Mastering Craft: Illuminating Cairo with SAL by Salsabeel Amin
Contemporary lighting is the new age chandelier.
As modern millennials we have a much different aesthetic perspective than previous generations. My parents, for example, went about furnishing our home using a more Renaissance inspired look and feel, with elements that alluded to our cultural heritage here in Cairo and in the Middle East. By this I mean Persian rugs, a lot of them, wood and brass adorned furniture, gold appliques, and marble flooring, not to mention a plethora of massively flamboyant crystal and glass encrusted chandeliers. Not that I don't respect this aesthetic, but as a modern woman, I lean towards more minimal preferences. I enjoy products that do the job without taking over a space. Less is more is the general theme these days, and quite frankly I love it.
Salsabeel Amin is a young Egyptian Architect and Product Designer based in Cairo. She is the founder of SAL, a brand dedicated to contemporary or industrial lighting design. All her products are handmade from locally sourced materials here in Egypt, and hand assembled by a team of proficient craftsmen lead by Salsabeel.
So how does one go about specializing in Lighting Design, and what level of craftsmanship is required to tap into such a niche and intricate sector of product design? I sat down with Salsabeel to talk architecture, masters and how she channeled her love of light fixtures and interiors into a full time job.
During her undergrad studies as an Architecture student she would always be drawn to working on the interior details within any structure she was constructing, specifically focusing on details such as the light fixtures. She credits architecture to helpong her develop critialc thining skills and become a solution oriented deisgner.
Upon graduating she took up a job at a Lebanese lighting firm here in Cairo, this allowed her to zero in on a passion she had been entertaining for a while. From very early on Salsabeel knew the importance of mastering craft, of learning how things work, how design really works, and how to be able to make something using your own two hands.
In light of this philosophy, she did some research and decided to join a masters program entitled "Design of Product and Space." at Kingston University in the UK. This was a well rounded, hands on, comprehensive course that encouraged self learning and craftsmanship. Allowing its students, including Sal to divert into a field of design and learn how to quite literally make their products in a workshop from scratch.
Mastering craft was a vital part of the growth and inception of SAL. From glass blowing, to brass welding, circuit connections, selecting materials, and designing the product itself to make it look interesting from a contemporary perspective; she is able to do it all. In her own words, the workshop was a place of extreme frustration, followed by absolute addiction to the ability to build what you envision on paper and turn it into a real life functioning object.
On moving back to Cairo, with the equivalent know-how of ten different artisanal men in this country, she found it hard to integrate into the workshops of our patriarchal city. The craftsmen here could not grasp that a young woman such as herself, was able to understand their delicate and complicated techniques; let alone make the things they have been making for over 30 years now, by herself, with no help or difficulty.
It was a struggle for her as a female artisan to break into this predominantly male dominated sector in Egypt. To find trustworthy craftsmen to work with, and workshops that produced reliable and timely work. Each and every piece she created for her first collection "Ore" would need to be checked by her first before being meticulously packaged, and sent off to her customers.
Ore is the first locally sourced and produced collection by SAL. The main materials used in this collection came from the Earth, hence the name Ore, each lighting fixture was made of a combination of glass, brass, and marble.
The concept behind this collection was to revive ancient techniques and utilize them in a contemporary manner. Creating modern light fixtures using the same methods of production that have been used for years and years. As Salsabeel pointed out during our conversation, many craftsmen in Cairo lack the ability to design but posses the skills to create and craft raw materials.
When asked how big a role her masters program played in the inception of SAL, Salsabeel's response was clear, "I couldn't have done it without learning the craft myself ... you cannot speak to a Sanai3y or Craftsman in Egypt unless he is sure you know exactly what you are talking about."
SAL is a brand that embodies the process of design and the art of mastering craft. From sketching a design, to selecting the raw materials, to producing each piece of the fixture, and assembling the final product. All throughout a concept is being developed, an idea and a vision are being executed, and so with these light fixtures most importantly and above all, you get a story told through light.
You can find her contemporary light fixtures at Maison 69, Furnex, C Reality, Eklego and they can be ordered online through her Instagram page @sal.bysalsabeelamin.