Delta Glass gallery- Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan Delta Glass gallery- Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan

The Hidden Artisans Gem: Souq el-Fustat

Mon, Jan. 1, 2018
CAIRO - 1 January 2018: few steps from Egypt’s first and oldest mosque, Amr ibn el-As, and minutes away from the ancient monuments of Coptic Cairo, a whole complex bringing together some of the finest Egyptian handmade arts is hidden deep in the heart of the historic Old Cairo.

Carrying the ancient name of the city, Souq el-Fustat (Fustat Market) brings about a renaissance of signature Egyptian arts; from leather to glass, mosaic, copper, wood art, Bedouin embroidery, jewelry inspired by diverse traditions and more. Gathering 30 Egyptian artists from different fields, the market offers a unique and authentic shopping experience for one-of-a-kind handmade and customized crafts.

The market was opened in 2001-2002 as part of a larger plan to develop the religious compound in collaboration with UNESCO, Monica Adel, an Egyptian leather artist and co-manager at the market, tells Egypt Today. The mar-ket was first created as a means to in-troduce underprivileged children of the neighborhood to authentic Egyptian arts, while also offering visiting tourists the chance to buy handmade crafts.

The market hosts 38 shops that are rented out by the Tourism Develop-ment Authority to the artists. Some of the shops are also rented to a number of organizations, including the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), famed for its recycled crafts, the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, which sells woven fabrics and woodwork made by talented Egyptian women in the countryside, and Istabl Antar Organization, selling beautiful products handcrafted by residents of one Egypt’s poorest slums.

Seeking to serve as a hub for tradi-tional art as well as raise the social and financial status of the residents, the market offers free workshops, where each artist takes a turn to introduce the children to their craft and help them learn it. Seperate workshops are offered with minor fees.

As promising as it sounds, the mar-ket is barely known among Egyptians, a drawback that has especially taken its toll since the crisis that hit the tourism industry over six years ago. “Our big-

gest challenge today is for people to know that we exist,” Emad says. “There are almost no Egyptians who ever heard of Souq el-Fustat.” Before the revolu-tion, she explains, most of the shoppers were foreigners. Promoting the market locally didn’t seem like an immediate priority.

The artisans at the market all echoed the same feeling; the souq is a very spe-cial, spiritual, cultural and artistic hub that deserves a higher rank on the tour-istic map. Each of these craftsmen have mastered their own unique art, and most also carry on the initial social mis-sion of the souq, with a determination

to develop the neighborhood, all the while reviving traditional arts and pass-ing them on to other generations.

Walking into the market is a reward-ing experience on its own, one would enjoy every inch from the architecture of the building to the paintings on the walls, the tree trunk sofas in the empty spaces between the shops and the va-riety of artwork decorating the shops’ windows. Moreover, there is almost no ‘tourist hassle,’ which makes shopping there a very calm experience.

Dar Gallery: a haven for crochet-ers and crochet fans

From traditional scarves to fashion-able bags, accessories, rugs, blankets, cushions and bunnies, Dar Gallery is the perfect occult to find any crocheted product one might be looking for. Pass-ing through the door, the colorful sight definitely grab attention; it has this ir-resistible positive vibe that would lure you inside.

Offering all kinds of handmade cro-chet products by creative Egyptian women, the gallery first came to the souq five years ago. “We are trying to support this traditional craft because many women in Egypt love to practice it,” artisan Dalia Ibrahim Nabil says.

Dar Gallery for crochet productes- Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan

Both a gallery and a workshop, Dar aims to gather as many women who practice crochet or are trying to learn it. Every single artist there has her own style and talent that characterizes her work, which is easily seen in the huge variety available at the shop.

Carrying on the broader social mis-sion of the souq, Dar also offers train-ings for the ladies in the neighborhood who need a source of income to support their families, according to Nabil. “We start with a toy or a small bunny, un-til they are capable of producing larger items … Once they are trained, every-thing they make is sold in the shop.”

“Souq el-Fustat is a great place with a capturing spirit. It can educate, host ideas and execute them…and it needs to take the position it deserves,” Nabil says with a wide smile.

El-Moled: Mixing creativity, inno-vation and youthful passion
Each corner and every spot on the wall exhibits a masterpiece, carrying its own identity and flavor. El-Moled is a free space of creative and flourishing art embracing the work of three passion-ate young artists: Khasaba, Zakzoka and Eshk. The three artists, inspired by Egyptian folklore, share a venue that beats with authentic spirit and creativ-ity.

The first thing visitors to the diverse gallery will see are the arquette (scroll saw woodwork) portraits hand-carved by passionate artist Hassan Khaled. Taking a modern approach to one of Egypt’s traditional arts, Khaled’s brand, Khashaba, embraces different applications of wooden carving to create accessories, customized portraits and one-of-a-kind decor pieces that add an authentic ambiance to the gallery. Right below the portraits are the masterpieces of Eshk, an elegant mixture of leather art, vintage stones and copper wire. Each piece of jewelry is a unique creation, handmade by journalist and artist Mariam Raafat, inspired by Arabic and Hindu cultures, as well as Bedouin and Nubian influences.

Adding the final touch are beauti-ful handicrafts of Zakzoka, created by Shaimaa Esmail and based entirely on recycled and natural materials with a Bohemian spirit.

