Five years ago, in what she describes as her mid-life crisis, Catalina Constain bailed out on the monotony of a conventional life, and the Spanish dentist moved to Cairo to dedicate herself to something that naturally brightens our faces: toys!
She with her Colombian husband Eduardo Ortiz and Egyptian artist Elhamy Naguib opened the Graffiti Artistoys in Maadi three years ago, making us wonder, “Where have we been?”
The gallery, shop and atelier is a circus of toys for all ages: airplanes hover over a showroom of harlequin characters, magical creatures and wacky faces painted on puppets, dolls and figurines, piñatas, tambourines, model houses and transports of sorts; and its ring leaders are just as colourful.
Switching back and forth from their native Spanish to English, Catalina and Eduardo eagerly showed us their creations made from recyclables.
“Everything is recycled,” Catalina tells us as she points at giraffe made from an old wrapping tube and a soda can.
“Even I am recycled!” Eduardo adds.
Much too often, crafts made from recyclables look like crafts made from recyclables. But at Graffiti, you couldn’t tell unless someone squealed. Some pieces are made from old bottles, cans and gizmos, and others are made from scrap wood and paper. But each piece is handmade and one of a kind and its prices reflect.
Graffiti blurs the line that distinguishes a toy from a work of art (‘Artistoys’), with pieces starting at 50LE. The most expensive toy at 2,000LE is a sturdy, blue and orange horse made from wood and papier-mâché that we happily straddled for giggles.
Aside from its selection of toys, the shop also sells original paintings and prints by Elhamy. Through his acrylics, Elhamy commentates on his life and captures Egypt’s changing history. In one series, he depicts traditional dresses from different parts of Egypt that are now out of use.
“So you look at a dress like that and you can write a long history both as roots and surroundings. So I’m fascinated with recording my time because if you go there now, it’s no longer there,” he says.
The peppy trio also offers toy workshops by reservation or every Saturday, as well as drawing classes on Mondays for kids and adults at 90LE per one-hour session.
“Everyone thinks that art has this big halo and that only people with talent can do it. It’s not true. It’s a matter of practice and throwing yourself into it and we prove that. People come in and look at a toy and they say it’s very hard to do, but no it’s not hard, just come down and we’ll show you how to do it,” Elhamy says.
Whether you’re an adult-sized kid or a kid-sized adult, Graffiti Artistoys invites us to schedule a play date and relive a childhood that a kid could only wish for.
The shop and gallery nurses us back to a colourful childhood we wish we had.
28D Road 232 ,Digla
Open: 11am to 7pm Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 3:30pm Friday
Pricey toys, but one of a kind.