Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: The egg is one of God’s perfect creations, its hard shell nurturing and bringing forth life. Farha Sayeed, a talented artist from Hyderabad 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 bejewelled eggs created for Russian royalty by the House of Faberge, decorating eggs is an art form that spans cultures around the globe. For Farha, working with eggs is 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 a lot of different arts,” she said. “I’ve done charcoal painting, aluminium foil work, glass painting and tile painting. Since I’ve always been fond of learning, when I came across egg art, I thought ‘Why not learn it.’”
Farha’s first lesson in egg art was in Qatar. “There was a lady who got me interested in this medium,” she said. “She taught me the basics: how to harden the egg, how to cut it, varnish it and 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 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 there is the white layer. It has a very shiny effect. Ostrich eggs are very difficult to work on because if you want to cut them you have to exert real pressure. Chances of 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 eggshells a shiny lustre, but I don’t have to use varnish with rhea eggs. They are naturally shiny,” said Farha.
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. Also 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.”
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. 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 seashells. 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 and duck eggs. These come in different colours. Duck eggs, for example, are greenish blue in colour. I use a lot of goose eggs. They are smaller in size and easier to handle, and they’re easily available as well.”
As Farha, her husband and three sons settle into life in Saudi Arabia, it is likely her art will pick up some new influences. “Inshallah, next year I will make my art public here. I have started bringing Arabian culture and Islamic themes into my designs. It is a joy to reflect my new surroundings in my work,” she said.
When an art lover becomes enamoured 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.”