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Saturday, 24 June 2017

A day in the lives of Hend Rostom and other divas

In the first episode in a Ramadan series on Inspiring Women of Egypt and the Arab World, Ahram Online attended a unique exhibition reviewing 21 important women

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 28 May 2017
hend
Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty
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The image of Egyptian cinema diva Hend Rostom greets the visitor's eye, her voice explaining how, despite all the stardom, "My family would not stop to greet me on the street if they saw me by chance."

This encounter with stardom was part of an exhibition last week titled Doing Well, Don't Worry – comprised of short tales about women's work and mobility, focusing on 21 woman known for their accomplishments.

The exhibition, held at the Falaky Theater in downtown Cairo, revealed the challenges that women in the region face simply because of their gender, and how they have managed to overcome such challenges – providing inspiring stories of success.

The title of the exhibition was inspired by a long letter from Shahenda Meqled to Reem Saad. Written in Egypt in 1978, the letter tells of Meqled's situation as a political prisoner, ending with the famous phrase, "Doing fine, don’t worry."

The hand-written letter, which was on display, set the tone for the whole concept of the show, presenting a mélange of women who, despite everything, managed to stand out and flourish.

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Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

The exhibition was the result of collaboration between students, professionals and artists in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Denmark, presenting audio-visual accounts of each woman's story, complete with objects from their lives.

Within Egypt, contributions came from The Women And Memory Forum Egypt, the American University in Cairo's Anthropology Unit and the Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women's Studies, also from the AUC.

The Tiraz Centre in Jordan was involved, as was the Knowledge Workshop in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Danish connection was provided by the Women's Museum in Denmark and the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute.

The range of contributors and the objects on display provide a clue as to one of the project's eventual aims, namely the creation of a women's museum in the MENA region, telling the story of women, complete with their struggles and triumphs.

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Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

The exhibition started with cinema diva Hend Rostom (1930-2011) who figured large in the golden era of Egyptian cinema. Her powerful voice stated that she was a self-made woman who excelled due to talent and hard work – and most certainly not because of her looks or connections.

"I could never be a mere flower in a man's suit. I was close friends with icons such as journalist Mostafa Amin, writer Ihsan Abdel Qodous. But I could never ask them any favors. For I too am Hend Rostom," she said, referencing the Egypt-born actress famous for her integrity.

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Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

Next to a red dress, glasses, perfume, passport and lots of film posters, lay the handmade pottery of one of Egypt's most talented potters.

Born in 1978, Rawya Mohamed, is an indigenous artist from the village of Tunis in Fayoum. A student of the famous Fayoum Pottery School, Mohamed started creating her pottery at the age of 12. Now she is the successful owner of a pottery workshop, a member of Fair Trade Egypt and an inspiring mother.

Rawya mocked her peers who used to warn against working so young, saying that nobody would want to marry her and she would be left childless.

Iraq was represented by the reminisces of Widad Al-Orfali (1929), an Iraqi artist who opened the first private gallery in Iraq in the 1980s. She told her story, including everything she left behind when forced to leave Iraq in 2003. The tale of Al-Orfali's life is a true tale of resistance.

Also on display was the famous hand-stitched Palestinian dress of Om Ibrahim (1927), who was forced to flee her hometown of Jaffa when it was invaded by Israeli soldiers in 1948.

While fleeing on foot, she carried her embroidered costumes as "inseparable parts of her being that cannot be left behind."

With so many tales worth retelling and saving for posterity, the exhibition lends a whole new meaning to the French phrase "Cherchez la femme".

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