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Tao gallery: Handicrafts for interiors with a modern twist

Old film posters decorating CD racks, ancient Sufi poetry hanging on walls, and unique Egyptian ornaments with a modern twist are part of a new wave hitting the Egyptian interior scene and reviving old Egyptian crafts.

"The idea was to revive Egyptian handicraft through modern artistic interior design, while preserving all of its authenticity," explained Hani el-borai, co-owner of Tao gallery.

El-borai and his artist friend Mustafa Khalil started their long journey in the mid-nineties on Khalil’s land in Qalyubiya Governorate, where they aimed to teach pottery, copper and glass handicrafts to young workers. After facing funding difficulties and acquiring more experience the project took another turn when the two friends joined efforts with a couple of artists and together formed el-Khatoun, an old house in Al-Azhar district that they restored and converted into an art gallery. And finally Tao gallery was born, a unique exhibition of ideas with the sky as its limit.

The mélange of ancient motifs and modern functions is bewildering. A tablia (traditional disk-shaped Egyptian dining table resting a few inches from the ground, still used by many Egyptians) is now transformed into a classy modern dining table some inches higher than the original design, accessorized by several backless, Chinese-style cushioned chairs. The center of the tablia is now mobile.

"As in most countries, handicrafts are preserved and cherished," explained el-Borai. "Until now, a typical Tunisian bride’s trousseau must include carpet from the city of Qairawan, and so must the cuscus be cooked in it’s traditional pottery," explained el-Borai, pointing out that Egyptian public awareness of folk art and handicrafts has been eroded due to open door policies that hit Egypt in the seventies, when imported goods dominated the local market leaving very little room for traditional crafts to be sustained, let alone develop.

Consequently Tao’s novel concept of reviving traditional crafts picked up One of their signature ornaments is shefteshi, or delicate metal patterns that resemble lace in their structure. These were used in jewelry during the Othman era and to decorate glasses in both gold and silver. The patterns are used today in various iron ornaments used to fashion light units, candle holders, photo frames, coasters, and so on.

Authentic stained glass techniques have been revived as well. This diminishing art form, known in Egypt throughout the previous centuries, now has a new lease of life. The technique that depends upon painting from the back of the glass and not vises versa was another hit.  Colorful images in primitive lines crown mirrors and jewelry boxes.

Arabic calligraphy is used to adopt a whole new Arabic serma (a method of handmade embroidery) through employing a variety of classic fonts and styles. Tao takes it a step further by printing the lyrics of Sufi poetry onto linen curtains and wall ornaments

Finally, inspired by the personalized furniture of an Italian customer of theirs, which featured a collage of old classic Italian movie posters, Tao used collages of portraits of Egyptian classic movie stars. Old newspaper advertisements and classic film posters now decorate jewelry boxes, CD racks, lighting units and coasters.

With plenty of room for personalization and improvisation, the items on display at  Tao gallery convey the charm of bygone days with a modern flair.

Building 136 , 26th of July Street, Zamalek
Cairo, Egypt
Tel. +202 27352209


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