When Dalia El Kady, co-founder of Khan Fokhar, noticed that the original pharaonic art of pottery-making no longer had strong roots in the Egyptian culture, she was keen on re-introducing it into the market. “Our knowledge about this art as Egyptians is limited to the “kolla” we buy from vendors on the street. We know Tunisian, Moroccan and Turkish pottery, but we do not fully understand that the hands of Egyptian artists are just as capable of creating equally beautiful products, and that is how Khan Fokhar was born,” explains El Kady.
“It did not make any sense to me that pottery was, in essence, a pharaonic art, and that today we rarely produce it, while other cultures have adopted and developed it. We also wanted to introduce the idea that you could own practical products fit for everyday use, but that also had an artistic twist.”
“Many people fail to appreciate the artistic value of handicrafts, especially those made in Egypt. Whenever I visit an exhibition abroad, I get the impression that people feel that just because something is made in Egypt, it must be of low quality and thus should cost little money, and this is what I want to change. I aim to make people associate high-quality pottery with Egypt,” she adds.
How Khan Fokhar Started
El Kady jump-started her project alongside her brother, Muhammad, and daughter Menna, both of whom also have a deep-rooted passion for transforming Egyptian handicrafts into something great. Both El Kady and her brother studied business, while her daughter studied mass communication, combining her work as a media developer with her work at Khan Fokhar. El Kady infuses her work at Pléverre, a company that specializes in the design and production of plexiglass, with Khan Fokhar.
“Growing up, I witnessed firsthand how my uncle would take simple items lying around the house and turn them into beautiful pieces of art. He had a very artistic eye and he was the reason why I try to find the beauty in things. I always wonder, for example, why almost all people in Cairo never place flowers in their balconies, although with weather like ours, there really is nothing easier than growing your own flowers,” El Kady says.
The first thing El Kady’s family did before starting Khan Fokhar was study the market. “We would take our designs and try to find a pottery maker who would execute it for us, but all our attempts were unsuccessful as none of them delivered a finished product on time, until we met the artist we are currently working with, Mohammed El Gendy, the son of famous artist Samir El Gendy, and we formed a collaboration where our products are basically a mix of our own and El Gendy’s designs,” El Kady recounts.
As for the choice of the name, El Kady explains that Khan refers to “shop” or “place.” “The name had to be Egyptian, and I had to use the word ‘Fokhar’ (Arabic for pottery) to express the core of what we are doing. I did not want to choose a foreign name like most businesses nowadays do, and I wanted people to say ‘Fokhar’ and not ‘pottery’. I also love Khan El Khalili; it is a place that I feel perfectly captures the Egyptian culture, and this is where ‘Khan Fokhar’ came from.”
The Process of Pottery Making
Pottery, she explains, is just like humans—created from earth. “We start the design process on the wheel, which is where you get to experiment with the shape and design. Whenever I suggest a design, I am usually inspired by colors, nature and the season we are in.”
“Once the design is ready, you have to allow the clay to dry for three or four days, and sometimes more depending on the temperature. It is then placed inside a special oven to go through the biscuit firing. At this point, it completely dries out and we start the drawing or coloring process, before adding the glaze and returning the piece to the oven for the last firing. A few days later, the final product is ready. The whole process takes anywhere between 10 to 15 days,” El Kadi mentions.
The entire experience is a mixture between enjoyment and challenge. “Creating a piece of pottery proves that anything I can imagine can be brought to life, and I find happiness when I play around with ideas and colors. With pottery, you should always expect the unexpected and be ready for a surprise, which reminds me of a child receiving a present,” she says.
“However, accidents do happen. Pottery is man-made and so it is prone to mistakes and inconsistencies. “Sometimes items break inside the oven and sometimes the color does not turn out exactly as expected, and so we have to redo the work from scratch while trying to deliver the products to our clients on time. We live in a world where almost everything we own is manufactured by machines, a world that does not understand that handmade art cannot be perfect. It proves to be difficult to explain to our clients that pottery products are like non-identical twins. If a client, for example, requests four plates, it is virtually impossible for all four of them to be the exact same size and color. We try to help our clients see the beauty of human inconsistencies,” she adds.
Despite difficulties, El Kady insists that, with every single project, she eagerly awaits the end result. “It is like you are holding your breath to see your very own personal print.”
She also explains that they have recently started burning their pottery products through the pit firing technique. “It is something that most Egyptians know little about. I was not familiar with it until I started working with our artist and reading more about pottery making. What you do is wrap the piece, bury it in a hole in the ground that is filled with wood shavings or sand, and you burn it. You get to witness the natural influences of the earth on your pottery and the results are mesmerizing.”
The Future of Khan Fokhar
El Kady hopes to introduce the concept of using pottery cookware as a healthy alternative to traditional pots and pans to every household in Egypt and the region, which not only would look artistic, but that would also add a distinctive flavor to food.
“I want people all over the world to recognize the name Khan Fokhar and to have the non-Egyptian eye admire our handicrafts and have confidence in it,” El Kady notes.
“I also hope people would appreciate the personal effort the artist puts into each one of his pieces. I want to change the mindset of people; handicrafts are unique because they are manufactured by hand, and that should never undermine their value,” she concludes.