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Mohamed Hani Lantern maker: Artisan of al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo

“My father taught me how to solder. The metals he used, and we still use, come from Italy and Czechoslovakia and are processed into sheets in Alexandria."

Mohammed first draws out designs on paper then attaches these to sheets of brass and then saws the shapes out.

Mohammed incorporates Mamluk, Coptic, Andalusian and Moroccan motifs into his designs. “It is very important to revive the heritage of Egyptian arts,” he says. “When I go into an ancient Coptic church or mosque, I feel something. It’s in my blood. It is so important to my life.”

Mohammed first draws out designs on paper then attaches these to sheets of brass and then saws the shapes out.

He recognizes the challenge of marketing. “It is very important. As workers we are working all day in the workshop. We have no time to do marketing.” He would like to have a website but says he has no time.

Deep in discussion with a friend and client

“Now is the most difficult time,” Mohammed says, in reference to the market. “Before the revolution, 1 kilo of brass cost 70 Egyptian pounds. Today it costs EGP £175. And of course, there are less tourists today.”

Some designs are oxidised to give a dark grey matte finish, some are polished so that the golden coloured brass shimmers.

“The children of the neighborhood are so interested. When they walk past, they ask questions, they want to learn. Doing this is better than education. For people working in this way, they can make something; they can feel it.”

Mohammed at work whilst a young boy curiously watches on.

“I don’t sell my work to Khan El Khalili (the main tourist bazaar) because they will imitate it the next day.”

The tools of the trade.

Despite the challenges Mohammed's business is facing his sons are learning the craft with the hope of carrying it on for another generation.

Mohammed with one of his sons.
Mohammed's other son at work on a new lantern.

‘The Artisans of al-Darb al-Ahmar: Life and Work in Historic Cairo’ exhibition is taking place at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, London, from 22 March to 24 April 2018.

This exhibition showcases the people and personalities that make up daily life in this unique district, home to over 1,000 artisan workshops and 60 monuments of Islamic architecture. It presents artisans at work, some of whom are part of a tradition going back a thousand years but whose skills may not last another generation. More information available here.

For more information, please contact: christopher.w-steer@akdn.org

Created By
Christopher Wilton-Steer
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Credits:

Christopher Wilton-Steer

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