Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Tentmakers of Chareh el Khiamiah

I have been lucky to have travelled to many places  as a result of curating quilt exhibitions and trying to show off Australian art quilts in the wider world. One of those places was Cairo and I spent many delightful hours accompanying Jenny Bowker  around Cairo on such a trip. Jenny  has been and is  passionate about sharing and exposing the work of the tentmakers of Cairo. You cannot help but be seduced by this covered street filled with bright booths filled with remarkable appliques- all patterns and foliage and birds. I feel truly fortunate to have spent time with some of these men, to have watched them work, to have drunk tea with them and to have purchased some of their work. And as many of you know I am passionate about history and the history of textiles- it is as if the work of the tentmakers has stood still in time and yet it is  also of this time. So how wonderful it is, that Kim Beamish a friend of Jenny Bowker's is making a film about the men and  their work and their life in Bub Zuwela ( also known as Chareh el Khiamiah) .

 But like all things making something takes money and so Kim is hoping to raise $20,000 for the film project through . At present you can pledge money, and if Kim reaches his target  on Pozible you will be asked to donate.You can pledge as little or as much as you can afford.  I can't imagine a more wonderful project to support, because not only does it create an  archive of what is a dwindling art form, but it all shares the remarkable work of these men to the wider world. You can find more information on This Facebook page
 My eldest daughter and one of the tentmakers.

I purchased this piece- it measures about 1 metre square and I loved it for it's embroidery details which were a little different than the traditional patterns.Just looking at these images have brought back memories of a wonderful and amazing trip.

So please if you want to help document  this wonderful and rich heritage which dates to pharaonic times and to share it with the wider world, help Kim bring his project to fruition. And please share this information with the wider world- but lets show what the textile community can do ....... we are powerful!

Jenny herself has written this about the tentmakers:
'The Tentmakers are a group of men in Cairo who make spectacular applique. Nowadays most of what they make is intended for the walls of houses or on beds, but in Pharaonic, early Islamic, and Ottoman times it
was intended for the inside walls of tents. With canvas behind it which formed the outside wall, the rich appliqué glowed with light on it, and was intended to amaze visitors to a leader's tent. Did you know that Cairo was originally called Fustat - which means the big tent? In pharaonic times the tents were appliqued leather, now all the work is cotton.

The art has been slowly dying. Big pieces of cheap, badly registered, printed fabric made in China have poured into Cairo and people buy this rather that the real appliquéd pieces. On top of that disaster - tourism has stopped with unrest for the last two years. Without the work sold in the exhibitions that I have been arranging in other countries they would all be gone by now - instead - stitchers who left are coming back and young ones are learning again. I am thrilled with the progress we have made and very happy with the AQS who committed to them for three years. But - it is still hardly documented at all. There is not one piece in the Cairo Museum or even in the Cairo textile museum. The best article I have ever found is in the Uncoverings magazine and there are no books. Older stitchers are dying and no history has been written.

Kim Beamish is an Australian friend who - when I took him to visit the street on his third day in Cairo - picked up the baton I offered and ran with it. He is making a film about the Tentmakers in these difficult times. He has given most of five days a week for the last seven months - or more. He has paid his own way to shows in England, and has had to pay for three more that have not even happened yet in France and two in America. He has become part of the street and the men are used to him and his camera. He has two young children and a wife who works in the Australian Embassy in Cairo. They have to pay a nanny so that he is free to film. He is, like I was, a trailing spouse. He did not choose to live the 'cocktail parties and bridge' life, but has chosen to go out on a limb
to tell a very moving and necessary story. I know that at the moment he is on the bones of his behind financially and simply cannot afford anything else


Elena said...

Really very interesting, I didn't know this traditional art! Thanks for your post!

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