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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Shafiqa el-Koptiyya? Or Not?


By Priscilla Adum


Shafiqa El Koptiyya? Or not?

The colorized photograph to the right of a turn-of-the-century Egyptian dancer named Shafiqa (or Chafika) was recently found in a box at an estate sale in New York. The contents of the box included a leather-bound folder full of photographs by turn-of-the-century Egyptian-Armenian photographer Gabriel Lekegian who worked in Egypt from the late 1860's onward.

Lekegian owned a photographic studio in Cairo during the 1880's, in Ezbekiya near the Shepherd Hotel. He took pictures of the pyramids, the tombs, temples, and different aspects of ethnic culture and dress. His photographs and his colorized photographs are rare.

This picture was found along with several other colorized photos in the folder and the studio identification number on it says: No. 226 Danseuse (Chafika). There also exists a black and white original version, though I don't know if that one came from the same folder.

The photo found in New York labeled "No. 226 Danseuse (Chafika)":


Click on this photo to see more detail.



The colorized version is dated 1900. The original is probably much older. So, is it Shafiqa el Koptiyya? I'm not sure. Comparing this with the other known photograph (to date) of Shafiqa which is shown to the right, the features and shape of the face are strikingly similar. Particularly the distinctive eyebrows.

It's also unlikely that another dancer would use the name Shafiqa at the same time when Shafiqa the Copt was the most famous dancer in Egypt, or that another dancer named Shafiqa would have been photographed by such a high-profile photographer as Gabriel Lekegian. His studio happened to be located quite close to the El Dorado Club where Shafiqa danced, in Ezbekiya Garden.

A photo known to be Shafiqa el-Koptiyya:


Click on this photo to see more detail.

Another post on Facebook shows a black and white version of this photo. (If this link doesn't work, try the one below.) The person who posted it wrote:

صورة لأحدى الراقصات ومكتوب ع الصورة اسمها شفيقة تاريخ الصورة 1900

which translates to:

A photo of a dancer. Written on the picture is the name Shafiqa. Photo Date 1900.

If the above link doesn't work, try searching Facebook for Shafiqa's name written in Arabic.


What do you think? Is the colorized photo Shafiqa el-Koptiyya or not? Compare these two close-ups and draw your own conclusion.



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About the Author

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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