Walking on Leather: The last days of the tanneries of old Cairo.
When I stepped under the arches of the imposing walls of the Magra al-Oyoun aqueduct in Cairo I entered another world, a world which produced some of the most valuable products in Egypt: Leather. Small dark alleys led down into a labyrinthine network of workshops and factories. The air was filled with the acrid smell of chemicals and the noise of tanning drums was incessant. Everything was wet and contaminated with various chemicals. Underfoot the narrow alleys were a damp carpet of leather scraps or streams of effluent. Horses and carts pulled huge piles of leather hides from one factory to another. Above all this towered the gelatin drying structures, up which workers clambered to collect the dried gelatine.
I came across this area of Cairo by chance. When I found out that the whole area was about to be moved I resolved to return and document its demise. I began a two year project of reportage drawing and photography to document the process.
By 2020 all of the tannery area was dismantled. New factories were constructed outside Cairo. Most of the workers were rehoused in another part of the city and had to travel up to four hours each day to the new factories. The tanneries had not only been workplaces but also communities and homes for hundreds of years.
This has now all gone.
I am now returning to the area to reflect on the process of reportage drawing and subjectivity in order to question the role of the reportage artist. This will be documented in a forthcoming book and exhibition in 2022/3.
© Peter Blodau 2022 – All Rights Reserved