23 March 2018 - 24 April 2018
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR.
By the Aga Khan Foundation with photographs by Christopher Wilton-Steer.
Special Easter weekend opening: Good Friday 30 March, Easter Saturday 31 March and Easter Monday 2 April 10.00am-4.00pm
Closed Easter Sunday
Open Saturday 7 April 10.00am-4.00pm
Closed Sunday 8 April, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 April, Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 April
The exhibition celebrates the people, culture and activity that takes place in al-Darb al-Ahmar, a historic district of Cairo that is said to be home to 1,000 artisan workshops. 40 monuments of Islamic architecture are located in al-Darb al-Ahmar dating back to the Fatimid dynasty which founded Cairo (al-Qahira – the Victory) in the 10th century. Several of these have been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, often drawing on the craftsmanship of the neighbourhood’s artisans.
A maze of narrow and winding alleyways, al-Darb al-Ahmar connects visitors with a past and a way of life that can be found in very few places in the world today. A huge array of crafts are made here – from brass lanterns, colourful textiles, and glassware, to silk carpets and furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The designs are often unique to Cairo and, in some cases, to the district itself. It is an astonishing creative output.
Due to recent political instability and a shifting external perception of Egypt, however, the future of many of these crafts is under threat. The number of tourists visiting Egypt halved between 2011 and 2016, while the cost of raw materials such as wood and brass has increased. In the absence of a vibrant market, tourists or otherwise, many of these crafts – some of which link to traditions going back a thousand years – may not last another generation. The loss of this rich cultural heritage and creative output would be significant – the world and Egypt would surely be poorer because of it.
Efforts are being made by the government, non-government partners – such as the Aga Khan Development Network – and passionate individuals to support the artisans of al-Darb al-Ahmar. This exhibition brings attention to those efforts, while it also celebrates the people, culture, and activity that takes place in this dynamic but fragile place. These photographs showcase the personalities who make up daily life and attempt to present a side of Cairo that is not often seen online, on television or in newspapers outside Egypt. Ultimately, this exhibition aims to inspire greater interest in this relatively undiscovered district of Cairo and encourage people to visit this special place – “the soul of Egypt”, as one artisan described it.
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