As an architecture sophomore, Judy Labib creates things. She uses her hands, her mind and most importantly, her heritage.
Labib grew up Egyptian Orthodox, and although she was not born in Egypt, she realized how this heritage has impacted her life and work after returning from a trip to Egypt this past summer.
As an Egyptian Orthodox, Labib is one among a small population of Egyptian individuals in the United States. According to the Rockefeller Foundation-Aspen Institute Diaspora Program profile, there were only 248,000 Egyptian immigrants and children reported to be living in the U.S. as of 2013.
Because the Egyptian population is so small — and even more so is the Egyptian Orthodox population — Labib said many people are unaware of what her heritage is. She said she views Egyptian Orthodoxy in the same sphere as Catholicism.
“There’s kind of small differences in the way that we carry out our masses and tradition,” Labib said. “I think the main thing is that we sing a lot of hymns that are just very old and authentic.”
William Nethercut, a UT professor of classics with a focus in Egyptology, said Egyptian Orthodoxy resembles basic Christianity because they share certain tenets.
Growing up in an Egyptian Orthodox household, Labib emphasized that in Egyptian culture, individuals are discouraged from pursuing design-related majors. Fortunately, her parents understood her passion for architecture, especially since Labib’s mother studied architecture in college. Labib said she began to realize her love for architecture in high school when she started experimenting with photography.
“In photography, it’s a lot about composition, and in architecture, it’s almost the same,” Labib said. “They’re two different mediums, but they both translate into each other very well.”
Without her realizing it, photography ignited Labib’s design side and allowed her heritage to find its way into her work. Juan Guevara, Labib’s photography and digital art media teacher from high school, said Labib would often return from trips to Egypt with photographs of Egyptian landscapes and cities.
“As she matured as a photographer, she started focusing on her family and herself and kind of trying to identify who she was and where she stood as an Egyptian and also as an American,” Guevara said.
Upon returning from her summer vacation in Egypt, Labib noticed a variety of aspects in the Egyptian culture that fuel her work, such as their low regard for privacy, greater appreciation for quality material, tendency to stick to a muted color palette and uncommon perfectionism.
“When I came back from Egypt this time, I just had a completely different perspective,” Labib said. “I really understood a lot of cultural aspects that I was missing out on because I wasn’t raised in Egypt.”
With this realization, Labib said she understands how these aspects explain why she does certain things and how it allows her to embrace her culture even more.
“I think (in Egypt) I was realizing a lot of the values that I had come from,” Labib said. “It just felt like I was supposed to be there.”