DUBAI: A group of young Egyptian men and women are busy molding ceramics, creating meticulous woodwork and painting intricate tiles at the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Cairo. The center admits just 22 students per year on a fully financed scholarship with the aim of keeping traditional artisanal techniques alive.
Situated in the heart of Old Cairo, where mosques, churches and synagogues can be found side by side, the Jameel House of Traditional Arts was launched in 2009 by Art Jameel, a non-profit organization supporting artists and creative communities founded and supported by the Saudi Arabia-based Jameel family philanthropies. It is also supported by the UK’s Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts; and the Cultural Development Fund of Egypt. It bills itself as the only school in Egypt teaching the craftsmanship and heritage intrinsic to Islamic tradition and began taking students in 2011.
“I always felt connected to Islamic arts and crafts, but I never knew where to start learning their rules and secrets until I found Jameel House,” Samia Ahmed, 26, a current student at the school, told Arab News.
The school offers a two-year diploma program which, as well as traditional crafts, covers color harmony, geometry and arabesque studies.
“We offer training in ceramics, gypsum and glass — traditional crafts here in Egypt — and we offer classes in woodwork and metalwork,” Mamdouh Sakr, director of the Jameel House in Cairo, told Arab News. “We are reviving traditions through reviving techniques. Whoever is restoring any heritage piece is not only restoring it for the sake of (improving its) condition, but also reviving the technique.”
Sakr stressed that without the Jameel House of Traditional Arts, even more traditional craftsmen and artisans in Egypt would be on the verge of extinction.
Sakr is clear on why it is so important to conserve traditional arts and crafts techniques. And it goes beyond simple nostalgia and national pride.
“Anything that is made here is totally different from 3-D printing or something technologically created, and people can feel that,” he said. “When you make something by hand, you put a bit of your soul in that piece.”