Signature Egyptian Items for Contemporary Usage

Meet Al-Bazar – Egypt’s Annual Handicraft Exhibition
Partition displaying items from Creative Egypt project. By Amira El-Noshokaty
Sameh Seliman, a Khayameya craftsman showing his products at the Bazar. By Amira El-Noshokaty
A young woman participating in the section of BGreen initiative to present products of Banlastic youth initiative. By Amira El-Noshokaty

Under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel El-Fattah Al-Sisi, the Al-Bazar Handicraft Exhibition opened its doors this year in Cairo earlier this month.

In partnership with Cairo Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and other partners, this year’s exhibition showcased many authentic handicrafts that adopted a modern flair as well as a green perspective.

BANLASTIC

At the front and center of the exhibition lies the BGreen initiative by Cairo Bank. Among the most interesting items exhibited are those belonging to the Banlastic Egypt initiative which offers alternatives to plastic. “We started our initiative in 2018 in Alexandria, where we held numerous events to raise awareness about the dangers of using plastic. You see, at this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic bags in the sea than fish,” explained Yasmine Mostafa, a representative for the initiative.

The initiative showcased compressed wooden forks, spoons and knives for personal use as well as bags and purses made of recycled banners. However, their latest sub-project is Re-fabric. “We aim to revive the ancient tradition of kelim, a recycled hand-woven tapestry technique that was very famous in Egypt. We shall start with the handicrafts artists of Fowa, a village in Kafr El-Sheikh, Delta governorate of Egypt,” explained Abdel Qader Al-Khaligi, co-founder of Banlastic.

CREATIVE EGYPT

Not so far from BGreen, lies another gem of authentic Egyptian handicrafts. The Creative Egypt project was started by the Egyptian Ministry of Industry and trade to promote authentic Egyptian handicrafts. In collaboration with the Industrial Modernization Center, “Creative Egypt” is the first trademark for Egyptian traditional handcrafts, which preserve Egypt’s cultural heritage but add a modern contemporary touch.

Internationally awarded products such as hand-made glasses, copper ornaments and many other signature Egyptian items for contemporary usage, are displayed in the Creative Egypt section.

For the past six years, Creative Egypt had their own permanent outlet for Egyptian handicrafts.  “Representing a group of almost 260 Egyptian artisans, we were first located in Omar Efaandi store in Mohandessen, but last year we relocated to Cairo Festival City which gave us much better exposure,” explained Tarek Essam, a spokesman for Creative Egypt.

KHAYAMEYA

The ancient art of Khayameya patchwork has been part and parcel of Islamic Cairo. There is a whole district dedicated to this fine art of handmade stitches that dates back to Fatimid Cairo, perhaps even earlier than that. This art’s real essence is in the way various motifs from different patchworks are hand-woven together to make masterpieces of fabric that are never out of style.

“The motifs on demand throughout the ages are the Islamic ones and that of the Lotus flower, a symbol of the ancient Egyptian era,” explained Sameh Seliman who has been working in Khayameya for over 40 years. Having inherited the trade from his father, Seliman remembers how the usage of Khayameya has varied throughout the years.

“This art of patchwork was originally used to form Shader which is the movable partition popular in Egyptian tradition and usually used on local side streets to celebrate weddings or funerals. Nowadays, table sheets, runners, artistic tableaus and even cloths, are made of Khayameya,” he boasted, adding that he is now working on his latest Khayameya creation. “Currently I am experimenting with mixing various textures and special designs that would create an optical illusion and give a two dimensional effect,” he concluded.