Mona Ragy Enayat grows up in a family of artists in Cairo, where she studies painting and art history. She applies for postgraduate studies in Munich and Leipzig and is accepted at both places. She chooses Leipzig, and in 1988 begins her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts (Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, HGB). In 1989 she joins the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig.
Mona Ragy Enayat comes from a family with many artists. She continues the family tradition and at seventeen begins to study painting, art history and theater decoration at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Helwan University in Cairo. In 1987 she graduates with honors as the best graduate of her university. But she is dissatisfied with the situation in Egypt. She applies for art studies in Leipzig and in Munich. Both universities accept her. So she must decide: East or West? She is familiar with Leipzig as a “city of books”. She knows the training at the Academy of Fine Arts (HGB) is highly renowned and that the nature of tuition there suits her. Against the advice of many people, she decides to go to the GDR. She also considers it as a decision for her ideals, and against material interests. Moreover, she always has the option to return to Egypt.
Learning German at the Herder Institute
Mona Ragy Enayat has already learned German intensively in Egypt. At first she is told that she only needs to complete a three-month German course before she can study art. But then she is expected to study Marxism-Leninism for ten more months. Mona refuses: “I said, I can’t accept to not paint for ten months. This should have been explained to me beforehand.” In the end, she succeeds and starts studying art within three months.
International Student Residence
The foreign students live in the same dormitory. Mona receives a scholarship of three hundred marks. That is not enough to call her parents now and then. One measure to save money is skipping the hairdresser; for the first time in her life she has long hair. She likes the dorm life: she gets a two-bed room, although four-bed rooms with two double bunk beds are usual. There is a communal kitchen and bathroom on each floor. Mona makes friends with a student from Mongolia, and she shares her room with another Egyptian. People in the dormitory often address each other by the names of their countries of origin.
Afghanistan, do you have salt? Mongolia needs some for the tomato sauce.Mona Ragy Enayat, Leipzig 2022
Music and dance
Mona Ragy Enayat has brought her instrument, the oud, from Egypt. She has already performed as a musician in Egypt in the past. To her delight, she can continue this in East Germany. The Herder Institute organizes various music and dance groups that perform as the Ensemble Solidarität at various venues in Leipzig. Later, the group is named World Family. The international students play pieces from their various countries of origin and dance in traditional dress. For Mona Ragy Enayat the World Family is like a second home; intercultural exchanges are important to her.
Mona Ragy Enayat appreciates the education at the HGB as well as the cultural life in the GDR, but she also understands the system criticism. Despite all the privileges and general contentment, she resents certain behaviors and circumstances. When she gets letters from her father, they are cut open. She catches the dorm management snooping around her room. She encounters structural inequities: while her Egyptian passport allows her to travel to West Berlin, her friends are not. At first, she wants to waive this privilege out of solidarity, but the others call her crazy.
Of course you go to West Berlin and get books for us!Mona Ragy Enayat, Leipzig 2022
Monday demonstrations in Leipzig
Mona Ragy Enayat has only been living for a year in the GDR, and she does not think she will stay. All the same, in the fall of 1989 there is no question for her that she will support her friends and take to the streets with them. In her studio she paints posters and banners together with her friends. She is part of the movement and always attends the Monday demonstrations.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall Mona loses her scholarship. The organization that invited her to study loses its funding. At first, she wants to abandon her studies and return to Egypt. She has no money at all and sees no prospects for herself as a non-German in a united Germany. Her lecturers and fellow students convince her to stay: she has started such great work/projects, and she belongs, they say. So she looks for jobs to finance her studies. She works at the post office in the mornings and in the checkroom of the Leipzig Opera House after classes at the HGB. She works until she collapses, it’s just too much.
Diploma in spite of everything
Mona Ragy Enayat experiences a lot of solidarity at the HGB. Her professors encourage her to continue her studies despite the difficult situation and support her. Finally she receives a new grant and is able to graduate in 1992 as a master student of Rolf Kuhrt with a diploma in graphic design.
Mona Ragy Enayat lives and works as an artist in Leipzig.
Nguyễn Phương Thúy conducted the interview in Leipzig in 2022.
Text: Isabel Enzenbach
Research and research protocol photos: Nguyễn Phương Thanh