Y.N: And then I said, that’s it! I don’t want to work with another photographer – I want to go back and have my own exhibit of all that I was doing! Because I was doing my black and white photographs, painting them in New York, in Paris – the work I did in Egypt. I’d never shown them before. My first exhibition was in a small gallery called Cairo-Berlin art gallery. It was owned by a German lady; she was living in Egypt, and she was doing great work through her little gallery in Egypt. But she passed away…
Y.N: I had a show in May 1999. And then soon after, a few collectors were collecting me, one of them was the ambassador of Belgium in Egypt – who went to Mexico afterwards. I went to visit him when he was in Mexico, because I always wanted to go there because of Frida Kahlo…
Y.N: Yes, I wanted to go to Mexico. When I was there, I planned my first exhibition at Centro de la Imagen. It’s their museum of photography, really, it’s a great place. So I had a solo show, it was just one year after I had my first ever exhibition in Egypt.
Y.N: An institution. And things went from there. I went back to Egypt, , and I stayed until 2003, then I was invited by the French Ministry of Culture to go to France for an artist’s residency.
. Like this is one chapter. Basically because I need to feel free in my work, and I was feeling that the country and the society was becoming more and more conservative. And then you have another whole Egypt, as if living in Europe. I was always associated with the real Egypt.
And they sell it, I think, for women who are just getting married for the wedding night, just to be sexy
Y.N: The guy who was selling the underwear was a religious guy with a long beard, and the whole store had only this kind of sexy underwear with holes and zippers and feathers.
When you’re walking in downtown Cairo, and you see this shop in the middle of the other shops, you feel it’s like a sex shop in Europe or something
Y.N: It really stands out and behind him is a sign that says he doesn’t shake hands with women. Like, you know, chechen dating apps he just stands there. I’m collecting them actually. I’ve started getting them for my work. A good example of what we are passing through.
K.W: It’s interesting because that work makes total sense within the context of being in Egypt. But when you leave Egypt does Egypt carry on into your work? Does that feeling stay in your work, or is that work that you have left behind, in a sense?
Y.N: Well, I think we are all like this: just like fish out of water. I come from there, so I’m always thinking about there, I’m always concerned about Egypt’s problems. Even though like now I’m living in New York, and Europe before that, but I can’t help it. I’m always dealing with issues that relate to my culture and to my own experience. And where I come from.
K.W: And that’s led to friendships with artists who come from similar places. Like Shirin Neshat, Ghada Amer and Mona Hatoum?
K.W: I am here to talk to you for a magazine called AFRICA. Is it strange to put you in that group when you are often called a Middle East artist as well?