Lives of Egypt's Gulf migrants explored in Cairo multimedia exhibition

'Being Borrowed' displays 18 artworks by Egyptian artists who lived in GCC countries

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The lives of Egyptian migrants in Gulf countries are being explored in a multimedia exhibition in Downtown Cairo.

'Being Borrowed' showcases the migration path from the second half of the 20th century until today, when it remains one of Egypt's most popular migratory routes.

It features a piece from 18 artists who have lived in a Gulf country at some point in their lives.

“In every Egyptian family, there is someone who went to the Gulf,” exhibition director Farah Hallaba, who lived in Saudi Arabia for 18 years before returning to Egypt, told The National.

Ms Hallaba said she wanted to get into the intimate details of Egyptians who migrated to the Gulf. “It’s really normalised, no one asks questions about it,” she said.

Until the mid-1950s, Egyptians rarely relocated abroad. But in the 1960s and 1970s, amid worsening economic conditions and a population boom at home, millions of Egyptians relocated to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, answering the rising demand for labour in the countries’ booming oil sectors.

Being Borrowed a multimedia exhibition in downtown Cairo that uncover the Egyptian migration to the Gulf. Photo: Mahmoud Nasr / The National

The moves led to significant financial gains, the main reason Gulf countries continue to host the largest numbers of Egyptians of anywhere in the world — 64 per cent in 2020, according to the UN.

One aspect of the migration explored in the exhibition is a feeling reported among many that life outside their home countries is transient and that everything feels temporary, Ms Hallaba said.

Ms Hallaba’s father remains in Saudi Arabia alone, separated from the rest of his family, which was the reason she decided to organise the exhibition.

The 18 works on display comprise videos, installations and audiovisual material.One work includes messages recorded on cassette tapes and sent between migrants and their families back home, a common communication method before the age of smartphones and social media.

The exhibition draws a poignant comparison between Egyptian migrants’ temporary homes in Gulf countries — often sparsely furnished in an effort to send more money home — and their homes back in Egypt, lavishly furnished for when the family would make enough money to return to a comfortable life.

Millions of Egyptians relocated to booming Gulf countries in the 1960s and 1970s amid worsening economic conditions and a population boom. Photo: Mahmoud Nasr / The National

The exhibition, at the Cairo Image Collective, runs until the end of this month.

Talks by experts, artists and academics will look at how migration has shaped Egypt in significant ways.

Despite being a boon for impoverished families, migration to the Gulf was criticised for contributing to a rise in religious conservatism in Egypt.

Migrants brought back more austere religious ideals influenced by the Wahhabi branch of Islam, the hegemonic movement in Saudi Arabia, where 27 per cent of Egyptian migrants lived in 2020.

The UAE hosts 25 per cent of Egypt's migrants, UN figures show.

Updated: October 19, 2022, 12:02 PM
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