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Friday, 16 April 2021

'The Artisans of Egypt': Safeguarding indigenous art crafts

At the premises of Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre, in the heart of old Cairo, the sound of pounding hammers on copper fills the air

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 28 Feb 2021
Egypt
(Photos: Amira Noshokaty)
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At the premises of Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre in the heart of Old Cairo, the sound of  hammers pounding on copper fills the air. It is the sound of dexterous young hands working with copper among other alloys as they endeavour to master several authentic Egyptian crafts.

The artisans holding the hammers are taking part in The Artisans of Egypt (Sanayeitet Masr), a two-year diploma training program designed and implemented by the culture ministry's development fund.

“We launched the program in July 2019, with an aim to introduce and train youth on traditional handicrafts to ensure sustainability of such crafts through a new generation of artisans that would learn the authentic techniques,” explained Iman Abdel-Mohsen, a consultant of Sanayeyet Masr project and a former head of the Art Department at the culture fund.

The project comprises six handicrafts: pottery, ceramics, cupper, traditional khayameia patchwork, woodwork and traditional jewellery-making.

“We selected 120 18-40 years-old young people out of the 450 who applied, and they were mostly women," added Mohamed Gamal, a ceramics art specialist at the Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre.

“After providing them with training on techniques in the first few months, we gave them a joint project to develop," Professor Hisham Gomaa, the Director of Fustat Traditional Craft Centre told Ahram Online.

“The project was for a touristic restaurant and each artisan came up with an idea for an authentic handicraft item to fit the big project, one will make napkins out of khayameya patchwork, the other to place a serving copper plate set under a porcelain one, and there is also a sauce-serving tray to be made of copper and wood, as well as some copper ornaments adorning glass, “said Gomaa.

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Students are also taught the history of arts and go on fieldtrips to museums related to their artwork as part of the training program.

The second year for the diploma started two month ago. "This year is more advanced; we are trying to help them market their projects, and work with them as freelancers. They will study designing, marketing and project management, so they know how to start their own business," Abdel-Mohsen added.

Several students and trainers who spoke to Ahram Online on their experiences in the program could not agree more.

29-year-old Marina Michael said it has been a good experience, learning all techniques affiliated with copper gave her a great opportunity to practice her passion.

Meanwhile, Weaam Mohamed and Hala Abd-Alhadi said they took the training opportunity to work on their start up project with hand-made accessories.

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Biotechnology graduate May Mahmoud explained to Ahram Online she took up this craft as a step for her art recycling project.

Fatemah Mohamed said she was fascinated by authentic copper motifs. As an applied arts graduate, she decided to incorporate these motifs in her décor and hand-made design projects.

“I love this initiative because it will help so many handicrafts survive and be revived. This class is very special and they have shown great skills and passion, in such a short time,” explained Mahmoud El-Masry, the trainer of the copper workshop in the program, to Ahram Online.

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It has been a real treat for those who chose the ancient art of khayameya patchwork.

Shimaa Qandil said she is enjoying khayameya patchwork, explaining that this is the first time for her to work on Khayameya but she is very happy to excel in it. “You see this was my Grandfather's profession," Qandil noted.

Hala Anwar said she draws on fabrics and was inspired by the motifs of khayameya.

Mona Ahmed is a fashion designer who decided she will integrate khayameya themes and concepts in her new clothing line.

“They are the best khayameya students to work with," noted Ahmed Amin, another trainer, who said he was proud to be teaching women in this male-dominated trade.

The premises of the centre is quite a sight with white domes that reflect Nubian motifs adorning the place.

The centre was built in 2001 by architect Galal Amer who adopted the same line of thought from his mentor Hassan Fathi.

However, the original site on which the premises were founded used to be the home/workshop ofor the late artist Saeed El-Sadr (1909-1986).

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“He planted this camphor tree himself, “pointed Abdel-Mohsen to the tree still standing at the centre of the courtyard of the premises.

“Said El-Sadr was one of the people who revived the pottery tradition in Egypt,” Gomaa explained.

“You see, Fustat was the centre of pottery in Islamic Cairo. Pottery and ceramics flourished during the Fatimid and Mamluk eras. However, during the Ottoman era the curve went down until pottery was limited to the Olla (pottery water flask) and Zeir (A pottery basin to store drinking water and keep it cool)," Gomaa said.

"El-Sadr was the one who revived it after he completed his studies in London. He returned with his own ideas and knowledge and used it to revive the traditions ... he is the one who established the pottery section in the Faculty of Applied Arts,” noted Gomaa.

The Ministry of Culture plans to create a museum for Said El-Sadr in a new extension of the centre, he said.

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