Whoever says industrial revolution, means cotton – Eric Hobsbawm
White Gold is a long-term and ongoing project, in which Amina Kadous narrates photographically the story of her family, textile merchants and factory owners since the 1960s, which she weaves together with the national history of Egypt, a country that in the historiography of the industrial revolution has been closely associated with cotton culture since the first decades of the 19th century.
The artist begins her narrative from her birthplace of El-Mehalla el Kubra, a city in the Nile Delta where the textile industry still flourishes today, most notably the publicly-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, the country’s largest company and a symbol of Egyptian industrialisation. The artist photographs the ancestral home, the textile factories, cotton plantations, images blended with snapshots from the family album, newspaper clippings of the time, and other memorabilia, all gathered to compose the family chronicle.
Kadous draws on personal and family reminiscences, while at the same time she reconstructs, in the background, the history of cotton in Egypt: from the heyday of the nationalized cotton industries of the Nasser era, to the neoliberal policies of the decades that followed and the gradual decline of Egyptian cotton.
For the display at the Photobiennale, Kadous extends her photographic research to Alexandria, where she attempts to trace the connection between the history of cotton and the Greek community. She photographs traces of the once thriving community, the abandoned factories, the Cotton Stock Exchange, famous cotton varieties named after Greek botanists, bringing to light memories long forgotten.
Through the fragments of these silenced histories, the artist mobilizes micro-history as a tool to attempt an “archaeology” of cotton in Egypt: White Gold essentially emerges as an alternative narrative of a people’s historical experience that contains elements of empowerment against the dominant colonial discourse of the past.