Arts & Culture

Youth Initiative Seeks to Save Egypt’s Dying Ancient Crafts

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Youth Initiative Seeks to Save Egypt’s Dying Ancient Crafts

Since the dawn of humanity, civilizations have always left behind traces of the knowledge they acquire and mysteries they unlock. However, it has become customary to solely look through history books in search for stories of those long gone, more often than not overlooking the rich history that is written by the hands of local artisans and craftsmen on embroidered sheets and woven baskets.

Similar to many cultures around the world, many ancient crafts still live on today across Egypt, creating a silent bridge between the modern day and what the ancient locals poured their artistic genius into.

However, as hundreds of artisans in Egypt’s rural villages continue to dedicate their lives to sustaining ancient crafts, the lack of internet access and sufficient financial resources have grown as an impeding obstacle rendering these artisans unable to grow independently.

Along this process of cultural preservation, artisans and craftsmen have been devising new approaches to breathe life into otherwise dying crafts. Standing witness to the ongoing resurrection of local arts are the many workshops of Old Cairo, where artisans have played a major role in preserving an essential part of Islamic and Arabic identity and heritage.

Among such examples are the Khayamiya, or the tentmakers of Cairo, who managed to transform their ancient craft into modern art quilts that can be used in everyday life. Today, tentmakers hand-stitch colorful Egyptian cotton fabrics into wall tapestries, pillow covers and other home decor.

Despite the brilliance of their art, these artisans are suffering from the country’s overall poor economic situation. Paralleled with the dramatic decrease in the number of tourists, their ancient crafts are on the verge of extinction.

Journeying even further back in time, Akhmim village, which lies on the east bank of the Nile just across the river from Sohag, tells tales that date back 4,000 years ago to the era of ancient Pharaohs. Akhmim is world-renowned for its handicrafts such as textiles, silk, linen and cotton.

Despite technological development of mechanized textiles, the industry in Akhmim continues to thrive due to its refined, intricate quality of work. Nonetheless, the lack of marketing and governmental attention puts the life and future of Akhmim’s handicraft in great jeopardy.

Standing on the verge of extinction, many of Egypt’s ancient local crafts are feared to be shedding their final leaves as the modern market overpowers their limited resources. Seeing as how the death of such crafts means the death of what lives on from our own history, many youth continue to find innovative ways to ensure the artisans and their arts continue to thrive.

One such initiative is Menidy, a new startup in Egypt which sets out to create a secure e-commerce website for Egyptian artisans, featuring their products through high quality photos and videos. Through the online portal and its online marketing, Menidy’s team put great emphasis on the importance of the Egyptian handicraft industry and its ability to promote the Egyptian economy.

Though at its early stages, Menidy started a crowdfund campaign on Kickstarter which will allow them to deliver pre-orders and spark global engagement surrounding the project. In turn, this will allow the artisans to increase their own production and creativity.

If you wish to support Menidy in realizing the dreams of hundreds of people, make sure you check out their Kickstarter campaign.

You can also learn more about them through their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

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As a documentary filmmaker and nonprofit co-founder, Colette Ghunim’s passion lies at the cross section of social impact and visual storytelling. Her first documentary, The People’s Girls, received over 2 million views and Best Short Documentary at the Arab Film Festival for its bold spotlight on street harassment in Egypt. She is directing Traces of Home, her first feature-length film documenting her journey back to Mexico and Palestine to locate her parents' original homes, which they were forced to leave decades ago. Colette's work has been highlighted on international outlets such as Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, Univision, and TEDx. She is also the co-founder of Mezcla Media Collective, a nonprofit organization that lifts up 600 women and non-binary filmmakers of color.

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