Hana Gamal draws our attention to the significant and overlooked role women play in Egyptian agriculture
Through an organic and raw process, the photographer shows us how “without these women, there would be no agriculture in Egypt.”
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 27 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
In Cairo, it’s the smell of diesel that hits you first. Second to that is the noise: street vendors, car horns, the five AM prayer calls. It’s a beautiful and irreverent city that has been home to some of the world’s most influential people. But at a certain point, it can become overwhelming, “with all its madness and absurdity,” says Hana Gamal. Here’s where the photographer’s project Green Grass comes in, offering respite from the dizzying movements of Cairo’s streets.
Before she had her photography featured in The New York Times, Huck Magazine and The Huffington Post, Hana says it was a “once in a lifetime experience” that led her to where she is as a photographer today. Rewind to 25 January 2011: as Egypt erupts in revolution, Hana takes out her phone to document the events. “I felt something beautiful and strange happening,” she tells It’s Nice That. “It was an indescribable feeling that only the ones who were there could comprehend and sense. I felt that I was witnessing history being made in front of my eyes and I wanted to keep that memory with me forever. So I spontaneously took out my phone and started taking pictures, and I haven’t stopped since.”
Photographing the streets of Cairo helped Hana understand and rediscover herself within her country: “It brought me closer to the streets and my people.” Going from wanting to pursue a career in psychology and art therapy to wanting to be a photographer, Hana began taking courses in photography at university to learn the discipline. Like any art form, it wasn’t easy starting out. “I was so lost in the world and unsure if I had made the right decision. Phases of frustrations, failures and losses. So many people around me were telling me to leave photography or keep it as a hobby on the side and find a stable, nine-to-five job; but the voices in my head were much louder than theirs, something inside me was telling me to continue.” And it’s a good thing Hana listened to that inner voice.
Cut to several years of patient practice and hard work later, Hana arrives at the project Green Grass, alluding to the pastoral scenes around Egypt which she has been seeking solace in. What fascinated her most about these parts of the country were the rural women: “Egyptian women inspire me in so many ways and they are a huge part of my work. Their beauty, their strength, their vulnerability, their stories; I feel a deep need to share their stories.”
The project is defined by the significance of women in Egyptian agriculture. “The grass is not greener on the other side; it is greener where you water it. It shines and grows when it’s loved, appreciated and taken care of,” reads the project description. Women’s role in Egyptian agriculture, as with their role in wider Egyptian society, has “remained invisible,” argues Hana. “They continue to be perceived only in terms of their domestic roles as housewives; but their productive and pivotal role in the society and agricultural development is still undervalued and not fully appreciated.”
Although agricultural work for Egyptian women in rural areas is often the breadwinning work – providing for their husbands and households – these women lack any legal, health or social protection, because Egyptian labour laws consider them domestic workers. “Due to this vulnerability and lack of fundamental workers’ rights, employers are able to get away with paying less than the minimum wage; and the women are also more susceptible to mistreatment,” explains Hana.
Hana isn’t interested in portraying Egypt as something other than what it is through the raw aesthetic of her film camera. “In the midst of all the pretentious world of social media,” she says, “I feel like people long to see something real, something they can feel and relate to.” Cairo can be a difficult city to love, but it’s hard not to love it all the same: “I like to call Cairo the City of Unrequited Love. To me, it is like a poem that makes you feel a thousand emotions at the same time. A poem that rips your heart out, but also mends, soothes and inspires you. Cairo streets are like fragments of memories of a lost love that serve as a constant reminder of everything beautiful, and everything that isn’t. Everything that once was and everything that never was.” Hana will follow up from her Cairo solo-show at the end of September by starting work on her photo-book: “It is one of my dreams to put together my journey over the past 10 years into something timeless. It feels like the end of a very long road and the best ending to it will be this book.”
GalleryHana Gamal: Green Grass (Copyright © Hana Gamal, 2021)
Hana Gamal: Green Grass (Copyright © Hana Gamal, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.