Batiking For a Living

Artist Revives Ancient Egyptian Batik Art

Samar Hassanein posing for a photo in front of her batik product. Credit: Artist Samar Hassanein
Samar Hassanein posing for a photo in front of her batik product. Credit: Artist Samar Hassanein

Batiking For a Living

Samar Hassanein graduated from the Faculty of Art Education in 1998. She worked in pottery for some years and took part in many local exhibitions. She then entered the world of candles and also marketed her products at exhibitions and bazaars. Day after day, she got bored as she practiced something that is not unique and which many people can easily do. She searched for a craft to distinguish her talents until she found what she wanted.

Hassanein told Majalla that she had a strong desire to design fashion dyed in the batik way that reflects Egyptian identity and is linked to Egyptian roots and cultural heritage, which she found in her project.

She revealed that “Few people have any idea that batik is an ancient Egyptian art,” whose technique is decorating the cloth by using wax.

“Ancient Egypt knew batik through Abyssinia. There is an artifact found in Tutankhamun’s tomb made of batik.”

She said that she didn't learn this fact at her Faculty. She studied that batik is an art that flourished and appeared in South Asian countries. But when she delved deep into this art to specialize in it, she read dozens of foreign-language books and articles that revealed the fact that batik is an ancient Egyptian art dating back to the V century BC.

“Batik moved from Egypt to India through the Silk Road, that ancient trade route that linked the Western world with the Middle East and from there it spread to Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia,” Hassanein, 47, said.

In 2008, she designed her first batik product, a curtain. Later she made bags, blouses, cushions and scarves and sold them in exhibitions.

Given the scarce information about the roots of the batik in Egypt, Hassanein found that her first clients were foreigners, who suggested that she design certain models such as jilbab and swimwear cash, and this she did.  

This experience motivated her to publicize batik among Egyptians by joining in exhibitions and showcasing samples of her different colorful products.

Four years later, she opened her own shop inside Souq El-Fustat, or Fustat market, located at the heart of the old Cairo district. Her gallery was among 50 glass-fronted galleries with Egyptian handicrafts that struggle to survive in fear of the danger of extinction.

In time, the number of her Egyptian clients surpassed foreigners’, especially after Covid-19.

What helped her to reach a wider audience was her participation in large exhibitions such as Turathna (Our Heritage), which is the largest exhibition for Egyptian handicrafts and local handmade art. This exposition is organized by the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA), where hundreds of craftsmen, artisans, and exhibitors display their products to the public under the sponsorship of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

“Many people who visit the exhibition are astonished by the products and become my regular clients,” she said.

She explained how the technique of batik is quite difficult. “In general, dying is made by using hot water and putting the fabric in hot water containing the colour. The matter is different in batik, as it needs cold water to protect the wax from melting. The wax is used to draw the motifs. So I must use cold water, which is the difficult process in making batik,” Hassanein said.

“Then I put the fabric in boiling water to remove the wax, so the motifs appear in colors different from the color of the fabric itself,” she added.

The cost of her products varies between LE250 and LE4000.

To show the Egyptian identity in her batik products, she didn't follow the common motifs used in designing batik in South Asian countries.

“Most of their batik products depend on floral motifs. Here I use motifs that reflect Egypt like crescents, hieroglyphic letters, calligraphy, and palm trees,” she said.

However, Hassanein believes that South Asian countries are better than Egypt in marketing this art, that’s why many people thought that batik flourished there first.

“Also, some countries use silk and pure cotton, something we lack here in Egypt,” Hassanein pointed out.

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