Dina Amin is a chronic do-it-yourselfer.
When I met the 26-year-old Egyptian designer at her home in New Cairo City in August, she was an upcycler and stop-motion animator. Since then she’s added welder to her resume and is engrossed in reviving age-old animation techniques.
In exploring Cairo, we found this restless learning among many of the city’s creatives. From amateur director Selim El Sadek who documented Cairo’s underground youth to fashion designer Amna Elshandaweely who creates short films to promote her ranges, designers in Egypt are never just one thing.
For Amin, it started with Tinker Friday, a stop-motion animation project she released on Instagram.
She takes an electronic device that was either broken or about to be thrown out and takes it apart in a stop-motion film. Sometimes she puts them back together again, creating a quirky character or storyline.
It’s fun, entertaining and beautifully put together, but it also has a deeper meaning. Amin is inspired by a group of people that come up often in discussions about Cairo: the people of Garbage City.
Called the Zabbaleen, the recyclers of Garbage City, a slum at the far southern end of Manshiyat Naser on the outskirts of Cairo, play an integral role in Egypt’s waste management.
According to an article in Forbes, by picking through and sorting the garbage in the city, the Zabbaleen are able to recycle four times more than conventional waste management companies.
It’s a profitable but hazardous life and they aren’t nearly as respected as they should be, says Amin. “I like that they were able to see value in what others threw away. They found opportunities in that and started their whole life and their own business out of this. Meanwhile, people who had a very good formal education were not able to see the same value.
I think they’re not given the support that they really deserve from both the government and the community that they’re serving.”
Their story made Amin analyse her own education and purpose. Trained in industrial design, she’d always wanted to make things that would add value to people’s lives. But, maybe, we already have enough things.
“After finishing college and also during college, I always felt that a lot of the things that we design end up thrown away and it really made me feel that design is somehow being wasted,” she explains.
“I kept thinking, questioning whether we actually need all the things that we produce and that led me to my Tinker Project.”
Amin releases her work to a following of over 6000 on Instagram. By using social media, she’s able to push her work further than Cairo. As the most developed of the Egypt’s cities, Cairo is the creative hub of the country. This, Amin says, is a boundary many creatives must try to cross.
“The creative scene in Egypt is unfortunately only centred in Cairo and not all Egypt. So we’re missing the diversity of other cities and the creative input of others,” she says. “I think if more and more designers start presenting their work and their creative solutions more people would see how design is affecting and solving major problems for the community and the whole country.”
Along with that, comes the challenge to be commercially viable and passionate at the same time. Amin completes commercial stop animation films for brands like the BBC Arabic while trying to find time to work on her own projects.
“I think generally, most designers, after finishing school, when they’re faced with the real world, they don’t find the job that they were hoping for and then they settle for something that pays the bills. It doesn’t necessarily offer them a way to present their ideas or allow them the opportunity to develop their ideas further and really be able to tackle problems in Egypt or offer creative solutions,” she muses. “This is why people don’t see the importance of design. Somehow the designers are being stopped from actually becoming designers.”