Egypt 

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(1992, Riyadh, SA) Fatma Fahmy is an independent visual storyteller based in Cairo, Egypt. She earned her B.A. in Chemical Engineering from Cairo University in 2013. Her work focuses on environmental concerns and social issues impacted by environmental changes and human migration. Her work has been showcased at festivals and venues worldwide, including the Photography Biennale of the Contemporary Arab world at the Cite Des Arts (Paris), Africa Foto Fair (Cote d’Ivoire); Biennial of Photography LANN Museum Luis (Ecuador); Festival della Fotografia (Lodi, Italy); JURAPLATZ (Switzerland); Windybrow Arts Centre (South Africa); Xposure International Photography Festival (Dubai); and f² Photo Festival (Germany), among others. Her photographs have been featured in print in The New York Times, Libération, Prier magazine, RVO, and CNN. She has received several grants and awards, including the Daniele Tamagni Grant at the Market Photo Workshop. Additionally, she is a regular contributor to Reuters. Fahmy was recognized as one of the African photographers you should know by PhMuseum, and was a shortlisted finalist for the Sony World Photography Award in the Environment category for her ongoing long-term series, “The Lost Lake”.

“Siyaha Festival in Siwa Oasis”

For three days every year, coinciding with the full moon in October or November and the harvest of dates and olives, Siwa families celebrate the Siyaha festival. This tradition began 150 years ago during a period of intense conflict between the Western Siwa tribes, of Arabic descent and residing along the river, and the Eastern Siwa tribes, with Amazigh roots and based in the mountains. Tensions rose when the Eastern tribes descended from Dakrour Mountain to settle by the river. Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Dhafir El Madani, the founder of the Shadhili method of Sufism, arrived in the Siwa Oasis and successfully mediated peace between the two factions. 

Since that time, all members of the oasis community gather to share a meal at one table set in an open yard at the mountain’s base. Each tribe’s leader ceremoniously carries a table laden with food on their head to distribute among the people. Everyone awaits the signal to begin eating, emphasizing themes of equality, love, and loyalty within the tribe. 

In the evenings, tribal elders share stories of ancient Siwa champions and revelations, settle disputes, and facilitate the reconciliation of opponents. The celebration continues with singing and engaging in the religious practices of the Shadhili method, a form of Islamic Sufism focused on guiding individuals towards spiritual perfection and a deeper connection with God. This meaningful ritual unfolds over the span of three days. 

This story aims to spark discussions about the significance of peace and community coming together; it conveys the universal message of harmony and reconciliation.

Interview

What was your inspiration, process, and research?  

The inspiration for this story stems from the timeless tradition of the Siyaha Festival in Siwa oasis, which has been celebrated for over 150 years. The story is inspired by the resilience and unity of the Siwa community in the face of historical conflicts and their commitment to peace and reconciliation. 

The process involved thorough research into the history and significance of the Siyaha Festival, including its origins, cultural practices, and impact on the local community. The story was captured through on-the-ground photography and interviews with members of the Siwa community to provide a comprehensive understanding of the festival’s importance. 

Research involved studying historical accounts, cultural literature, and firsthand accounts of the Siyaha Festival to ensure accuracy and authenticity in depicting the tradition. 

Additionally, research was conducted into the role of Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Dhafir El Madani and the Shazalia method in fostering reconciliation and unity among the Siwa tribes. 

This story aims to spark discussions about the significance of peace and community coming together, as exemplified by the Siyaha Festival in Siwa. 

By showcasing the traditions and rituals of the festival, the story highlights the enduring values of equality, love, and loyalty that unite the Siwa community.  

Through visual storytelling, the exhibition seeks to convey the universal message of harmony and reconciliation, resonating with audiences worldwide.  

What do you hope to achieve with this project? 

For this project, my primary goal is to shed light on the enduring importance of peace, unity, and community cohesion, as exemplified by the Siyaha Festival in Siwa oasis.  

Through visual storytelling, I aim to: 

Raise awareness: I hope to raise awareness about the Siyaha Festival and its significance as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in Siwa and beyond. By sharing the story of this centuries-old tradition, I aim to educate audiences about the cultural heritage and values of the Siwa community. 

Promote understanding: Through immersive storytelling and captivating imagery, I seek to promote understanding and appreciation for the diverse cultural practices and traditions that contribute to social harmony and resilience in communities like Siwa. By highlighting the shared humanity and universal themes depicted in the Siyaha Festival, I aim to foster empathy and connection among viewers. 

Inspire dialogue: I aim to inspire meaningful dialogue and reflection on the themes of peace, unity, and reconciliation depicted in the Siyaha Festival. By sparking conversations about the importance of coming together in the face of historical conflicts and divisions, I aim to encourage individuals and communities to explore paths toward peaceful resolution and mutual understanding. 

Foster empathy and solidarity: Ultimately, I hope that this project will foster empathy, solidarity, and a sense of shared humanity among viewers. By showcasing the resilience and unity of the Siwa community, I aim to inspire individuals to stand in solidarity with communities facing similar challenges and to recognize the power of collective action in promoting peace and social cohesion.  

Through this project, I aspire to contribute to a more inclusive, empathetic, and interconnected world, where the values of peace, unity, and community solidarity are celebrated and upheld. 

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?  

Yes, the teachings and insights gained from my participation in the VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop have significantly influenced my approach. The workshop emphasized the importance of immersive storytelling and capturing the essence of a subject beyond its surface appearance.