'Hodhod' Glass blower: Artisan of al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo

A former boxer, Hodhod is perhaps Cairo's most famous glassblower. The craft has been passed down from his grandfather, to his father to him. “50 years ago I had to learn the craft as my father was getting old and tired, just like me now.”

“My kids are now learning the craft from me, but after they complete their university degrees. No stranger would sit in this heat for 12 hours and do this work unless it was family!” Keeping it in the family also means he “can protect craft secrets.”

One of Hodhod's sons blowing glass.

“If I took my workshop somewhere else it would be like building the fourth pyramid. It’s so hard creating a workshop and furnace that can blow glass like mine, with the colours I can create. My technique is very unusual."

"Most people simply blow the glass, then remove it from the furnace, then sculpt and shape before putting it back to the oven. I sculpt and blow at the same time. Others say their work is handmade but they use a mould. I shape the glass with my blowing.”

Hodhod says that the origins of this craft can be found in Pharaonic Egypt. Today, he gathers old glass from deposits around the city, recycles it and converts it into his own glassware. He uses different oxides for the colours. He uses gas instead of coal to heat the furnace, as it keeps the temperature even. The glass he produces is pure. There is no lead in it.

Hodhod with one of his creations. The glass he produces is pure; there is no lead in it.

His craft is linked to many other forms of craftsmanship: his glass is used for lanterns and other brass work; it is used for the windows of madrasas and mosques. It was his glass that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture used when restoring the Khayerbak Mausoleum. Indeed, Hodhod says he employs the same method that was used to produce the Khayrbak windows 500 years ago.

The Khayerbek Mausoleum; Hodhod's glass was used in the windows as part of the the restoration.
The inside of the dome of the Khayerbek Mausoleum where Hodhod's glass was used during restoration.

He attributes the slow death of glass-blowing to the fact that it is hot and dangerous.

"Despite my efforts to teach people, they cannot do it; they can’t withstand the heat.”

Glassblowing requires the generation of tremendous heat.

Hodhod is looking for a particular apprentice. He says he would be open to finding someone from outside the family but it is about finding a person who has the dedication and passion to do it.

Glass-blowing has been described as the craft of the spirits.

“To keep the craft alive, people have to learn it. We need the space to be able to teach people. I am ready to teach, but I need the space and raw materials.”

“Boxing was my father’s attempt to get me away from the craft. But when my father was unwell, I was worried about the craft disappearing, so I came back to glassblowing. My father told me that ‘this is the craft of the spirits’. He meant that in this work there is a history of stories about spirits and ghosts and curses."

A member of Hodhod's family at work in the furnace that is the glassblowing workshop.

‘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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