The Tentmakers of Cairo
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"An expansive and captivating history of an often overlooked traditional art"—Egyptian Streets

In the crowded center of Historic Cairo lies a covered market lined with wonderful textiles sewn by hand in brilliant colors and intricate patterns. This is the Street of the Tentmakers, the home of the Egyptian appliqué art known as khayamiya.

The Tentmakers of Cairo brings together the stories of the tentmakers and their extraordinary tents—from the huge tent pavilions, or suradeq, of the streets of Egypt, to the souvenirs of the First World War and textile artworks celebrated by quilters around the world. It traces the origins and aesthetics of the khayamiya textiles that enlivened the ceremonial tents of the Fatimid, Mamluk, and Ottoman dynasties, exploring the ways in which they challenged conventions under new patrons and technologies, inspired the paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse, and continue to preserve a legacy of skilled handcraft in an age of relentless mass production.

Drawing on historical literature, interviews with tentmakers, and analysis of khayamiya from around the world, the authors reveal the stories of this unique and spectacular Egyptian textile art.



Publié par
Date de parution 16 octobre 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781617979026
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1250€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


The Tentmakers of Cairo
The Tentmakers of Cairo
Egypt’s Medieval and Modern Appliqué Craft

Seif El Rashidi Sam Bowker

The American University in Cairo Press Cairo New York
This electronic edition published in 2019 by The American University in Cairo Press 113 Sharia Kasr el Aini, Cairo, Egypt 420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018

Copyright © 2018 by Seif El Rashidi and Sam Bowker

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

ISBN 978 977 416 802 4 eISBN 978 1 61797 902 6

Version 1
To our parents, Bob and Jenny Nevine and Mamdouh with love and gratitude
A Note on Spelling

1. Early Cairene Tents: The Fatimids and Ayyubids
2. Tents during the Mamluk Period
3. Tents in Ottoman Cairo
4. Egyptian Tents in the Nineteenth Century
5. The Khedival Period
6. From Suradiq to Souvenir: Tentmakers and Tourists
7. Modern Khayamiya: Stage and Ceremony
8. The Farrashin
9. Khayamiya and Art
10. Making Khayamiya: Design and Technique
11. Voices from the Street of the Tentmakers

