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HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

Sayed Magdi



Sayed Magdi learned his trade in his father’s workshop. In the days of King Farouk, they used to make statues, but after spending some time in Saudi Arabia Sayid’s father decided that this was not correct according to his religion, and the workshop switched to producing solely non-figurative pieces of architectural decoration. He did not object, however, to making models of human organs in carved gypsum, which he sold to medical students and doctors.


The products now made in Sayed’s workshop are mostly architectural decorations imitating Baroque and Neo-classical ornaments, but also include pieces inspired by traditional Islamic motifs, like window grilles in geometric patterns. Sayed has owned the workshop since 1990, having moved to the Qaitbey area from Sayida Zeinab district. He did not encourage his son to carry on with the profession, he has a salaried job instead. Sayed believes that freelance professions are not what they used to be, due to the difficulties the country has been going through recently.


He remembers the times of President Anwar El-Sadat in the 1970s as his best days, when he had plenty of commissions and made a good income. Sayed attributes the subsequent downturn in his profession to the Chinese domination of the market and later the political disturbances in the country after 2011. He believes, however, that his trade can creatively adapt to changing circumstances and does not fear that it will share the fate of traditional lantern-makers, who have been largely pushed out of the market by competitive influx of Chinese products.


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