Born in Nubia, specifically from the village of Maria, she fell in love with Nubians and their heritage. She complemented her passion with study to design jewellery with a Nubian spirit to preserve its identity and keep pace with the changes of the era to produce a costume with a national character.
Hagar Nabil graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Decor and Interior Architecture in 2003, and received her master’s degree in decoration and a doctorate in ancient Egyptian art.
After graduating, she worked as a decorative engineer. In 2005, she went to study jewellery and learned about ancient Egyptian religion and hieroglyphics at the Faculty of Archaeology in order to understand the significance of ancient art pieces and to use them in pieces of jewellery. She received several grants from the UAE and the European Union to study the art of jewellery. Daily News Egypt interviewed Hagar Nabil, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
How were your first steps toward art?
I liked painting and art from a young age. My first wish was to join the Faculty of Fine Arts after high school. I achieved my dream and studied in the Department of Interior Decoration and Architecture.
The study of arts is close, and the foundations of design with all the arts are fixed, and my studies of interior architecture exposed me to theatre and its decorations, which was close to the art of jewellery.
At the doctoral stage, I studied in the Department of Art History, which allowed me to see various arts. I studied Pharaonic and Islamic styles, Arabic calligraphy, the art of jewellery, and the art of ceramics. In fact, it was an opportunity to enrich my culture from every art, including the art of jewellery.
But the story began as a student, as I liked to wear pieces of my design, I put ideas and elements of the Nubian environment into them. I made them at silver shops near college in Zamalek.
What bothered me so much was that I found these pieces in the shop’s products, because I would love to wear my own pieces and my designs.
Unfortunately, there is no intellectual property right in Egypt that protects the rights of designers, and we still suffer from that.
Did the Nubian environment affect your work, be it decoration or jewellery?
I did not live in Nubia, because I belong to the old Nubia that was displaced, but I inherited it as part of the family’s legacy of the pieces of jewellery, clothes, customs, and traditions that are still our own.
I inherited the love of jewellery. Nubia is rich with its jewellery and costumes. Gold is also famous in Nubia. Nubia in Coptic language means gold, so Nubia was the place where ancient Egyptians brought gold. Hence, it was called the land of gold.
What materials did the Nubian jeweller use?
Nubian ornaments were originally gold and then gold was replaced with silver, but there are still a few, as Nubian women love gold. With the decline of economic conditions, they began to use copper tipped gold.
Did the Nubian jeweller leave many ornaments?
Unfortunately, many pieces of jewellery bearing the Nubian heritage were sold, smelted, and re-put in new gold works, and a few of them remain in museums.
After graduating from college, I met one of the Nubian ladies and she owned a shop selling jewellery and accessories in Zamalek. She admired my work and I started designing for her and doing the pieces in her own workshop.
My work was accepted and was popular among the ladies, and I produced for many of them.
She advised me to turn to jewellery, and indeed I studied the design of jewellery and learned more by visiting the workshops. I also identified different types stones and met the best workers in each stage of jewellery making.
I dealt with industrialists and learned at the hands of a Jewish jeweller of the highest form in his time, I learned the art of gold and silver from the beginning, from the determination of the calibre through to the casting and the formation to complete the implementation of the piece and the polishing and installation of stones.
Were you designing and making your own pieces or using the help of workers?
I stayed for a long time until the revolution dealing with a workshop and only created the designs.
I did not implement any pieces of jewellery myself, but I learned a lot from this and other people and studied every corner in the field, which enabled me to move to a new stage in my life, especially after this craftsman stopped working after the revolution.
I also suffered a lot from people stealing my designs and imitating them in the market, so I had to rely on myself and start a new training phase to implement in my own workshop.
I received a grant from the UAE to study the basics of jewellery, and then got courses in design at the Jewellery Technology Centre at the ministry of commerce and industry.
I also received a grant from the European Union for the design of jewellery under the name of the Prime Project to promote training among generations in Mediterranean countries.
For a year and a half, I was trained to carry out the pieces myself without any intervention from anyone. It was an important stage to gain experience in implementation and to create my own style.
After that, I owned a special workshop, and I have a factory that implements my designs and sometimes I try to implement some of them. It is important that the industrialist feels that you can dispense with them and that you have the experience to carry out any piece of jewellery.
What are these “motif” elements and Nubian forms that you use in your work?
Most of my pieces tend to carry Nubian heritage, as it was linked to the environment and life so all of its elements are composed of the triangle to express the Nile water or the pyramid. I also use the sun in two forms, one of triangles, and another made of circles. I also use Nubian art in abstract.
What pieces of Nubian jewellery did women prefer to wear in the past?
Nubian women were so proud of their jewellery that they wore a part of it during their long hard days in the field.
The bride wore the palm or the rings and bracelets connected to them with a chain covering the back of the hand, and the woman wore the “story of the Rahman” and it is one of the pieces presented to the bride for marriage, a piece of triangular gold placed on the front and worn only by married women. The groom also offers his bride in morning an anklet made of silver.
