Ibrahim Said (b. 1976; Cairo, Egypt) creates ceramic vessels that take on gravity-defying shapes, with top-heavy bodies supported by sinuous legs and tentacles coiled into mobius strips. Cascading down their sides are intricate geometric patterns that mimic the interlacing designs of Islamic art and architecture. Each piece is made complete with a fine glaze, often in a burnished black that recalls the black-topped pottery of the ancient Egyptian Naqada period (4000 – 3000 BCE). Such historic references are hardly a coincidence: at the core of the Egyptian-American artist’s practice is a deep love and knowledge of his home country’s ceramic traditions. With his rigorous practice, Said celebrates his heritage while advancing quintessentially Egyptian motifs and forms towards new horizons.
Born into a family of potters and raised in Al Fustat, an area of Cairo famous for commercial pottery, Said’s interest in the medium emerged at six years old, when he began accompanying his father to his pottery studio. The artist’s work is influenced by the visual landscape of his childhood; walking to the studio every day, he passed buildings inlaid with relief carvings on doors and walls, which he now integrates into his vessels. The patterns are derived from jug filters characteristic to ceramicware from Egypt’s Fatimid Dynastic era (900 CE). Traditionally, these designs are painstakingly carved into interlaced shapes, animals, and flowers, these filters separate river sediment and particles out of the water, which then flows newly filtrated into the container. From the outside, the jugs appear to be completely unadorned and plain, as the filters reside inside the jugs’ necks. Only the drinker can peer into its neck and see the carved patterns. Said is intrigued by this concept of inward, private beauty, yet in his own work, he transposes it outward for all to see.
Said’s works have exhibited widely in the US and abroad, including at the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded him the Metcalf Award in 2020. The artist’s work is represented in the permanent collections across the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh; CEBIKO Museum, South Korea; Bait al-Baranda Museum in Oman; and the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cairo, among others. Said lives and works between Cairo and North Carolina.