My name is Mina Nasr, and I am an interdisciplinary artist, activist, and researcher based in Cairo, Egypt. In 2019–2020, I was a visiting Egyptian artist at George Washington University’s Corcoran School of Art and Design. I would describe my experience as a journey of an Egyptian artist discovering the use of sunshine in cooking traditional food. As a Fulbright alumnus, I received an Alumni Community Action Grant (ACAG) that supports alumni and opens doors to a wide variety of experiences. The idea for this project came after the war in Ukraine, which has created crop shortages worldwide while locally we face the danger of climate change. I started looking at solar cooking as an economical way of cooking that is more forgiving to the environment than what we currently use in our households around the world. If we succeed in using the sun for cooking at least a few hours a day, I think this will help to lower the rise of carbon emissions and help our climate. I learned about the ACAG during the Re-entry Workshop at the end of my Fulbright Program in Washington, D.C. The application process required a good level of attention to detail, though anyone who has a vision for a project they want to achieve will find it easy and worthwhile.
My project was based on researching traditional recipes in the city of Aswan, Egypt, as it is the sunniest city in the country and the 2nd sunniest in the world. During my stay in Aswan, I researched and documented the ancient techniques of solar cooking and the recipes as per our ancient traditions. A local organization in Aswan, the Fekra Cultural Center’, offered to support my project by providing me with crops from their land and facilitating a cultural exchange with the local people as they have a portion of their land cultivated to grow and sell crops at the local market. Their pursuit of organic gardening was a great asset to my research. The Fekra Cultural Center is one of the four Nile community hubs in the social and ecological fields of the Nile basin. During my stay, I created an Instagram page to share my experience and, together with the community, revive traditional Egyptian recipes and solar cooking to help reduce carbon emissions.
The purpose of my ACAG was multifold. I wanted to revive traditional recipes, especially in the south of Egypt where few of them are still in use and where there is access to plenty of solar energy to make up for the lack of resources. I am also hoping to expand my activity to other communities where these traditions have almost diminished. Raising awareness in Egyptian society and drawing attention to our responsibility as individuals and communities regarding the causes of climate change is also an important goal. We need to look to alternative resources like solar energy to reduce carbon emissions. Egypt has sun all year round, making it an ideal environment for the shift to solar as a source of energy. Another important aspect of my project was documenting local foods and bringing attention to crops native to the south of Egypt. The overall goal of my project is for North African countries to increase their awareness of the dangers of rising carbon emissions while investing in their own cooking traditions and agriculture.
The experience that I gained from the Fulbright Program and my academic research on the role of social engagement in the arts and its impact on the community has helped me reach this step in my career and visualize this project. Through the Fulbright Program, I completed my study about Art and Social Justice in the class of Professor Maria del Carmen Montoya at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Through this experience, I learned about the importance of art practices in helping society in the United States rise after the Civil War and address racial differences by introducing the concept of culture of coexistence and acceptance, as well as awareness of political and environmental changes. After I returned to my country, Egypt, I have been applying what I learned to raise awareness of global warming and sustainability within the local Egyptian community, supporting the Fulbright Program’s goal of supporting social change and environmental activism. The Fulbright Program’s support for my project has in turn supported independent environmental institutions that integrate artists and researchers to approach the public about key global issues.
The ACAG has impacted me personally, as well. I got the chance to connect with communities in the southern parts of Egypt, have day-to-day contact with them, and better understand their needs. The experience I gained through my research, building the solar-cooking device, facilitating the community workshops, and creating a book about my experience has helped me implement what I learned during my program in the United States. It has also helped me as an artist to expand my skills and receive support from other environmental institutions. This year, I was a guest speaker at the Re-entry Workshop for Fulbright students along with three other alums from the MENA region. I talked about my experience and offered help and support to the students who were facing their next steps after finishing their Fulbright Program. The panel was to highlight the major factors and challenges that MENA students might encounter in their countries after changing their professional lives. In 2022, I also joined the annual Fulbright alumni meeting and participated in U.S. Embassy Cairo’s event for Fulbrighters.
I strongly encourage future Fulbrighters to apply for the ACAG because this grant will help their local communities and they will set an example and be an inspiration for others. I believe that one of our greatest missions as Fulbrighters is to create change in our communities and set a good example for others to move towards a better future. To know more about my project please check out:
Mina is from Egypt and is a Fulbright ACAG recipient. He is a visiting artist at George Washington University’s Corcoran School School of Art and Design.