“The three of us were already fond of Egyptian Folklore, we found that Souq el-Fustat embraces the same taste,” Raafat tells Egypt Today. “Each of us has their own direction but we all want-ed a place that celebrates the value of our art and does not simply turn it into a business.”

Apart from exhibiting their pieces of art, the three young artists also hold artistic workshops, classes and activi-ties for both children and adults at the souq, aiming to foster artistic develop-ment and teach Egyptian traditional crafts.

True Harmony: An elegant exhibi-tion inspired by two civilizations
A harmonious fusion of Syrian and Egyptian cultures, this one is an entire exhibition of unique and bespoke art crafts, furniture, light fitting, paintings and jewelry.

Fond of the artistic potential behind all and every natural resource, Egyptian-Syrian artist Thaer Jrab works with dif-ferent textures and fabrics, from brass, silver and leather, molding them into unique art pieces.

“I have two civilizations that crashed in my genes; the Ashurian Babylonian Venetian and the Pharaonic,” Jrab says. Inspired by both rich cultures, he start-ed his artistic journey in 1989 and first came to the souq in 2001 with a mis-sion to develop Middle-Eastern art and handicrafts.

A selection of masterpiece jewelry, from sterling to Swiss silver, gold, cop-per or brass are available at the gallery. If you wish, you can add semi or precious stones to your individual piece. There is also a variety of lightings and furniture, from decorative mirrors to ornate cabinets and everything in be-tween.

“Souq el-Fustat is the most wonderful market in Egypt because it is very real … It is a very strong and powerful place, where everyone is producing something,” Jrab says.

The Association for the Protection of The Environment (APE) Gal-lery: The art of recycling

Stepping into this small shop, entire-ly cloaked with bright-colored textile, you would have never guessed it is all made of factory leftovers and patches, in the excluded neighborhood known as Hayy El Zabaleen (The Garbage City).

The bright side of a normally sad story, the APE’s gallery at Souq el-Fustat is the only permanent exhibition for the beautiful handmade product hand-crafted by the talented residents of the Garbage City. The shop offers a variety of creative, recycled products from bags, rugs, cushions, bookmarks, note-books, coasters, and accessories.

“We invite the ladies to the associa-tion where they learn the craft, thenwe ask them to write their names on the products,” says Samaan Awni, the APE marketing manager. “That way, we lure them to learn reading and writing as well.”

From rug weaving to patchwork and paper crafts, APE’s gallery is an excep-tionally elegant and vivid bazaar for all kinds of creative recycling products.

Association of Upper Egypt: Reviving local art

Capitalizing on authentic and im-memorial traditions in the Upper Egyp-tian governorates of Sohag and Luxor, the gallery exhibits a variety of artistic woodwork, as well as creative weaving and embroidery motives.

Rented by The Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development (AUEED), the venue showcases the products of talented artists in the cities of Akhmim, Sohag and Hijaza in Luxor. All textile products are 100 percent cot-ton, handmade by community members who create their own spontaneous designs, inspired by nature or by their personal lives. As for the unique wood-en sculptures, they are all engraved us-ing exclusively local wood and shaped into boxes, plates, candles, flowers, pan-els or small furniture pieces.

Trained and mentored in the asso-ciation’s workshops, the community members were taught to develop their traditional crafts and mold their lo-cal treasures into creative and modern products.

For almost 16 years, Souq el-Fustat has been the only permanent gallery showcasing these artistic masterpieces carrying the spirit of Upper-Egyptian traditions.

Delta for hand-crafted glass art

The newest addition to the conglomeration, Delta Glass offers a variety of traditional, blown glass and the more modern Pyrex glass products. Owned by engineer and Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Handicrafts Yasser Rahal, the gallery was first opened a few months ago, presenting various types and shapes of handmade glassware, from the most traditional perfume bottle inspired by Pharaonic remains, to more contemporary utilities, such as tea and coffee sets, as well as delicate antiques.

Whether you are looking for the per-fect perfume bottle with pastel colors to match your dresser, shopping for some antiques to decorate your home, or simply seeking to explore one of the most elegant and graceful arts inspired by our ancestors, this one is worth one long stop.

Walking further into the market, you will find a lot more young and experi-enced artists, antiques collectors and a few other social initiatives that have taken that place as their hub to revive Egyptian arts, putting together the most perfect venue for a cultured shop-per.

To prevent any confusion and ensure that you have landed the best bargain, all prices are fixed and labelled.

Whether you are looking for a uniquegift, seeking an antique for your home, or if you have a very specific and detailed idea that you want to be cus-tomized especially for you, using any kind of materials or crafts, this underrated market should definitely earn a place on your shopping list. It is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

To figure out the best time to visit this 100 percent Egyptian artistic and cultural market, you can check the Facebook page at www.facebook. com/SouqElFustat/ for their monthly events, when the whole place beats with the passion of one of its art types, offer-ing workshops, exhibitions and a great ambiance.

Souq el-Fustat also hosts special seasonal events, where Nubians, Bedou-ins and other indigenous groups from Egypt’s diverse culture come to the market and plunge it into their most traditional music, activities and of course, their signature arts.

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