New from Old: Designs Inspired by the Mamluk Minbars of Cairo

Omniya Abdel Barr discusses the “Rescuing the Mamluk Minbars Project of Cairo” and its impact on contemporary Egyptian craft and design.

In this conversation, Dr Omniya Abdel Barr of the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF) will present the Rescuing the Mamluk Minbars of Cairo Project, which aims to support the Egyptian government to document, restore and protect the historical wooden pulpits (minbars) of the medieval mosques of Cairo, after many were severely damaged and looted over the past two decades. Omniya will share examples of some of the intricate designs found on minbars, which attest to the high level of craftsmanship and innovation achieved during the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt (1250–1517). The EHRF also partnered with thirteen Egyptian designers and artisans to create prototypes inspired by the delicate and complex geometry and inlaid decoration on the minbars. These craftspeople and designers work in a range of artistic fields including textile appliqué of the tentmakers (khayamiyya), inlaid woodwork, ceramics, jewellery making, and fashion and interior design. Omniya will explain how the EHRF supported its partners to integrate geometric patterns and traditional skills within their work and will present the final products they produced. She will also share her observations and experiences of how cultural heritage has become an attractive selling point for local and international brands in today’s global market, while also providing social and economic support to local communities who are striving to revive their craft traditions.

Dr Omniya Abdel Barr is a conservation architect working in Cairo and London. She works at the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation and the Barakat Trust Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum working on the photographic archive of Professor K. A. C. Creswell. The Rescuing the Mamluk Minbars of Cairo Project was set up in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (Egypt) and is funded by the Cultural Protection Fund of the British Council in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (UK).

This conversation will be co-hosted by the series organizer, Dr Fahmida Suleman, Curator of Islamic Art & Culture, Royal Ontario Museum, and Dr Heba Mostafa, Assistant Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the Department of the History of Art, University of Toronto.

This event is the first of an eight-part monthly series entitled “Crafting Conversations: Discourses on the Craft Heritage of the Islamic World – Past, Present and Future,” an initiative of the Islamic Art and Material Culture Collaborative (IAMCC), Toronto, Canada.

The IAMCC is a new research network based in Toronto that brings together the capacities and resources of the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Aga Khan Museum. Its aim is to foster innovative and interdisciplinary research on the diverse arts and material cultures of the Islamic world in its broadest sense.

For more information on the series and the IAMCC, please visit: This event will be held via Zoom. If you have any questions or want to be added to the IAMCC mailing list please email: