Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Allepo and Syria

We loved Syria-for one I am besotted by textiles and it is still possible to find textiles worn as part of costume in various parts of Syria but mostly because the people are warm and friendly and incredibly helpful. It was nothing for a waiter who had served us coffee ,once, to walk50 metres out of the cafe where he worked to help us explain to a taxi where we were going ( though we had not asked him when having coffee)- plus negotiating a very good price for the fare which were incredibly cheap in any case.The souq in Damascus was amazing and the Souq in Allepo whilst not as captivating as the one in Damascus was also a delight.I am looking forward to returning to Syria next year .

Due to commitments with the exhibition we did not travel out of Damascus much or Allepo- but that is what curating is all about- being the public face of an exhibition and because people were so very interested we needed to be there all the time to talk and explain about the work and to stop touching- because of course these are textiles and like all viewers looking ( even those ones where there are white glove police on guard) at textile the instinct to touch is reflexive as far as I am concerned- to hold between your fingers and rub. So for future exhibitins I curate i think I will ask artists to make a small touch piece- for textiles is all about touch and to prohibit touching is like an act of denial.

We did see one small village of beehive domed buildings- but as this was on the outskirts of Allepo and the people favoured the more modern ( but very ugly) cement brick constructions it was in a state of dilapidation. I hope the pictures give some indication of the method of construction and some of the delight of their structure- they are entirely built of mudbricks without support apart from the mudbricks themselves- which means of course they are subject to the vagaries of the weather over time. We did visit one that was still inhabited by a family of 8 with mattresses neatly piled against the wall ( these are one room constructions) and otherwise furnished with that piece of equipment with which modern life can't seem to function- and I don't mean the fridge or washing machine- but the TV- the utter uselessness of the western propaganda and colonisation that this piece of equipment feeds into the daily lives of poor people whose cultural and social structures are so different to ours , leaves me feeling sad-it destroys so many things that are unique and wonderful and warm by the homegenisation of what tv moguls consider appropriate.

The installation photo of Across Australia is in Teeshereen Gallery in Allepo replete with a working fountain with soapie bubbles.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Damascus and Allepo

In a hurry- so here are photos of Crac des Chevaliers- aren't the arches fabo??- will write some more later....


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Last Call for Across Australia Catalogues

Sorry about the no photos- I can't load them from here so after I get back to Cairo tonight I shall be posting quite a lot of photos!

Ok I have two more days in Cairo and then head onto Dubai. The Across Australia catalogues I have left are too heavy to carry home in light of the textile treasures that have found their way into my suitcase. So this is your last chance to buy them. Email me on dcevaal@gmail.com or dcevaal@hotmail.com if you would like one. Cost inclusive of airmail from Cairo is $25 Aus, $20 US, 20 euros or 12 ounds sterling.

Also here is part of my report regarding the reception of the exhibtion in Syria
The quilts have been well received in Syria. In Damascus the DeputyMinister of Culture opened the exhibition and spent more than an houradmiring the exhibition , and was most complimentary about the work.Thevenue Khan Assad Pasha was spectacular- it is a 18th century caravanserai.Many of the leading artists and university fine arts lecturers were inattendance and continued to attend over the four days it was open. Jennyand I were invited to also deliver a lecture to the faculty of Fine Artsat Damascus University the day after the exhibition finished about thework and everyone was so enthusiastic. One thing we have noticed is theamount of time taken to study each and every quilt- and the enthusiasmwith which people respond- and I would say as many men if not more haveattended the exhibition as women.This is a country where people areknowledgeable about textiles and where men and women have a tangiblecultural connection with textiles and aren't afraid to show it.Sculptorshave responded to the textural possibilities and the tactile elements and others are responding to pattern and have been inspired to think of newways of responding to their own traditional patterns.They all without fail,thank you the artists, for letting your work come to their country.Likewise the response in Allepo has been enthusiastic and the setting wasa gallery belonging to the art academy. Allepo is the modern textilecapital of Syria so again people are knowledgeable about textiles. Openingnight had people spilling down the stairs of the gallery and cataloguesran out as they were in high demand. Fashion designers have come to lookat our treatment of fabric as well as other well known artists.The next leg is Kuwait the week after next. We are still negotiating othervenues in the region and Abu Dhabi now looks set.e exhibition in Syria.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

From Syria with Love and without Pictures

Sorry no photos- tomorrow I hope.
In one word- Syria is fantastic! We spent 8 days in Damascus. It took about 2 days to set up Across Australia in Khan Assad Pasha an 18th century carvanserai and it was freezing inside the big stone building. We then spent the next five days taking turns sitting the exhibition and scouring the souq with Jenny. Damascus is a textile artists' paradise-and alas we are on a limited budget. Still the stall holders we met, kindly allowed us to photograph try on and touch- Syrian embroidered dresses, silk woven in Damascus, embroidered over dresses , hats ,scarves, tassels, threads and you name it- and then the Yemeny jewellery and ear rings and and....
Syrians seriously love food and sweets. The food has been wonderful and very affordable- the mezze table is a delight.We visited some wonderful restaurants situated in the old style houses in the inner part of the city- the ambience of these is just delightful and the fruit juice in one, Beit Shamy was just the best- seriously wonderful lemon and mint juice!

