New platform on Egyptian artisanship, design to be launched: Art Jameel’s head of Heritage

Fatma Lotfi
6 Min Read

Located in Fustat, Cairo, the first known capital of Egypt under the Muslim rule, the Jameel House of Traditional Arts hosted hundreds of Egyptian artists who are ardent for traditional arts.

George Richards, the head of Heritage at Art Jameel

The institute was launched in 2009 by Art Jameel, an independent organisation that fosters and promotes contemporary art, cultural heritage protection, and creative entrepreneurship across the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and beyond.

The Jameel House of Traditional Arts provides Egyptians with classes in traditional Islamic geometry, drawing, colour harmony, and arabesque studies, as well as specialised training in ceramics, glass and gypsum, metalwork, and woodwork.

Furthermore, around 20 students graduate each year of the institute and join the many alumni who connect through the programme’s alumni club and participate in the annual alumni art exhibition.

Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview with George Richards, the head of Heritage at Art Jameel, on the organisation’s history, its branches, activities, and upcoming projects. The transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:

Could you please tell us more about the managing structure of the school, and which entities, private or public support the school in terms of funding and management?

The Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Cairo opened in 2009, as a collaboration between Art Jameel, the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts and the Cultural Development Fund.

The two-year diploma programme is designed and delivered by the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts.

Which school was established first, since there are three present in different places around the world?

Art Jameel first opened a school in Cairo in 2009. This was followed by the Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Jeddah in 2015, and the Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Scotland is currently under development.

How the three branches of the school, in Cairo, Jeddah, and Scotland coordinate with each other?

There is a dynamic exchange of teachers, alumni, and artistic traditions between the different centres. For example, ceramicists from the Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Cairo have travelled across the Red Sea to Jeddah, where they are teaching participants in the one-year programme there. As the centres develop further, we are exploring even more creative connections between them.

What does the school offer?

The Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Cairo curriculum includes modules in geometry, floral decorative patterns, observational drawing, and colour studies. Students also learn crafts such as woodwork, ceramics, gypsum, and stained glass, and brass work.

The programme is rooted in Cairo’s rich, unique architectural and design history: this year, for example, students undertook fieldwork at Al-Ghuri Mosque in Historic Cairo, and produced new works inspired by the architectural features of the city’s Islamic monuments; students also took a new course in traditional Egyptian glassblowing at the Hodhod workshop in the City of the Dead.

Students graduate from the programme with a deep understanding of both the principles and practical application of the traditional arts, furthering opportunities for careers in the arts, heritage conservation, architectural preservation, and the creative industries.

Is the school accredited inside Egypt? And if the answer is no are you planning to achieve such goal?

At present, students graduate with a diploma from the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, which is an accredited institution of higher learning in the UK.

Could you tell us more about the digital conservation projects of the school inside Egypt?

To-date, Art Jameel’s work in digital conservation has focused in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, in a workshop located in the Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Jeddah, Art Jameel and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation trained 15 local participants in digital documentation techniques, such as photogrammetric and laser scanning, to record endangered architectural heritage in the Old Town (Al-Balad) of Jeddah. The team also recorded endangered examples of “qatt”, a traditional style of mural painting in Asir, southern Saudi Arabia. We hope to expand our digital conservation activities to Egypt soon.

Does Art Jameel plan to expand their activities in Egypt? And if so, how?

Art Jameel has expanded its programme of community engagement in Egypt, working with alumni of the Jameel House of Traditional Arts/Cairo to deliver workshops for children in underserved neighbourhoods. In 2017, we collaborated with Megawra, a creative hub, to deliver workshops for children in Al-Khalifa, and this year we have been working in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar with Bayt Yakan to hold a summer workshop for children and adults in the traditional arts and crafts, such as pottery and manuscript illumination.

Art Jameel is also launching the Atelier Cairo Art Jameel, a platform for Egyptian artisanship and design. Located in Zamalek, Cairo, the atelier combines a co-working space for upcoming craft designers, a public programme of workshops in traditional arts, and business training and incubator support for craft entrepreneurs.

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A journalist in DNE's politics section with more than six years of experience in print and digital journalism, focusing on local political issues, terrorism and human rights. She also writes features on women issues and culture.
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