A River is not a River

“Drawing inspiration from the Nile and ancient Egypt, I question how we relate to nature by touching on issues of contemporary ecology (post-nature, post-anthropocentrism, ecofeminisms, the impact of climate change, the importance of ancestral knowledge and bioclimatic architecture). 

It is a complex and multidisciplinary project (there are videos, ceramics, archival material as well as photographs).”

María Primo

While working on a research project in Luxor, Egypt, María Primo approached the Nile to listen to some of the stories that the river conceals: mythological tales, women pharaohs, tomb raiders, ancient buildings and vernacular architecture. The act of listening also led her to encounter major threats, including the deterioration of patrimonial sites due to the climate crisis and the impact of mass tourism.

Through a multidisciplinary corpus of work that comprises photographs, pottery and video, often created by the use of found and archival materials, her practice offers new narratives that speak about water, shift the anthropocentric gaze and highlight the importance of recovering traditional epistemologies.

The title of the exhibition alludes to the river as an articulating axis that refers to the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, a pioneer of sustainable architecture, who proposed that “a door is not just a door” but also a threshold between the exterior and interior worlds.

The exhibition is presented through interconnected conceptual sections in  which the artist skilfully navigates through different temporalities, taking the viewer on a journey from remote centuries to the present, by using a sophisticated fusion of fiction and reality, legends and historical events. The ensemble constructs a story whose framework questions our relationship with nature and the complex interconnected links which underlie the current ecological crisis.

Blanca de la Torre

Exhibition leaflet for the exhibition at Casa Árabe, Madrid, with text written by the curator Blanca de la Torre and captions by the author. Design by Diego Lara. Download here

Every fraction of a degree counts, 2023


Images taken with a pinhole camera made from expired 35mm color film at Deir el-Medina, in the Valley of the Artisans. This place is home to the artisans and laborers who worked in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. The Egyptians called it “The Place of Truth”, since its inhabitants were subjected to confinement and strict discipline so as not to reveal the secrets under which they worked. Today, the monuments of Ancient Egypt face enormous vulnerability due to the growing impact of climate change.

The Colossi of Memnon, 2023


The Colossi of Memnon, located on the west bank of the Nile, represent the pharaoh Amenhotep III, pertaining to the 17th dynasty (14th century B.C.). Each colossus is about 20 meters high weighing 600 tons, carved in large quartzite blocks. The flooding of the Nile River innundated the valley and the delta reaching this location. Since the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1970s, these summer floods have ceased.

Hymn to Hapy, 2023 VIDEO, 5’15” (shortened version 00,41”) 

Excerpts from the text of Hymn to Hapy from José Miguel Serrano Delgado’s book Texts for the Ancient History of Egypt (2021)

The Hymn to Hapy is considered a classic Ancient Egyptian literary text. “Some even propose that it is related to the end of the Ancient Kingdom (2686 BC to 2124 BC) and First Intermediate Period (2181 BC to 2055 BC), when problems caused by drought and water table shortages contributed to the country’s collapse.” (Serrano Delgado, José Miguel, 2021. ‘Texts for the Ancient History of Egypt’, p. 67 Ed. Cátedra). 

Since the mid-20th century, the Aswan High Dam was built with the intention of ‘taming’ the almighty Nile River (work began in 1960 and ended in 1970). The dam would provide hydro-powered electricity to the population and rationalize the  use of water. Ever since, these water rises have been controlled and the summer floods, which had maintained an equilibrium in the ecosystem for thousands of years, have come to an end.

The Nile is Egypt’s only water resource which is currently being serious threatened by drought and pollution. The UN predicts that the country will face critical water shortages as of the year 2025.

Song adapted from an original cassette from the 1970s in which Abdul Basic Abdul Samad recites verses from the Qur’an.

On the right is a cyanotype image of Hapy, in the tomb of Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty.

A companion publication to the series see in books. Printed in risography, a printing process with a lower environmental impact: it consumes little energy, uses rice bran oil-based inks and generates a minimum amount of waste. You can download the digital PDF version here