In Photos: ‘Egypt speaks handicrafts’ at Diarna’s annual exhibition

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 22 Feb 2021

In its 61 st edition, the exhibition is hosting some 370 artisans from across Egypt

Diarna annual exhibition
Diarna annual exhibition by Amira Noshokaty. Al-Ahram

The slogan of this year’s edition of Diarna is “Egypt speaks handicrafts.”

Part of the Osar Montega (“Productive Families”) project of the Ministry of Social Solidarity, Diarna’s annual exhibition was first held in 1964. This year, in its 61 st edition, the exhibition is sponsored by Alexbank, Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, and WE Telecom. The exhibition is held on the premises of Cairo Festival City in New Cairo, hosting some 370 artisans from all over Egypt.

This year the two main guests of honour are the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organisations supporting people with disabilities.

“Made with hope” is the slogan of the handicrafts displayed in the UNHCR section. Aprons, scarfs, bags, and many more colourful ornaments are on display.

“This is the first time UNHCR joins the exhibition, which is a great opportunity to showcase the handmade works of some 30  artisans and artists,” explained Sherry Sedhom, senior assistant of the livelihood unit at UNHCR.

With Egypt being home to 259,292 registered refugees and asylum-seekers from 58 countries, promoting the artwork of talented refugee artists is a creative means for economic and artistic inclusion.

Nilfurat, is one of the UNHCR’s creative projects on display. This project brought 12 women from Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, and Syria to work together. The result is a mélange of a culture of hope and solidarity reflected in motifs, stitches, and themes that even considered safeguarding the traditional board games of each country.

Diarna annual exhibition
UNHCR the guest of honor of the exhibition for the first time. Photo by Amira Noshokaty

A goldmine for intangible heritage, Diarna displays various aspects of Egypt. Fayoum’s palm tree baskets and bags, Akhmim’s colourful stitches, Hegaza’s unique woodwork, the Upper Egypt Association for Education and Development’s unique textile, and much more.

Diarna annual exhibition
Lots of authentic handmade gems on display photo Amira noshokaty

Some of the most interesting artworks on display are the sculptures made of palm trees. As he sits quietly, Adel Omda is carefully sculpting a statue. He’s been doing so for 20 years. This talented artist was born and raised in Dakhla Oasis. Carving on palm trees is his “hobby” that he practises with so much passion. His work reflects the authentic houses of Dakhla and documents the oasis’ natural scenery.

Diarna annual exhibition
Artist Adel Omda while working on his latest sculpture Photo Amira Noshokaty

On the other side of the tent lies the shimmering talli motifs. Transformed from traditional shawls, wedding veils, and dresses into curtains, bags, and blouses, the silver and golden motifs have maintained their timeless charm. Coming all the way from the island of Shandawil, where this ancient art of needle work is still in practice from ancient Egypt till now, Amal Said came to display her work.

“In 1994, I learnt talli stitches from my aunt, and now I have trained over 500 women,” remembered Said, the head of the Cooperative Organization for Handicrafts and Heritage. “Back in the day, the women of Shandawil used to wear talli clothes on their henna night, and their wedding veil was traditionally made of talli. Be it silver or gold-plated copper thread, the talli was an essential part of the bride’s shower list,” she said. Talli stitches are quite unique. Each motif has a meaning. Brides, grooms, stars, mahmal, and over 70 motifs are documented, some of which are identical to motifs depicted in ancient Egyptian temples.

Said has managed to safeguard talli and add it to other materials for a broader use. “We now make curtains, makeup bags, and bed covers out of talli.”

Diarna annual exhibition
Amal Said showing the Talli motifs of Shandawil island, Sohag. Photo Amira Noshokaty

Next to the talli ornaments are displayed various shawls with unmistakably bright, cheerful colours.

“This is also a traditional Shandawil embroidery called El-Mansag, where we weave colourful flowers like that of clover lotus and the traditional Orgoon (part of a palm tree),” she concluded.

Diarna annual exhibition
The famous mansag motifs of Shandawil Island Photo Amira Noshokaty

Next to her lies a colourful set of Sinai’s finest embroidery. The Development Association for Micro Projects in Beir Al-Abd, Sinai, displays the handmade work of 200 women artists of Sinai. The vibrant colours are scattered on traditional Sinai dresses, bags, accessories, and even reusable masks.

Diarna annual exhibition
Sinai's bright colors all the way from Beir Abd village. Photo Amira Noshokaty

One of the most interesting sections in the exhibition is El-Qalam Art House. The section offers all materials affiliated with Arabic calligraphy as well as a chance to write your name, or that of your loved one, in beautiful Arabic calligraphy.

Diarna annual exhibition
Calligraphy artist at al qalam foundation Photo Amira Noshokaty

And finally, for the first time, the exhibition offers daily workshops for those interested to try their hands in authentic handicrafts. Today was makramia (the ancient art of rope-weaving). The women were listening carefully as their trainer was explaining the steps.

Diarna annual exhibition
Ladies of Heraf Ahl Masr NGO teaching the basics of Makrameya art photo by Amira Noshokaty

“This is the first time for us to join the exhibition,” explained Intesar Salah, head of Heraf Ahl Masr Association. “Throughout the exhibition, they give free classes on handicrafts. Mondays are dedicated for Resin art and handmade accessories, Tuesdays for copper handwork and glass mosaic, Wednesday for handmade looming, and Thursday for children colouring pottery.” 

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