Said Salem Said Crafts workshop and gallery owner: Artisan of al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo

Said is the inheritor of a family business that produces a variety of artisanal products mostly designed using wood and brass-work. Both his father and his grandfather ran this business. It has been in their family for 70 years.

Said overseeing a woodworker.

Said produces a great variety of designs, all customizable depending on the clients needs. Many of Said’s designs are markedly more contemporary than the traditional styles seen elsewhere in the neighbourhood.“The problem with most of the producers here is they don’t innovate. They copy the same designs again and again,” says Said. “We adapt to new tastes. Egyptians used to cook with ghee but now they cook with oil. With us it’s the same. We’re adapting to new styles and also making products that are functional.”

Woodworkers using chisels to create decorative panels for beds, chairs, and other furniture.

“But for us to do new designs is a big risk. I initially invest with my own money, for a few designs, and then insha’allah the customers follow.”

Mother-of-pearl is inlaid into some of the designs

“The problem is whenever something goes mass, people with taste don’t want it.”

When it comes to sustaining the business of artisanal craft generally, Said is down-beat. “Unfortunately it is all down to individuals within families to sustain the craft. No one else helps. There is no government support.”

His clients include Egyptians, people from the US, Italy, some expats working in Embassies in Cairo and the occasional Arab buyer.

Arabesque lattice-work like this is made up of hundreds of individual pieces of wood.

“In times of recession, if you let go of artisans, who have unique skills, you will not get them back later. They will be doing their own thing or working for someone else. So in tough times, I get them to work on new designs that we can’t sell immediately, that take time, but prepare for the future.”

Said surrounded by some of his designs; some more modern than others.

Said has 27 employees. His son intends to take on the business. He will be the fourth generation to run it. His is learning the crafts by hand, so he he understands the craft and not only the business.

Said with his eldest son who will take over the business one day.

‘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

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Christopher Wilton-Steer


Christopher Wilton-Steer

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