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In Search of Eggcellence: Farha Sayeed Brings Gift of Art to the Kingdom

By: Siraj Wahab

The egg is one of many of God’s perfect creations, its hard shell nurturing and bringing forth life. Now a talented Indian artist, who is living in Jeddah with her diplomat husband, is bringing eggs to life as beautiful and intricate works of art. From simple folk craft to the bejeweled eggs created for Russian royalty by the House of Faberge, decorating eggs is a long-standing art form that spans across cultures and around the globe.

For Farha Sayeed, working with eggs has become a passion, and through intricate carving and painting she finds a medium of self-expression that awes viewers with its beauty and detail. Her life with husband Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the Indian consul general in Jeddah, has been particularly well-suited to develop her art, as her travels doing the diplomatic business of India have exposed her to a variety of traditions and styles of egg design, which she has combined to make her own, unique creations.

“I had been doing lot of different arts,” the Hyderabad native told YaHind News in an exclusive interview. “I’ve done charcoal painting, aluminum-foil work, glass painting, tile painting — lots of different things. Since I’ve always been fond of learning, when I came across egg art, I thought ‘Why not learn it?’”

Farha was in Qatar at the time of her first class in egg art. “There was a lady who got me interested in this medium,” she said. “She taught me the basics — how to harden the egg, and how to cut it; how to varnish it and how to disinfect it.”

For a mother of three, it was a perfect diversion. “I started this as a hobby,” she said. “The best thing about it is that there’s no need to rush. If I am not in the mood, I’ll just leave it. But that is not the case with silk painting. You have to finish that in one sitting. With eggs, you can withdraw at any point. You can leave it for months.”

Each egg is intricately cut, carved and decorated by hand with pearls, beads, brocade, velvet, satin and rhinestone chains, making each piece one of a kind. Just like some sculptors say the figure is already in the stone, and it is up to the artists to bring it out, Farha, who works with a variety of different eggs, says each one has its own unique characteristics.

“An emu egg has three different layers to it,” she said. “When you scrape the outer layer, a light blue layer reveals itself. If you scrape a little deeper then there is the white layer. It has a very shiny effect. Ostrich eggs are the hardest of all eggs and very difficult to work on because if you want to cut them you have to exert real pressure. Chances of you breaking the egg shells are very high. Ostrich eggs are the biggest in size followed by common rhea eggs. I usually use varnish to give the egg shells a shiny luster, but I don’t have to use varnish with rhea eggs. They are naturally shiny.”

Much like the famous eggs of the House of Faberge, each of Farha’s creations is a unique treasure, some with little doors or opening panels cleverly carved into them. When the couple was posted to Copenhagen, Denmark, Farha’s egg art took flight and carried her to new heights of artistic acclaim when she came out of her shell and displayed a bevy of her own designs. For other members of the diplomatic community, the exhibit was amazing.

“Harsh Bhasin, the Indian ambassador to Denmark, said that he knew of only two eggs — fried and hard-boiled,” Farha said, smiling. “He was surprised to see the egg art. To him it was mind-boggling.”

The South African ambassador was surprised, too.

“In South Africa painted eggs are very common, but they seldom have multiple openings or carvings on the eggshell,” Farha said.

What was amazing to them was the beauty and variety of the display. “I try different themes, such as an Indian bride sitting in a palanquin, and each egg has its own name,” she said. “One is known as Nirvana; then there is the Hummingbird. There is Lovers (it has a heart opening) with a seashell stand. The most popular was Treasure Chest. It sold out the first day of the exhibition in Denmark last year.”

When an art lover becomes enamored with one of her creations, it is a special treat for Farha. “My egg, Musicality, has a violin in it,” she said. “A 75-year-old Indian man in Copenhagen wanted to give something rare to his fiancee. One particular creation at the exhibition took his fancy, and he immediately ordered it.”

There is one egg, however, that might be called her piece de resistance. This magnificent creation is called Queen’s Coach. “The Crown Prince of Denmark was getting married. There was an air of celebration in Copenhagen,” Farha said. “Streets were being decorated, and there was an air of good spirit. That inspired me to make a royal coach out of an ostrich egg. I did everything in one piece.”

No detail is overlooked, and even the egg’s stand forms part of the artwork. “I am always on the lookout for some great, offbeat stands,” Farha said. “I’ve even made some of them out of sea shells. When I am shopping, it is always at the back of my mind. Some of the most precious stands have been ordered from England.”

Keeping a stock of eggs also presents a challenge for Farha and her husband. “We order eggs over the Internet,” she explained. “Emu and rhea eggs are ordered from Texas, Australia and New Zealand. We order ostrich eggs from England and goose eggs from a farmhouse in Denmark. The ones that come from the farmhouse have to be emptied. That is a very cumbersome procedure. The most delicate ones are the pigeon eggs and the duck eggs. These eggs come in different colors. Duck eggs, for example, are greenish blue in color. I use a lot of goose eggs. They are smaller in size and easier to handle, and they’re easily available, as well.”

Farha’s family has a long history of artistic excellence. The family’s home in Jeddah’s Al-Hamra district is beautifully decorated with many of Farha’s works of art. It is easy to see how her talent has grown and evolved over the years. In this atmosphere it is natural that an appreciation for beauty would be encouraged. The couple’s three sons — Fateh, 13; Faleh, 10; and Azhaan, 6 — are becoming art lovers. “They enjoy seeing their mother at work,” Farha said. “They bring in their friends and say, ‘Oh Look! My Mamma did this.’ It makes me feel happy.”

And now as Farha, her husband and children settle into life in Jeddah, it is likely her art will pick up some new influences. “I am working on more pieces of art,” she said. “Inshallah, next year I will make my art public here in the Kingdom. I have started bringing Arabian culture and Islamic themes into my designs. It is a joy to reflect my new surroundings in my work.”

— Farha Sayeed has a website dedicated to her work. It can be accessed at: http://www.culturopedia.com/egg.htm. She can be reached on farhasayeed@hotmail.com.

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