Samir: telling Egyptian stories through foam dolls

Ghada Abdel-Kader, Wednesday 7 Aug 2019

The revival of Egypt’s traditions, heritage, folklore, people, beliefs and culture through handmade high quality dolls making

Dina Samir Dolls

Doll maker and designer Dina Samir always used dolls to tell stories about Egyptian society.

Starting in the year 2014,  Samir was one of the few doll makers’ and designers in Egypt who became a professional in this art, Spanish art. This kind of art was unknown in Egypt at that time.

“I am the first doll maker who made the ‘graduation doll’ and created custom made dolls to look exactly like their owners,'' she told Ahram Online.

Dina Samir Dolls

“Every doll closely resembles the child and takes on the person's real features. It told the person’s story and their profession,” she added.

Samir, 34, is a self taught doll maker. She started from scratch knowing nothing about it, but then realized she was talented by nature.

Even though she graduated from the Faculty of Education English Department, she worked in the stock exchange for five years.

Due to the January 25 revolution and the economic implications that followed, she resigned from her job and stayed at home.

“I faced a lot of obstacles and depression while looking for a suitable job as a teacher in schools, especially with a lack of previous experience in teaching.” she remembers.

Dina Samir Dolls

Through coincidence, she found her passion in doll making.

In a kindergarten art class, her son often used foam as a material.

She continued telling her story, “I was introduced to foam as a material through my son. I fell in love with it immediately. I started to do a lot of research on the internet about its different uses.

“I watched a lot of videos on YouTube, but there wasn’t enough information. I learned a lot of things through trial and error.” 

Samir made her first doll for her son and showcased it at his kindergarten graduation party KG2. The doll told the story of the late great Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Samir was able to do a lovely blend between Mexican and Spanish cultures. She accurately portrayed Kahlo’s facial expressions in Espanola woman dancer and guitar.

She smiled saying, “It was admired by both old and young. I began to receive orders to do the same doll.”

For the upcoming Eid Al-Adha, Samir made special designs depicting the Egyptian butcher wearing the traditional ‘galabeya’ and head gear with a thick long moustache and big boots.

Dina Samir Dolls
All photos courtesy of Dina Samir

She made another doll depicting an Egyptian chef holding the traditional Fattah dish (It is a meal comprised of crispy bread, rice, meat, vinegar and tomato sauce) in a large serving platter. She also created sheep dolls with colorful shapes as toys for the kids.

Samir made different doll designs for sweets jars and bags of popcorn. The popcorn bag is made of wool and looks like a sheep. “They are lovely gifts for children after Eid prayer,” she said.

She made dolls to look like famous cartoon characters Shaun the Sheep and Farm Dog from the famous animated stop-motion comedy film.

She makes dolls for any special occasion, feast, and festival such as Christmas, Eid El-Fitr, Mawlid Al-Nabi Al-Sharif (Birth of Prophet Muhammad ‘peace and blessings be upon him’) baby showers, Halloween, and engagements. Marriage maquettes for brides and grooms are also a staple in her work

In addition to that, she depicts different animal shapes, and historical characters from Egyptian culture like characters from the famous puppet show El-Leila El-Kebira (The Grand Night).

She takes pride in the fact that all her dolls’ materials -like hair, cork balls, foam glue, clothing and accessories- are 100 percent Egyptian.

“All my dolls are handmade, high quality and have a good finish. I sculpted the face, arms, legs, body and shoes by hand, ” she says, adding that the time it takes to create a doll varies from one to the other, but they usually take two weeks.

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