The response to Across Australia was also fantastic- quilters listen to this..... more men visited the exhibition than women ( and Syria is a very secular country, so women are out and about just as much as the men) and they looked very intently asked pertinent questions and were full of praise for our quilts. The deputy minister who opened the exhibition spent more than an hour and a half at the exhibition and asked to be told about each quilt .

More tomorrow!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Alternative Modes of Transport

Cairo is a huge grinding city with too many cars for a city which really is not large in area ,bounded as it is by the valley of the Nile and the desert which sits within sight from the Nile. However apart from cars there are still many horses and donkeys pulling their loads particularly in the poorer parts of Cairo and around the fresh food market areas, for the farmers bring their produce from the surrounding countryside. And of course there is the camel. The police out at Giza, Saqqara and Dashur ride camels, and Celeste got to ride one at the Red Pyramid inclusive of the machine gun strapped just behind her left foot. Its not often a girl gets to ride a machine gun toting camel!

Across Australia- those of you who wanted a catalogue can you please email on dcevaal@hotmail.com- as I tried clicking your links and they did not work.

Yesterday was my 50th birthday as well as the finals of the All Africa's cup. I have to say when I was 30 I dreamt of riding in a sports car through the streets of Paris in Lucy Jordan style ( Marianne Faithfull), when I turned 40 I was knee deep in small children under the age of 5 and now that I have turned 50 I got to sail on the Nile on a felucca with the name Paris. Jenny had arranged it all, so towards sunset we set off towards Maadi with picnic and wine with Celeste, Jenny's son and daughter and friends- the boats name was coincidental. Earlier in the day we had had an interview and photo session with the Egyptian equivalent of Home Beautiful about Across Australia and Jenny's wonderful quilts which look stunning on the large wall spaces in the residence- that took more than 4 hours ( even with us saying we had to leave by 3pm) and Jenny and I had to sit ,hand sewing, for photos ( how is this going to look???) Anyway the evening ended with Egypt beating Ivory Coast in a penalty shoot out- there was honking of cars well into the wee hours of the morning and no doubt many happy Egyptians. My one thought about all this was- excellent birthday, but does quilting make us as happy as football makes its fans? Perhaps we ought to be more demonstrative in our passion or inject the happy happy factor?

And last but not least on Wednesday night we gave a demonstration at the Sudanese Community Centre in Cairo- the day had been swirling with dust and sand from a dust storm that blew out of the desert. These women were so enthusiastic- they were smitten and took to free machining like nobody's business. We received, as present for our time, hand made leather whips-surely one of the more unusual gifts I have received and I can see many uses for it!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Dyers Khan

Today the wind is blowing a gale and dust and sand is coming in from the desert- but Egypt won their semi final in the Africa's cup football match so the beeping of horns and estatic fans celebrating lasted well into the morning hours.

Today we pull down the Across Australia exhibition ready for it snext leg of travelling. If anyone would like a catalogue they are $25 AUS ( $20 US/20 Euros) inclusive of postage. I am not carrying these back to Australia they are too heavy.It is in full colour and showcases all 28 quilts.

We went to Bub Zuwela and the dyers Khan the day before yesterday. They were dyeing the most gorgeous blue in the dyers Khan as you can see from the photos ( and you can click on the collages and get larger versions) as well as orange and brown.The conditions for working are quite atrocious as you can see but the product is beautiful- like so much in Egypt.

I am fascinated by the mobile food carts and the beautifully stacked fruit stalls- these are often a riot of colour in a city that is dusty and is largely dust col0ured . Kushari is often the food prepared in these carts- a mixture of macaroni, rice , vermicelli, lentils and chick pies topped with deep fried onion and a tomato sauce.

