How One Man In Egypt Is Keeping This 200-Year-Old Tile Tradition Alive | Still Standing

Business Insider
16 Jul 202106:23

TLDRSaied Hussain, a master craftsman from Egypt, is keeping the 200-year-old tradition of handmade cement tile making alive. Despite competition from modern tiles, Saied remains dedicated to his craft, which he learned from his father who worked with Greek immigrants. Cement tiles were once popular in Europe and used extensively for rebuilding post-WWI in Belgium. However, changing preferences led to a decline in demand by mid-20th century. In the 1990s, ceramic and marble tiles took over the Egyptian market, but Saied adapted by creating cheaper designs. His workshop in Cairo produces up to 150 tiles a day, which are sold for 500 Egyptian pounds per square meter. Saied has been offering free apprenticeships for 40 years to pass on the traditional process to younger generations, ensuring the survival of this art form.

Takeaways

  • 🧱 Saied Hussain is one of the few cement tile makers left in Egypt, a craft that's been around since the 1800s.
  • 🎨 He specializes in mixing pigments with white cement to create unique hues, often using stencils he's had for over 35 years.
  • πŸ–ŒοΈ Saied's process involves intricate design work, with some designs done freehand.
  • πŸ”§ After pouring cement into molds, the tiles are solidified using a hydraulic press.
  • πŸͺœ Saied learned the craft from his father, who worked at a shop owned by Greek immigrants.
  • 🌍 Cement tiles have a rich history, with roots in Europe where factories started producing them in the 1800s.
  • βš–οΈ The tile industry in Egypt shifted in the 1990s, with ceramic and marble tiles becoming more popular, affecting Saied's business.
  • πŸ’° Saied adapted by creating new, cheaper designs, allowing him to stay in business despite rising costs and declining interest.
  • πŸ‘¨β€πŸŽ“ Saied offers free apprenticeships to young craftsmen to keep the traditional process alive, but notes that it requires significant skill.
  • 🌱 Despite challenges, Saied is committed to preserving the craft, with his team making up to 150 tiles a day, selling them to customers around Cairo.

Q & A

  • What is the significance of cement tiles in the context of the 1800s?

    -Cement tiles gained significance in the 1800s as they provided a cheap and efficient way to build, which was a major advantage during a time of rapid industrialization and urban development.

  • Why is Saied Hussain considered an artist in the context of the script?

    -Saied Hussain is considered an artist because he treats the craft of making cement tiles not just as a trade, but as an art form, staying true to the traditional methods despite modern challenges.

  • How has Saied Hussain's business been impacted by the introduction of other types of tiles?

    -The introduction of ceramic and marble tiles in the 1990s in Egypt threatened Saied's business, as these materials took over the market. However, he adapted by creating new, cheaper designs to stay competitive.

  • What is the process Saied uses to make cement tiles?

    -Saied starts by sifting white cement into a fine powder, then mixes in pigments for color. He adds water and pours each color into its own section using stencils. Some designs are done freehand. He then tops the mold with a mixture of sand, cement, and limestone to ensure the pattern stays in place before sending it through a hydraulic press to solidify the cement.

  • How long has Saied been making tiles and what is his specialty?

    -Saied has been making tiles since he was 12 years old, and his specialty is working with colors to achieve the desired hues for his cement tiles.

  • What is the historical context of cement tiles in Europe?

    -Cement tiles have roots in various parts of Europe, with factories emerging in countries like the UK and France during the 1800s following the discovery of cement as a cheap building material. The industry flourished in Belgium after World War I, but by the mid-20th century, changing tastes led to a decline in the use of cement tiles.

  • Why did Saied start offering free apprenticeships?

    -Saied has been offering free apprenticeships for the past 40 years to young craftsmen to keep the traditional process of making cement tiles alive and to pass on the craft to the next generation.

  • How many tiles can Saied's team produce in a day?

    -Saied's team, which includes him and his two employees, can produce up to 150 tiles in a single day.

  • What is the selling price for 1 square meter of Saied's cement tiles?

    -Saied sells 1 square meter of his cement tiles for 500 Egyptian pounds, which is equivalent to approximately $31.

  • What challenges have driven workers away from the craft of making cement tiles?

    -The high cost of materials and the hard physical labor involved in making cement tiles have steered workers away from this craft.

  • What is the most important thing for Saied regarding the continuation of the cement tile craft?

    -The most important thing for Saied is the survival of the art of cement tile making, ensuring that the traditional process continues for future generations.

  • How did Saied learn the craft of making cement tiles?

    -Saied learned the craft from his father, who worked at a shop owned by Greek immigrants.

Outlines

00:00

🎨 The Art of Handmade Cement Tiles in Egypt

The first paragraph introduces the viewer to the ancient craft of handmade cement tile production in Egypt, a trade that has been in existence since the 1800s. Saied Hussain, a dedicated artisan, is highlighted for his unwavering commitment to the craft despite the rise of other tile types. The paragraph details the process of making the tiles, from sifting white cement and adding pigments to achieve the desired color, to using stencils for intricate designs. Saied's technique involves a mixture of sand, cement, and limestone to ensure the pattern's stability, followed by a hydraulic press to solidify the cement. The historical context of cement tile popularity in Europe and the shift in the market that affected Saied's business is also discussed. Despite challenges, Saied innovates by creating cheaper designs and continues to produce up to 150 tiles a day with his small team. The paragraph concludes with a note on the high cost of materials and physical labor deterring new craftsmen, but Saied's resilience and adaptation have kept his workshop operational.

