Dubai: Art meets fashion in an ode to Egyptian craftsmanship

The debut collection blends contemporary and traditional art forms of the ancient Islamic civilisation, showcasing fashion design, Arabic calligraphy and marbling


Joydeep Sengupta

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Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Published: Sun 9 Oct 2022, 6:52 PM

Last updated: Sun 9 Oct 2022, 6:55 PM

Art meets fashion in "From Cairo with Love": it made its debut in Dubai last week in a unique exhibition which is being held till October 13 at Gallery Vibes, Mall of the Emirates.

Art and fashion lovers attended the unveiling of Cairo-based Egyptian fashion designer Rasha Pasha’s Dubai Debut collection, in conjunction with renowned Arabic calligraphy and mixed media marbling Italian artist, Antonella Leoni, who, too, has been living in Cairo since 2015.

The gallery, along with the Egyptian embassy in the UAE, hosted two unseen-before events, on Friday and Saturday, entitled "From Cairo with Love" and "From the Light of the Stars to Letters of Light", respectively.

Lebanese Zeina Saidi, who is married to an Egyptian and lives in Cairo, is the founder and managing partner of Labeled Dubai that introduced the artists to the city.

“Our mission is to embrace and enhance traditional handcrafts and arts and incorporate them into global modern design. People are returning to authentic designs and cultural values that made us what we are now. We want to encourage people to better understand and appreciate the value and artistry of Arabic culture, design and creativity,” said Saidi, who has been coming to Dubai for over 20 years and calls the city her “home-away-from-home”.

“We felt there’s no better place to launch this passionate mission than in Dubai, where an Arab and international audience is in tune with the latest contemporary fashion, underpinned by a deep appreciation for authenticity,” she added.

Rasha Pasha, also known as Rasha El Gammal, is new to Dubai.

Earlier, she had visited Abu Dhabi to watch American singer Jon Bon Jovi’s concert at du arena, Yas island, on October 1, 2015.

“I wanted to be a designer all my life. My mother was a TV personality, who travelled the country in search of old Egyptian stories, traditional crafts, vernacular habits, authentic garments and most importantly the heroes who artfully crafted them. I decided to channel my art into putting these artisans back on the map,” said El Gammal, a student of Islamic and African history.

“I aim to recreate the concept of ‘patrons of the art’, where clients can commission artisans to create relevant beautiful pieces. This will help these crafts re-inherit their raison d'être and not be reduced to bazaar-bought souvenirs for the occasional tourist,” she said.

"From Cairo with Love" saw five models wearing unique designs which El Gammal created from Shantung silk in bright and resplendent colours, Damask silks in golds and creams, and velvet in honour of Egypt’s glorious history of artisan craftspeople.

“My work is an homage to the Egyptian design aesthetic that is often underrepresented,” she said.

Her motifs are inspired by folk art from all over the globe such as a tree of life from ancient Egyptian culture, Turkish floral influences and animals from across Asia. “Luxury takes time and this brand is nostalgic. Remember when our mothers or grandmothers spent hours at the seamstress and more hours picking fabrics, buttons or trimmings? This was [a] labour of love. Each of my creations are a chance to wear a piece of time and tradition that is edge and urban,” she added.

Soon, Rasha Pasha’s creations are likely to be retailed in several outlets in Dubai.

Similarly, Leoni, who was born in a village called Roccabianca near Parma in north Italy, shares El Gammal’s admiration for Egyptian heritage.

Altogether, 38 pieces of Leoni’s stunning creations, including Arabic calligraphy, marbling, papyrus and iconography related to Islam and spirituality. Islamic art is her passion, and her works form a sophisticated fusion of art and culture. They blend sofia — culture, knowledge, wisdom and spirituality — together in visual thoughts.

Dalya Al Bedewi, wife of the Egyptian Ambassador in the UAE, visited Gallery Vibes on Saturday evening.

An Italian’s tryst with Islamic art

Leoni has participated in the Sharjah biennial for calligraphy. She explained her artistic inspiration and the medium of her choice in her own words:

Arabic, the sacred script was the starting point of my artistic journey. The holy Qur’an offers an incredible source of imagination and the place where I live, Cairo, with its spirituality, magnificent architecture and history is influential as well. Islamic philosophy, antique miniature paintings, manuscripts, Arab poems and paintings are an ocean of curiosity and wisdom, populated with interesting metaphors and features.

I like working on a large size, two meters high and more, probably because of an unconscious desire for elevation. Papyrus is a perennial plant that grows spontaneously alongside the Nile where water and light are abundant.

The marbling in the water builds amazing abstract effects onto the papyrus golden fibres and the delicate smell of the carrageenan which is an extract from a red seaweed, contrasts the strong one from the ox-gall. This type of gall is obtained from bovines – it is an ingredient of bile and it is used in marbling as a surfactant. The handling of the water, mineral pigments, rose sticks brushes, together with the smelling of the gall and the papyrus fibres, bring me back to ancient time when people used to live beside nature and animals.

I write in "naskh" calligraphy when I desire to have a feminine outlook; this is a sensible and staggeringly beautiful style. I choose instead the "thuluth" when I want to achieve a stronger fluidity, a protective masculine outlook. I choose the old "kufi" when I wish to be neutral, nothing is imposing. This style in my opinion is the embodiment of the “less is more.”

I also have favourite letters, like for example the letter "Meem", "Haa" and "Ain". I enjoy combining them in my favourite look, and occasionally I give them a final touch in gold colour to symbolise the power of the "qalam", according to Surah al-Alaq.

Also the number of rows may be symbolic. For example, in the past I wrote "al-Isra", the miraculous journey by night, in seven rows to symbolise the seven heavens.

Beauty is in the geometry of the Arabic letters because of their calligraphy rules as my signature. If in the name Antonella the final "alif" of the "lam alif" were the same height of the "lam" it would not have been aesthetically so fascinating. While if the rule is applied, the final alif is below the "lam" by a dot, this simple but genial rule, almost unnoticed, allows to complete a signature, which is a work of art.

The geometric perfection, the logic of the proportions, the ratio, the fluidity of the movement combined with soft hand’s pressure allow to create a remarkable work of art.

Besides the thickness of lines, thin and thick, their ascent and descent by a refined qalam, their harmonious distances, highlight a gifted artist.

We should be worried about preserving the golden ratio, the geometric rules of the Arabic script to respect its spiritual and aesthetic aspect.

We should preserve the classic learning and give it the importance it deserves with effort, patience and devotion.

My different inks are not a causality, they are selected according to the content of the artwork, for example red ink is connected with the heart or with blood, I mean the vital energy; gold ink wants to symbolise the holy essence ; the white, purity and so on.

"God has among us His creatures a hidden ones who are not recognised by any but Him" - Ibn Arabi. This is the reason why I work hard. I feel generous in producing paintings, sharing concepts and ideas, perpetuating the most beautiful words and their spiritual meanings.

Art is a journey from the beauty dwelling in the source of inspiration, to the beauty in its result, in a visual and symbolic form; indeed, an “elevation.”

New ideas and concepts come easily to my mind which are open to intuition and perceptions with awareness, submission and gratefulness.


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