Figure 1 The Street of the Tentmakers, one of Cairo’s few covered streets, in 1902. Photograph by Lehnert and Landrock.
T he Egyptian tentmakers are a community of skilled artisans, primarily men. Most reside in Cairo and work from shared workshops in the vicinity of a street named after them, the Street of the Tentmakers—al-Khayamiya. This is a covered section extending from the main spine of the historic walled city of Cairo immediately south of Bab Zuwayla, a monumental city gateway. The street-spanning structure dates to the seventeenth century and is called the Qasaba of Radwan Bey.
The tentmakers sew, by hand, a distinctly Egyptian form of needle-turned cotton appliqué called khayamiya. This derives from the Arabic word khayma , which means ‘tent,’ so khayamiya is ‘the art of the tent.’ This follows principles of Turkish grammar widely applied in Egyptian Arabic, a linguistic legacy of shared Ottoman heritage. 1 Evidence for historic links between Egyptian, Ottoman, and Persian tentmakers can also be established through similarities in profession-specific terminology, such as the word ustadh or usta , a title bestowed upon a master craftsman in charge of a workshop.
Tents have played an important part in the social, cultural, and political life of Egypt for centuries, and as this book will demonstrate, appliqué work has existed for at least as long. There are close parallels between the technique of modern Egyptian tents and those surviving from Ottoman times, which are magnificent in design and execution, yet the relationship between the tentmakers of Ottoman Istanbul and Cairo is still unclear. The first records of visually distinctive Egyptian khayamiya in Cairo 2 coincided with a substantial decline in the working conditions and population of Turkish tentmakers in Constantinople in the mid-nineteenth century. 3
Khayamiya are used in Egypt in two main forms. The first is as an architectural textile—literally, tents—ranging from mammoth rectangular pavilions ( suradiq or siwan ) used to host ceremonial events such as weddings, feasts, and funerals, to single-poled camping tents (singular fustat ) used by travelers, particularly tourists. The second form of khayamiya is individual panels (singular tark ), which can also take the form of screen-like bands or tent walls. This is the most significant form today because it produces quilt-like artworks for interior display rather than cumbersome ephemeral buildings. Both forms of khayamiya in the late nineteenth century regularly featured Arabic epigrams.
The color of Cairo was originally honey-colored stone—today it is that of brick and concrete. The art of khayamiya provides brilliant colors and patterns in contrast to their urban context, despite the fact that its inspiration is often architectural. These unique textiles enliven streets, bring people together, and vanish as quickly as they appear. They unite ornament, function, and ritual in a spectacular display of Egyptian visual culture.
Through their skilled work and imagination, the tentmakers of Cairo have made an exceptional contribution to Egypt. They are adaptive, creative, and proud of their identity. Their work has inspired artists as prominent as Henri Matisse, who based his paper cut-outs upon khayamiya appliqué. Khayamiya appliqués have been found across the world, from Alaska to Australia and Malaysia to Croatia, as souvenirs collected by travelers to Egypt.
This book presents an overview of khayamiya as a distinctly Egyptian textile. It surveys the changing contexts that have influenced khayamiya from the eleventh century to the present day, and the developments in technology and new international audiences which both threaten and encourage its survival . Contemporary khayamiya is displayed in art galleries rather than scaffolded along dusty streets. It is a sophisticated, competitive, and entrepreneurial art form that draws from a rich legacy of design influences.
The word khayamiya implies the action of making a tent. More specifically, it describes the act of embellishing canvas with hand-sewn needle-turned cotton appliqué. This skill seems to have changed very little over the last thousand years. Using large scissors, individually cut pieces of colored cotton are delicately folded to shape and deftly sewn to a canvas back.
Khayamiya were originally created for Egyptian audiences on a grand scale. They took the form of free-hanging curtain-like panels (sitara) , wall-like screens (bilma) , circular camping tents (fustat) , or larger, rectangular suradiq or siwan . As great walls of vibrant color and pattern, they are still used across Egypt to herald celebrations in public places. The same tent can host weddings, funerals, graduations, and festivals of all kinds—including mawlid s (celebrations of a saint’s birthday), and Ramadan feasts ( iftaar s). Today, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, swathes of mass-printed ‘imitation khayamiya’ adorn the terminals of Cairo’s airport, marking the location as an active participant in this important ritual event. From the Street of the Tentmakers to the global stage, khayamiya is one of Egypt’s most vibrant forms of living heritage.
This book is the outcome of several years of constant searching for clues—in the form of old khayamiya panels, photos, records, video footage, and memories. There are still many questions that remain unanswered, and no doubt with time, more information will come to light. As a commonly used epigram on khayamiya panels reminds us, “Patience is the key to deliverance.”
I t is the exceptional work of the Egyptian tentmakers themselves—past and present—that justifies this book. But it is thanks to Professor James Piscatori, the former head of the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, that this book came into existence. James’s friendship with Jenny Bowker (by the tentmakers’ own accounts their Umm al-khayamiya , or honorary mum) and Professor Bob Bowker led to an exhibition at Durham University in 2012. This, in turn, resulted in an Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant toward a documentation project, and another exhibition in 2014. Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, Charles Sturt University supported a 2013 exhibition in Wagga Wagga, Australia, followed by a major exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in 2015–16. Unusually for a coauthored book, our five-year correspondence was conducted almost entirely by email between the United Kingdom and Australia, fueled by our mutual obsession for all things khayamiya. None of this could have happened without James, Jenny, and Bob.
James Piscatori combined fantastic professional support with unfailing enthusiasm, sentiments echoed in Durham by Professor Anoush Ehteshami, Lorraine Holmes, Dr. Gillian Boughton, and Dr. Reem Aboul Fadl, and in the field in Cairo by Dr. Dina Shehayeb, who led an oral histories project assisted by Ayah Aboul Atta (principal field researcher and editor), Ahmed Abdelhalim (Arabic transcription), with English translation by Seif Eldin Allam and Dina Shehayeb, and additional field research by Khaled El Samman. The results of this work form the basis of Chapter 11 of this book.
Our excitement over the discovery of an old tent panel or photograph, and the new information these revealed, was frequently shared and enriched by many, most notably Ola Seif, Joan and John Fisher, Amina El Bendary, Yasmine El Dorghamy, Clive Rogers, Roba Khorshid, Christine Martens, and Randy Pace.
France Meyer, Huda Al-Tamimi, Yahya Haidar, Leila Kuwatly, and Zahra Taheri at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra generously translated and interpreted the epigrams on many of the khedival pieces, as did Adam Talib, Cherine al-Ansary, May al-Ibrashy, and Rasha Arous. Dr. Hassan Hilmi translated the poems about the Fatimid ‘Tent of Deliverance’ and that on the Harvard Tent, and Professor Robert Dankoff provided valuable assistance with the account of Evliya Çelebi.
Venetia Porter, Heba Barakat, Blaire Gagnon, Avinoam Shalem, John Feeney, Peter Alford Andrews, Lesley Forbes, Elizabeth Elwell-Cook, Roger Stewart, and Nicholas Warner gave us valuable insights into their own research; man

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