Folk Arts: Garagos pottery in town

Sara ElKamel, Friday 17 Dec 2010

A sea of pottery crafted by Garagos villagers, is currently on display at the Holy Family College in Cairo's Ramsis St.

Garagous pottery1
Garagous pottery photo by: Sara Elkamel

Handcrafted pottery suffused with charming irregularities, translucent color and the occasional outburst of pigment emanate from a thriving assembly of folk craftsmen in Garagos, a small village 25 km North of Luxor.

A sea of pottery crafted by Garagos villagers, is currently on display at the Holy Family College in Ramsis St. French Ambassador Jean Felix Paganon inaugurated the authentically Egyptian pottery and tapestry exhibition on Thursday, December 16.

The diverse collection is flooded with an enticing blue- an original pigment that’s specific to Garagos products. Round plates, rectangular pans, miniature vases, teapots, among other pieces flaunt a charismatic, translucent blue that begs for closer inspection. At times, specks of color refreshingly disrupt the smoothness of color, drawing you in closer still.

Dating back to 1954, the craft was initiated by a duo of French Monks, at the request of the renowned architect Hassan Fathi. Frenchman Robert De Mongolfier, who owned a pottery business in his hometown, was invited to Luxor, where he introduced the new craft to Garagos.

Subdued blues, greens, and yellows glaze along the surface of a multitude of containers. The strokes of color are soft and continuous, invoking a sense of serenity that is occasionally challenged by colorful explosions.

The lucid, dreamy colors set the scene for authentic images, captured straight out of life in the Egyptian countryside. Unadorned contours of birds, cattle, horses, and palm trees are carved on plates and pots in simple, spontaneous lines that help create idyllic snapshots of nature.

The pastoral theme also appears in the Garagos tapestry collection. In bright, bold colors, youthful games, birds embraced by a tree, and scenes of from rural life are woven into a cream colored fabric. Dangling down from rods mounted on either side of the spacious showroom, each carpet is unique- each telling and retelling stories of Garagos, revealing the imprint of the craftsman responsible for it.

Garagos crafts are all “inspired by the Upper Egyptian atmosphere,” says ‘Am Reyad, a craftsman from Garagos. “We use raw materials from the environment itself, and the images we recreate are ones we witness around us all the time.”

Produced with the exact same red silt used by the Ancient Egyptians, these spontaneous folk arts bring forth strong, and charismatic character. Refreshing imperfections intermingle with pastoral images to transfix authentic Egyptian identity in pottery and tapestry.

‘Am Riyad explains that in the dynamic pottery workshops in Garagos, each product crafted carries its own exclusive identity. “We do not depend on mass, undifferentiated production- spontaneity and innovation pervades our yearly collections.”

Crafted by Egyptian fingers, the pottery and tapestry products carry a certain “Egyptian imprint,”  says ‘Am Riyad. “Even the blue ingredient we use is our very own recipe of the color,”

Throughout, color is rarely ever flat. But it is also only occasional vibrant. Yet brightly painted fish lay provokingly on the tables, large and small, their scales multi-colored, or rather, candy-colored.

Also introducing a splash of bright, reckless color, the figurines of local men and women radiate indelible charisma. Playing folkloric instruments, the men are caught in action; their cheeks inflated while blowing into the mezmar, their hands vehemently tap the tabla. The women kneel and raise their hands in prayer. All the while, their choice of wardrobe is bold; their yellow, orange, and bright blue galabias are striped or polka dotted- adding blatant flavor to the charming figurines.

Large blue and green vases are lined up down the middle of the hall, the most alluring of which flaunts a large key of life symbol on its belly (if only that key could be pulled out from inside the vase).

Child-like engravings continue to pop out and surprise onlookers, including birds, horses, camels, and palm trees. Random? Not really. Such images are derived from the lively, yet serene village of Garagos.


The exhibition runs until December 23, open from 10 am to 10 pm at the Holy Family College, 151, Ramsis St., Faggalah.

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