Arts & Culture

“Qaaf”: A Gallery, an Art Space, a Community

“Qaaf”: A Gallery, an Art Space, a Community

Credit: Omar Zydan

Qaaf Art Space, a welcoming and spacious hub located on a quiet side-street a few minutes away from Hadayeq El-Maadi metro station, is the most recent addition to an ongoing project initiated by a young creative group of Cairene freelancers, artists and independent music lovers.

“You know where our name Qaaf came from?” Omar, the venture’s manager, asks us.

“It originates from the song “Qaaf Ya3ni Qawem” (Q means Resisting) by Egyptian singer Aly Talebab, a line that can also be found stitched onto their t-shirt labels, a colorful and original collection of which are on display and for sale in the Qaaf Gallery entrance area that now extends on into Qaaf Art Space at the back.

Why they selected this particular phrase has mainly to do with how they envision their brand and, by extension, their identity as individuals and as a small community.

“Have your own passion; resist the pressure to be like everyone else,” are the guiding principles of the team and their creative vision, Omar further explains to Egyptian Streets.

This meanwhile multi-functional concept started out as a fairly low-key affair back in 2014, when the Qaaf team’s earliest members began selling different clothing items and bracelets under the name of ‘fan shop’. Some of these t-shirts had quotes about the revolution printed on them, others featured band logos from the likes of Jadal, Mashrou’ Leila and other alternative Arab music bands.

Credit: Omar Zydan

Soon this original concept took off, and several moves and renovations later, the store now operates under the broader umbrella company of Qaaf in several spaces across Cairo as well as one in Alexandria.

Especially over the past year, a couple of new galleries selling their products were opened to the public, and since the beginning of July 2019, Qaaf also boasts an attractive working and art space targeting fine-art students, freelancers and “Maadi people,” Omar explains.

While fine-art students are offered a well-equipped working area and even lockers to store their belongings in, freelancers and creatives are invited into “the right atmosphere to treat your creative block.”

Credit: Omar Zydan

Regarding the Maadi people, Omar describes them as “our people” and as “young people who appreciate good vibes and a loving community.”

The Qaaf crew’s decision to expand what was initially only a clothing store to include an art space started around 2017: “We had our brand well-established, but we had this feeling that there’s more to give to the community,” explains Omar.

“We wanted to create this sanctuary for passion, where everyone with or without a background in art is welcome, because we believe that art isn’t only colored paint, you can have your own art your own way. We aim to have a warm and inviting atmosphere where you can meet, relax, and experience your art.”

Credit: Omar Zydan

The slogan of the Art Space is “Listen to Your Art!”

As for their constantly expanding clothing line and accessories, we are told that their secret is taking the risk of investing in quality. While other shops opt for cheap prints and materials, “our idea is that the more you make, the better quality you make. You can’t buy specific cotton or materials unless you buy large quantities,” says Omar.

Qaaf’s unique edge is that each of their designs stems from one of the Qaaf team’s own and often spontaneous ideas.

“I’m able to look at our many collections and every t-shirt and know exactly which person’s idea stands behind which end product – this is what I like, it’s our brand and own identity.”

As such, their brand’s slogan “You wish, we make it happen” suggests that each and every idea of their community is realized and collectively made possible, as they regularly sit together brainstorming prior to designing their new collections, which not only include new designs but new items every season. This season they have added shoes, for example.

Credit: Omar Zydan

Omar also points out that Qaaf’s products are not Egyptian in the narrow nationalist sense of ‘made in Egypt’. Rather, he believes that everyone at Qaaf has their own version of Egypt and their products reflect “the version of our people and our friends.”

“The thing I love the most about Qaaf, is that there is not a single day I walk in the streets and don’t see a Qaaf product. One day I was in Alexandria and the guy next to me wore a t-shirt I had started advertising just two days before.”

In terms of Qaaf’s longer-term vision, Omar mentions their small dream to become the biggest such shop in the region.

For Qaaf Art Space in turn, they have a plan for events and workshops that will be announced very soon.

Further information can be found on their website.

Credit: Omar Zydan

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