Azza Fahmy: Whatever I love, I turn into Jewellery

by

Internationally-acclaimed and prominent Egyptian jewellery designer Azza Fahmy gave a keynote address at the Madalyn Lamont Award Ceremony held at AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library (RBSCL) last Thursday.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature at the American University in Cairo (AUC) held the award ceremony Thursday for the Madalyn Lamont Literary Award, which was started in 1986.

The Award celebrates student literary achievement and invites “a distinguished woman speaker… to give the keynote address.”

Fahmy gave the keynote address at this event, and handed over the awards to the three winners.

With an inspiring story to tell, Fahmy gave an overview of her journey as a jewellery designer, a traveller and a researcher. In her talk, titled Creativity and Artisanship: an Artist’s Testimony,” she discussed the different sources of her inspiration, particularly highlighting Arabic poetry and traditional Egyptian arts and architecture. She spoke about how history, culture, museums, religion, and popular sayings and beliefs also acted as her starting point. With her unique take on things, and undeniably the touch of her creativity as an artist, she certainly retains a talent that enables her to mould her surroundings into beautiful silver, gold, and stone-engraved rings, bracelets, and necklaces.

(photo: AUC English and Comparative Literature Department Facebook page)

Despite the fact that Fahmy’s fabric of inspiration remains wide, one thing underpins her inspiration: Egypt. With some exceptions of collections that employed Andalusian and Sufi poetry, Arabian themes and symbols, and sometimes religious symbols as well, the Egyptian sayings, popular beliefs, colloquial poetry, and architecture – whether Siwan, Nubian, or rural – constitute the bulk of her designs.

Her address at the ceremony was divided according to the various projects she undertook and their respective creative processes.

The one thing in common between all her projects was the substantial amount of time devoted to research prior to her embarking on the execution of the project. The longest research period, Mrs Fahmy noted, was 10 years she spent researching and extensively travelling prior to her ground-breaking Pharaonic collection.

Her research, therefore, involves coming on a one-to-one with the subject of study. With respect to the Pharaonic collection, she mentioned that she had spent considerable time travelling in and around the Pharaonic temples and monuments in Luxor, admiring their details and finding in them the inspiration she needed for the collection.

Her most beloved project, as she said recurrently during the address, was the Beyout Al-Nil, or the Nile Houses Project. Through her extensive travels around Egypt, she had extracted various traditional and “native” elements from her diverse Egyptian surroundings. Her travels to the Siwa Oasis, for instance, rendered one of her collections in which the Siwan turquoise, which she explained was now extinct due to massive looting, as a native stone was central.

(photo: AUC English and Comparative Literature Department Facebook page)

The artistic element of her work was most pronounced when she moved on to discuss her Arabic poetry collection. Andalusian, Sufi, Gahili, and even Egyptian colloquial poetry were employed for different collections. Twenty-four quartets belonging to the late and renowned Egyptian colloquial poet, Salah Jaheen, were styled in calligraphy and moulded into silver keychains that are, according to Mrs Fahmy, “one of [her] favourite projects.”

The poetry of Ibrahim Nagi, also known as Sha’er Al-Nil, also enjoys a considerable share in the poetry-inspired jewellery collections, further alluding to Egypt’s centrism to her work and to her inspiration.

In designing her jewellery, she repeatedly made use of ancient and medieval artistic elements and subjected them to a unique twist, sometimes enmeshing them with contemporary artistic elements. For instance, she explained how she used Mamluk coin shapes in her Thuma collection that was dedicated to the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. In addition, Mrs Fahmy explained how she utilised old calligraphy script in her old poetry collections.

Perhaps it is because of Fahmy’s use of the different aspects of Egyptian culture in her designs that her attention to the details frequently passed as mundane, and her creativity with such cultural elements, that her work is endowed with tremendous international appraise; yet, it remains affirmatively grounded locally.

(photo: AUC English and Comparative Literature Department Facebook page)

With a strong note in which she established that “jewellery talks to you” and that “jewellery is [in] details,” and in which she encouraged her audience to “be creative in [their] thinking” and to embrace creativity in everything, Fahmy ended her enriching, passionate, and motivational talk.

Certificates were handed out to the winners after MrsFahmy’s address amid fervent clapping and support from the audience.