Alkhamees is more than a brand name. As Nesmahar Sayed
found out, it is the latest example of applied art
"It is a way to express Egyptian identity through colours and lines," Omneya Tarek, a first year student at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University, said. She was giving me a tour of the hall where the T-Shirts were hanging on the walls. This, she said, was her second time in the annual exhibition, which has taken place since 2004. "It is a way out of the western design brands that monopolise the market," Abdel-Aziz Al-Guindy, assistant professor at the faculty, explained; as I eventually found out, he was the first to think of the idea.
"The T-shirts on exhibit are made of Egyptian cotton in simple colours, and they depend on slang Egyptian phrases or words printed onto them as well as little drawings for appeal," Ragaa Ahmed, a third-year animation student who is more interested in the artistic side of the project than any other, explained. "We study silk screen, where we use two or three colours to print on cotton“ê¶"
Khaliha Belarabi, "Let it be in Arabic“--ê" for example; or Koshri Kemala, "Extra serving of koshari" or else the other staple meal, Fuul: these words are written on T-shirts, accompanied by the appropriate “ê" simple “ê" drawings. But the technique is used in other ways too:
Small, soft pillows in attractive colours are placed in traditional palm-frond baskets, for example. One has the sketch of a rababa and the man playing it: a typical scene from grassroots Egypt. According to Al-Guindy, this project aims to instill a sense of pride in our Arab identity in the young by bringing it into their lives in a contemporary way.
"The idea is to present a contemporary vision of Arab-Islamic art through designs that are related to present-day life, in addition to encouraging artists to express their thinking through a positive contribution to the economy."
Many T-Shirts use Arabic calligraphy. And that's the aim of the project, as Al-Guindy explains: it opens a way to artists to show their art to a potentially huge market.
Amr Mohamed, a third-year animation student, has been participating in AlKamees for three years now: "Our role is to prepare the items for display and share in the designs printed on the T-Shirts as well". For Mohamed the genuineness of the project was the principal attraction:
"The T-shirts are handmade limited editions and very attractive to the young and to foreigners. Above all I like what is written on the T-shirts because it comes out of our Egyptian culture and our sense of humor, and is executed in Egyptian material too."
Mohamed Hamed, a student who is involved in the marketing of the exhibition, is interested in something else besides: "The aim of the exhibition is to take the items on display far beyond the borders of the faculty. Whoever is interested will buy the idea before buying the T-Shirts." And there are those who have bought large quantities to sell abroad.
Yasmin Arafa, a graphic designer, paid a visit to the exhibition with her fianc≥©, Mahmoud Hamza. "We came a very long way from Nasr City," she explained, "but it's worth it. I wanted to show him something unique." Mahmoud Hamza was deeply moved by the items and the words written on them. "I feel that this thing belongs to me," he explained. Although Hamza was wearing an orange T-Shirt with a brand name on it, he confessed that he used to feel disappointed that, while the cotton is Egyptian, the words printed on it are not. "My fianc≥©e told me she was coming here to get something from her friend, it's really a wonderful surprise."