Of all the recent additions to our fair calendar this year, we didn't expect to see an Egyptian design event coming. Last week, the 'City of a Thousand Minarets' made its international debut with +20 Egypt Design, a new showcase being held over the next five years, thus named for the country's calling code.
Occupying three traditional homes (El Suhaymi, El Kharzati and Mostafa Gaafar) on El Muiz Street in stunning Old Cairo, the colourful exhibition was curated by the expert eye of Paola Navone and showcased furniture, textiles and tabletop accessories from some of the country's best design companies and artisans. Local products were interspersed with pieces from international brands, like Luceplan and Moroso, to fill the houses' 20-odd rooms - each impeccably restored and unveiled to the public for the first time, to form an expressive installation, staking the claim that there is a place for Egyptian design in the contemporary home.
With the support of the Egyptian Furniture Export Council, several local governmental trade authorities, and organised by Design Partners, the brains behind Milan's Zona Tortona, +20 is considered by several Egyptian designers as the beginning of a new design future.
In spite of the country's extensive cultural and creative heritage, design is largely reduced to a trade. Local brand recognition, especially pertaining to product design, is scarce, and focus is put on manufacturers rather than designers. Cherif Morsi, an emerging design figure, said, 'This is a real design event. It's the first step to creating a proper industry for us. I think manufacturers will start to understand that good designs can get them what they want.'
Architect/designer Shahira H. Fahmy, the first Egyptian designer to show in Milan (she presented her work at Satellite back in 2007) added, 'By mixing local products with international names, +20 shows that our designs are still credible outside of Egypt. It proves that what is relevant to the West is relevant to us as well.'
All in all, the installation was a worthy effort to bring the mysticism of Egypt into the 21st century. We're already pencilling our return visit to see what's in store next year.