And then there is chairs- there are many chairs in stalls and out on the street - to sit and drink tea, and when you go to a stall chairs materialise form nowhere so that you sit and have tea- you pass the time of day before the serious businessof buying occurs and then there is the nargilehs which are often beside the chairs.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Last Friday

Last Friday we went to a junk market on the outskirts of the City of the Dead.This is a very poor part of Cairo with all dirt streets and refuse on the streets everywhere. The people are also very poor. We had been warned that there was junk with the odd moment of treasure. Well there really was junk- some of which when you looked at it, no one could have any possible use for. The place was packed with people who were milling everywhere and the place was interspersed with mobile food carts and little tea huts where the men smoke the water cooled nargilehs.Often these huts are a couple of chairs under a ramshackle shelter on dirt floors and ingrained with dirt.The photos I have taken exude a certain charm and there certainly there was an element of that, with eclectic collections of all sorts of hotch-potch junk, and I as a photographer looked for the most picturesque arrangement, which is far from a true picture. People here are poor, very poor, their income almost nil and there are no social services in Egypt- the dirt here is the dirt of centuries, and the water is not the best. Donkey carts are still the mode of transporting most things as well as scooters which bip incessantly for foot traffic to move out of the road ( in fact most of Cairo bips its horns incessantly but it is not the insistent bang on, road rage type of endless beep ,of get out of my road or else ,but more a reminder that the car/taxi/scooter is there). The photo with the colours in it was actually things for sale- mostly broken toys- broken dolls heads and plastic guns and other plastic junk- it is hard to imagine that anyone would want any of this.This is also the place where all old computer monitors go- there were hundreds and hundreds.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Walking Today

Today we went for another walk through the Khan al Kalili area but this time through the area towards the North wall and much less frequented by tourists. I enjoy seeing what people who live in a place like Cairo themselves do- what kind of food do they buy- what kind of things do they cook in- how do they pass the day? We also visited Bayt Suhaymi a house dating from 1648 which was partially destroyed by an earthquake and restored with help from the United nations.It has wonderful mashrabiyya and a wonderful "blue"tiled room plus some pretty wonderful floor tiles in the public rooms.
I am also very fond of doors and arches- and some of the doors in Cairo are pretty spectacular- the carving intricate , and in the one pictured a finely crafted metal overlay which has green cast to it which contrasted beautifully with the rich brown of the wood.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mere Ruka Dig

Yesterday we went to Saqqara and in particular the Mere Ruka dig. The photos I am sharing is the paraphernalia of a dig as the tomb and burial chamber is still largely unpublished.Professor Naguib Kanawati had invited Jenny and Bob Bowker and their daughter Tabbitha and Celeste and I to come and see the dig they are involved with. Professor Naguib Kanawati is one of Australia's foremost Egyptologists and what a delighful host he was. We felt incredibly privileged to see Mere Ruka's tomb ( he was the vezir to King Teti the first king of the 6th Dynasty- Mere Ruka married Teti's eldest daughter and as Teti had nine daughters the son of his eldest daughter- the wife of Mere Ruka- was to succeed to the throne ,that is ,until Teti had a 10th child late in life who turned out to be a son. It is also believed amongst some that Teti was assasinated ) through the eyes of a passionate expert- and with his words and descriptions he made the place come alive. We were fortunate to be able to visit the burial chamber which is not open to the public. It is a special burial chamber in that it shows the various stages of the creation of the artwork found in the chambers- so from grids, to red line cartoons, to blackline drawings and filling in to colouring on the back wall. We were also treated to some coffee and Egyptian pastries down in the chamber- never thought I would do that! The Mere Ruka tomb is only partly published and Professor Kanawati is writing a full catalogue of its contents ( 6 volumes)

They are also excavating behind the tomb and have found a cemetry of sarcophaguses- yesterday they found a partially intact one whilst we were there.There was still some linen from the mummy there as well as turquoise beads amongst the dirt- it was estimated that it was from the late period 500-700 BC. We then went onto some other tombs not open to the public- one a small three roomed one with carvings and painting still fully coloured. They were fabulous including an intact sarcophagus.The paintings are delightful showing many episodes of daily life. We came home feeling as if we had been given a very special treat indeed.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I was going to show some photos of the silk cord spinning we saw in the City of the Dead yesterday but then i came across the photo of this chap- and well really he is worth a photo all on his own! We encountered him just outside the glass blowing workshop we went to just outside of the City of the Dead- it is a very poor part of Cairo and people have difficulty finding money for their daily bread- yet we encountered courtesy and curiosity and this man, who is a water carrier, dispenses glasses of water to thirsty passers by. In the more well to do parts of Cairo these men are donned in picturesque garb and this man has tried to make do in the best way he could manage. Note the glasses under his right arm for the water, his jug adorned with fake plastic leaves and lemons- and the belt that holds it all ,made of various things twined around a central band which holds his water jug and which looks as if it has been built up over the years. I asked this man if I could take his photo- and he graciously agreed .

And yes cats are the same the world over- the ginger one in the basket lives at the supermarket close by to where we are staying- and she is very friendly- and loves to be stroked. I am not sure whether cats are still revered in the way they once were.Posted by Picasa