The Jagged necklace is the most important piece for the Nubian bride, consisting of six flat pieces and round gold beads, in the centre of which is the main medal. Most of the gold beads in Nubian jewellery originated in the Pharaonic era.
The Nubian woman wore the “pia” necklace, a symbol of the grand stature. The pia consists of six phalanx-shaped pendants, which together form a complete girdle engraved with prominent stars and crescents. The famous Nubian olives are placed between the necklaces.
The Nogar necklace is one of the most common pieces for Nubian women. It was used as an antidote to envy, resembling tablets decorated with five-pointed flowers.
What is the technique the people of Nubia use in making jewellery?
They use carving on metal whether for protruding designs or engraved designs, or using meals in simple forms in Nubian jewellery, which is limited to only the outer frame of the piece.
Nubian jewellers have also used stone paste in studs in pieces of jewellery instead of precious stones.
The enamel was not used in the jewellery of Nubian women, rather, I used it in pieces to keep up with modernity and is met with demand by the younger generations
What are the disadvantages of Nubian jewellery?
I cannot say disadvantages as every art has elements that govern it and its people, but I can point out that the cutting of Nubian ornaments such as folk ornaments, which are large and heavy, are no longer met with demand by women currently.
How would you address people abroad if you had to?
I see that the best thing I do in my designs is to convey the spirit of the Egyptian Nubian environment in my work, and the Egyptian environment is rich with arts, including the jewellery of the Pharaonic, Nubia, folk, Islamic, and Coptic eras.
I try to design pieces of jewellery bearing the national character and Egyptian content to reach people and foreigners admire arts that they have not grown up with.
An example is the art of Naguib Mahfouz; he started local then became global. He used language and the Arab warm heritage in his work, and it was admired.
The same goes for making jewellery, which reflects Egyptian heritage.
I travelled extensively abroad and I wore a costume of my design, and it was admired by Arab women, and some of them asked me to make them similar pieces.
Indeed, I executed some of the designs they asked me to do, and that happened in many countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
How did you face inflation and the low purchasing power of citizens recently?
I have tried a lot to reduce my profit margin, especially since the artistic aspect is more important to me than the commercial aspect. The high prices of raw materials led to the high cost of jewellery pieces.
But I also produce pieces of jewellery according to the ability of customers and I have a variety of raw materials. The implementation of the piece of gold with another metal is preferably silver or copper-plated gold.
Most of my clients prefer to wear gold-plated copper pieces.
What were the most important requests of artists you worked with?
Recently, there has been an increased demand by artists for Nubian jewellery, some of which were the beginning of my dealing with diamond-cut pieces, but they changed their minds and preferred to wear the Nubian heritage of gold and silver.
Some female celebrities have pointed out that they wore pieces of your design in Ramadan. Tell us more about that.
Heba Al-Abbasiri wore my Cobra necklace and earring from the Queen’s collection that combines the lotus and the snake. She wore it during the events of TV series “Alamet Estefham” (Question Mark). I consider her the mascot of this collection.
Wafaa Amer has also worn a Nubian earring during the events of the series of “Hekayty” (My Story) 2019. International artist Elise Lebec also wore an earring and necklace of my design.
Eman Al Sherif, Director of Corporate Responsibility at the Egyptian Banking Institute at the Central Bank of Egypt also work a necklace and ring from the collection “Al-Tali” during the World Conference of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. She received compliments by many attendees who saw her wearing the pieces, according to her.
Others who wore my work were Maha Bahnasy, Dina Nosseir, Asmaa Abou El Yazed, Sahar Noah, and others.
What is the most important collection you launched?
They were “Allah Mahaba” (God is Love), “Beit Nuby” (Nubian House), “Al Maleka” (The Queen), and “Al Tali” (Next).
The collection of the queen combines the lotus flower and the cobra, which – in the ancient Egyptian civilisation – symbolises the daughter of Ra and his eyes. Cobras were placed on the crowns of the kings of Egypt and above their brows to protect them. Cobras protected Ra from the forces of chaos and darkness.
Why have you not tried to work at major jewellery companies?
Working in big companies kills creativity and transforms the designer into an employee, and deprives the designer of his moral right to develop design ratios, to the point that he cannot put his name on his designs and people never know who the designer is.
Designers are restricted and will only be able to implement their ideas under the directions of the marketing department. Companies are always looking for “high-selling” pieces, which turns creative work into a business.
Additionally, when you work on your own you are establishing your own brand, and you have the right to risk introducing new products with ideas which differ from the market, and that gives success another taste.
What is the next step?
I am thinking of creating an jewellery exhibition with a flair of different arts, bringing together the pharaonic, Islamic, folk, and Nubian designs and so on.
What is your advice for new designers?
Studying, reading, and not rushing. Designers need more time to gain experience, as well as learning and going through many experiences.
A quick success means a quick failure.