In an oasis town in Egypt’s Western Desert, Omar Khattab, a blacksmith nicknamed Omar “Tiger”, makes tools by hand for the region’s agricultural industries. Inspired by Roman and Pharaonic styles, Khattab was once known for carving decorative statues out of stone, a craft which he had taught himself since childhood. In 2005, Khattab began receiving threats from members of the local community, who claimed his statues depicting animals were forbidden in Islam. When he refused to stop his work, a group of masked men wielding hammers ransacked his shop and beheaded his animal sculptures.
Fearing for his family’s safety, Khattab stopped selling his artwork, but continues to make statues in the secrecy of a small workshop that he built from palm tree branches at the back of his house. The remnants of his damaged works, including the headless statues of a lion and a rooster, are embedded within the brick walls of his home.
Today, Omar Khattab is one of the few people in the region producing handmade farming equipment that is sold both locally and in Upper Egypt. He hopes that as Siwa opens itself up more to tourism, mentalities in this traditional society will become more accepting, and he may one day be able to reopen his shop in safety.