05:00

πŸ“š Preserving the Craft through Apprenticeships

The second paragraph focuses on Saied's efforts to preserve the craft of cement tile making by offering free apprenticeships to young craftsmen for the past 40 years. It emphasizes the importance Saied places on the continuation of this traditional art form. The economic aspect of the business is also mentioned, with tiles being sold for 500 Egyptian pounds, or approximately $31, per square meter to customers in Cairo. The paragraph underscores the selectiveness in mastering the craft and the significance of passing on the knowledge to the next generation to ensure the survival of this artisanal practice.

Mindmap

Keywords

πŸ’‘Cement tiles

Cement tiles are a type of tile made primarily from cement, often embellished with various colors and patterns through the addition of pigments. In the video, Saied Hussain, the tile maker, demonstrates the process of making these tiles, which has been a tradition in his family and a craft that dates back to the 1800s in Egypt. This form of tile-making is highlighted as both a cultural artifact and a personal art form for Saied, tying together historical craftsmanship with contemporary challenges and adaptations.

πŸ’‘Handmade

The term 'handmade' refers to items crafted primarily by hand and not produced through automated processes. In the context of the video, Saied's workshop in Cairo produces cement tiles using manual methods that involve significant skill and personal touch, which contrasts sharply with mass production methods. The handmade nature of these tiles adds to their uniqueness and quality, embodying a traditional craft.

πŸ’‘Workshop

A workshop is a space equipped for making or repairing goods, often involving manual labor and craftsmanship. In the video, Saied's workshop is one of the few remaining in Egypt that still practices the traditional craft of cement tile making. This setting is crucial as it represents both the physical space and the cultural milieu preserving this old art form.

πŸ’‘Stencils

Stencils are tools used for applying patterns or designs by allowing pigment to pass through cut-out areas onto another surface. Saied uses stencils that are over 35 years old to create intricate designs on his tiles, a testament to the durability and importance of these tools in crafting traditional cement tiles, as well as his dedication to maintaining historical methods.

πŸ’‘Hydraulic press

A hydraulic press is a machine that uses a hydraulic cylinder to generate a compressive force. In the video, Saied uses a hydraulic press to solidify the cement in the tiles quickly after the design has been applied. This tool exemplifies the blend of traditional craft techniques with industrial technology to enhance the efficiency and durability of the tiles.

πŸ’‘Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are structured training programs where novices learn from skilled professionals through hands-on experience. Saied offers free apprenticeships to young craftsmen to pass on his knowledge of tile making, ensuring the survival of this craft. This practice not only helps in keeping the tradition alive but also supports the community by providing skill development opportunities.

πŸ’‘Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage refers to the traditions, skills, and knowledge that are passed down through generations within a community. The video portrays cement tile making not just as a business for Saied but as an integral part of Egypt's cultural heritage, underlining the importance of preserving such crafts against the pressures of modernization and market changes.

πŸ’‘Market shifts

Market shifts refer to changes in consumer preferences, technology, and economic factors that influence the demand and supply of products. The video discusses how shifts in the tile market, particularly the introduction of ceramic and marble tiles in the 1990s, impacted Saied's business, prompting him to adapt his designs and practices to stay competitive.

πŸ’‘Art form

An art form is a medium through which artists express their creativity and cultural narratives. Saied views his tile making not just as a business but as an art form, emphasizing the creative and aesthetic aspects of his work. This perspective highlights the cultural and personal significance of his craft beyond its commercial value.

πŸ’‘Sustainability

Sustainability in the context of traditional crafts refers to the ability to maintain these practices over time, economically, socially, and environmentally. The video showcases Saied's efforts to sustain his tile-making craft through adapting designs and offering apprenticeships, facing challenges such as high material costs and labor intensity.

Highlights

Saied Hussain keeps a 200-year-old tile-making tradition alive in Cairo.

This craft dates back to the 1800s with the advent of cheap cement.

Despite competition from other types of tiles, Saied remains dedicated to his craft.

Saied's process begins with sifting white cement into a fine powder.

He mixes pigments into the cement to achieve precise colors, showcasing his specialty in working with colors.

Saied uses stencils over 35 years old to pour each color into its own section of the tile.

He employs a mix of sand, cement, and limestone to ensure the tile patterns remain intact.

A hydraulic press is used to solidify the cement tiles in seconds.

Saied's skills were inherited from his father, who learned from Greek immigrants.

Cement tiles were popular in Europe during the 1800s and helped rebuild Belgium after World War I.

Shifts in the European tile market and the rise of ceramic and marble tiles in Egypt during the 1990s challenged his business.

High material costs and labor intensity have deterred new workers from entering the craft.

Saied has adapted by creating new, more affordable tile designs.

He and his team can produce up to 150 tiles a day, selling them locally for a modest price.

Saied offers free apprenticeships to ensure the survival of this traditional craft.