Egyptian Material Culture

Memories of the past are attended with a certain pain called nostalgia…Nostalgia is a kind of growing-pain, psychically speaking. It occurs to our sorrow when we have decided that it is time for us, marching to some magnificent destiny, to abandon an old home, an old provincial setting, or an old way of living to which we had become habituated. – John Crowe Ransom

Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, p 30.

The above describes how I feel when organising a drawer of family photographs, browsing in a vintage shop, or, in Cairo, meandering through the (now demolished) Friday Market. The Friday Market once crammed with what many would describe as junk, but for a material cultural enthusiast, those objects were treasures…objects of ordinary life.

Objects tell stories: the interaction of those who made them, received them, used and sold them, even worshipped them and of those who collected, conserved, and curated them. There is a relationship between objects as a primary source material and how we understand history. History is formally based on words of academia while objects bring to light histories of those marginalised—working class, ethnic minorities, women.

The following photographs of tin cut outs depict musicians, dancers, villagers, and a bird were collected over years of living in Cairo. Some I found from the Friday Market, some were purchased from an art collector, and others from an antique shop near Khan el-Khalili. These tin cut-outs, each approximately 60 centimetres in height, were said to be made from recycled tin sheeting in the Delta area during the 1920s-30s and sold to decorate walls of coffee shops. But this information cannot be confirmed. Yasmine Dorghamy, founder of Rawi Magazine, states, “Judging by the artistic style and the style of the bellydance suit I would place them in the 60s or 70s.. You don’t see that puffy skirt with the slit all the way to the top before then… this design is iconic of the ’60s in fact.”

I am in search of information about these objects. If anyone has information, please leave a comment and I will add it to this post.

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turkey or peacock

Comments:

October 7, 2020: Laura from London says, “I remember buying a set of tin dancer + music team (flute, tabla, male dancer with stick etc.) from a souvenir shop in Alexandria in 1980s. Unfortunately, I gave it away as a present. I thought it was a delightful present – I have not seen these tin figures since.”

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2 thoughts on “Egyptian Material Culture

  1. I remember buying a set of tin dancer + music team (flute, tabla, male dancer with stick etc.) from a souvenir shop in Alexandria in 1980s. Unfortunately, I gave it away as a present. I thought it was a delightful present – I have not seen these tin figures since. Laura (London)

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