Jewelry designer Zainab Khalifa was born in 1965 and studied philosophy at the Faculty of Arts, Ain Shams University.
Brought up in Ataba, the designer was influenced by the nature of the location which was known for its various shops, and markets, in addition, those markets were a main destination for women from all over Egypt.
The various styles of women’s jewelry drew Khalifa’s attention to the relation between the style of the jewelries designs and the regions where they belong such as the Nubian, the folk, and the country.
SEE News interviewed Khalifa, and she talks about her career, designs, and future contributions.
How did your career in designing pieces of jewelry influenced by works of sculpture start?
After ending my philosophy studies, I decided to study Contemporary Sculpture. Then, I participated in various national and international exhibitions. I started designing jewelries to be part of my sculpture pieces, and it paved the way to explore “Al Sagha” workshops, and jewelries designers.
I love accessories and jewelries, and this passion is driven by my love o politics and arts. Accessories and jewelry are essential part of our lives. Throughout history, several pieces carried different functions such as necklaces were used to limit the women’s necks movements, anklets sound were used for following women’s steps.
The style of jewelries is tightly connected to the society and the class, for example, upper classes including kings and princes has their own style unlike senior officials and the commons.
Regarding your first workshop, what did you learn during it?
The first workshop was dedicated to silver and golden necklaces making since then my relationship with workshops became integral part of character.
Are you influenced by your philosophy studies?
Philosophy studies influenced my whole life because it is based on criticizing and reviewing all common concepts including arts, religion, and human relations.
From the eye of philosophy, I approach all character I deal with in the market especially workers, therefore, I attempted improving their concept regarding the industry. Also, I worked hard to develop their talents to be more professional such as time management, respecting dates and others.
Furthermore, my studying helped me to evaluate the needs of people’s cultures, backgrounds, and finical levels to provide them with the designs that suite them. For example the hanging amulets were common in the Egyptian society that’s why it influenced the shape of accessories. And, jewelry has impacted the life of the Egyptian woman through history.
Is the piece of accessory a reflection for its origin?
Of course, there is a deep relation between the accessories and the origin where they have been created, that’s why designers always think of the needs of the people. Gold accessories are considered as investment, so, we find that the old designs rarely carried heavy decorations or gems that could impact the weight of the piece and lower its price. Unlike silver pieces which were characterized by cheap prices and various designs.
When can we see Zainab Khalifa’s School for teaching jewelries making?
The school is my main channel to defend the profession, and to create a new professional generation for the industry. But, I insist to build it inside Al Sagha district to attract young people who are interested in the industry and those dropouts of education.
Therefore, the school will be a center for educating the profession with all its different disciplines. Unfortunately, professional makers have no will to educate young and rising talents. But, I started establishing my school but I am waiting for financial support. I submitted the project’s draft to the Ministry of Industry, and o Sawiras Foundation, but nobody responded.
What do you think of the exposure of employing foreign workers in the local market?
I am not against the presence of foreign workers, because it is a mean for experience and cultural exchange. The market should stay open to everyone, and every nationality to preserve the enrichment of the designs and experiences.
What are the major exhibitions you took part in?
I participated in huge number of exhibitions, but the exhibition of accessories that was organized by the Ministry of Culture in 2016 is one of my major participations as I was the commissioner of the festival. I presented a printed volume of accessories designs done by young artists. Also, I organized an exhibition at Regis University, New York.
What are the major themes of your exhibitions?
All my exhibitions are based on reviving the heritage and re-introducing it in a contemporary vibe. Ideas should be presented in a new form without surrendering blindly to the heritage which can kill the soul of the artist. And, we have rich heritage and it is available to be developed.
What about your latest exhibition?
It was influenced by the holy “Bastet” and it is about woman, especially, the African woman. Woman is the center of life.
What are the films you handled designing their jewelry selections?
I participated in “Sarekat Saifeya” film with Youssy Nasrallah. I studied the characters deeply to bridge between the character and the time period. For example, the aristocratic lady who wore jewelries decorated by Diamonds.
Also, I participated in “Al Asleyeen” and I focused on the character of the king. I visited several museums and created almost 50 pieces included crowns, rings, bracelets. I imitated the designs and the colors of 24-karat pieces made from red copper and painted in golden colors to be close to the original colors of the Ancient Egyptian jewelries.
Moreover, I designed “Umm Kolthoum” brooch in “Khayal El Maatah” film. It was gifted to the singer by Iran’s Shah and it was perfectly decorated by emerald and diamonds.
Do you depend on yourself or employing workers?
During my long career, I managed to create various pieces of jewelry with different techniques, but I have a team of workers.
Is it necessary for the designer to execute the pieces by himself?
It is not necessary that the designer execute his own designs as the process is complicated and multi-staged one. Some techniques need experience and skill which can be done by professional workers. However, the designer should be fully aware of the material he uses such as gold, silver, and copper, in addition to knowing the basic techniques such as coloring and decorating.
Do jewelry designers face issues relation to copyrights?
Yes, the concerned laws of preserving copyrights should be applied to keep the designers and companies’ rights. My work is well known for using kind of thin and light bracelets taken from the Bedouin heritage, the design was imitated and distributed in the market. In Egypt, there is no law protect the rights of the designers.
How can you advice rising designers?
You should be honest, and focus on your imagination. This profession requires patience, continued learning, practice, and Persistence.
Contributed by: Rana Atef