist in the Egyptian streets, and function as a way to acclimatise and shift the power dynamics of the male-dominated streets for the Egyptian woman. To the western audience and in the UK, where the project is currently being showcased, it exists as a new narrative to claim and demonstrates the diversity of Egyptian women.
Are you planning on implementing your projects in Egypt or the UK?
The Worth 100 Women poster series is currently on-going so all Egyptian women can still take part by submitting a picture of themselves;I hope to reach 100 portraits before the year 2021 ends! As for The Nubian Story, I want to work more with the amazing audio segments and I’m considering turning my illustrations into an animation or a longer film.
You say you hope to use your design skills to promote social change – what are you most excited to pursue?
I hope to serve marginalised groups in our society by using design and illustration as a tool.I am most excited to continue learning more about different cultures and each of their visual languages, and of course to continue creating work that is sparked by human interaction. As designers, I believe that we must carefully approach each individual and social group without any preconceived notions and offer our services to those that are otherwise unheard.
Additionally, ever since my publication SAHARA about desert mysticism, I have been really intrigued and fascinated by the life of Bedouins and nomads. Their relationship with the environment amazes me as well as its influence on all their customs. Their sustainable and symbiotic relationship with the Earth is something we really could learn from considering the climate crisis.
Are you planning on returning to Egypt to pursue similar projects?
I would definitely love to, if I can find the right opportunity. I admire the intricate craftsmanship of Egypt as well as the number of subcultures that exist within our society. There is inspiration in every corner of Egypt, and I also want to adopt more of the distinct visual language of my Damietta/Fayoum and Se’eedi roots into my work and illustration.
The Nubian Story – Nubia as it once was, takes the viewer on a journey from Ancient Nubia TA – SETI to the new generation of Nubians today. In order to help preserve and protect the endangered Nubian heritage and culture, I illustrated their historical events, customs, and traditions.
The project is a collaboration with The Nubian Gallery and Nubian(Q), who tell the Nubian story through their own and their family’s life experiences in an emotional and incredibly moving manner. Their accounts, like many others on Instagram, are working towards preserving and spreading awareness on Nubia.
This article first appeared in Egyptian Streets