“Whatever manufactured items there are in the world,” wrote the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi in 1671, “the poor of Cairo get hold of them, set them out and trade in them.” Nearly 350 years later, this tradition lives on in al-Darb al-Ahmar. This neighbourhood of 100,000 people, south-east of central Cairo, is said to be home to a thousand workshops. The place teems with artisans crafting everything from tents, books, boxes and brass lanterns to glass bowls and silk carpets.
The Street of the Tentmakers captures this commercial spirit. Built in 1650 as an arcade, this covered street is a succession of workrooms whose interiors are lined with decorative textiles. From his cubic cavity in the Ottoman-era wall, a weaver called Hasan says that al-khayyamiya, the craft of tentmaking, goes back to the time of the pharaohs. Some of today’s weavers are descended from the families who would produce the kiswa, the fabric that covered the great stone at Mecca, as well as tents, cloths and saddles for those setting out on pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site.
This article gives an excellent overview of this district of Cairo with its weavers, dyers, bookbinders, carpet makers, glass blowers and lantern makers, explaining how many of the buildings have been restored with the help of the Aga Khan Development Network.
To read the full article visit the website of the Guardian
A free exhibition of photographs entitled The artisans of al-Darb al-Ahmar: life and work in historic Cairo is also taking place from 23 March – 24 April at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
For more information visit their website here
OATG members David and Sue Richardson have just uploaded a new section on Lau Wuti Kau – tubeskirts from the island of Sumba decorated with shells – to their website, Asian Textile Studies.
This is very comprehensive and covers the history and distribution of shell decoration throughout the area, how they were used, and of course the fascinating motifs created using shells. They hope you enjoy reading it here
Event date: Wednesday 19 April 2017, 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm
The Banjara are a semi-nomadic people who, prior to the construction of roads and railways, provided long-distance bullock caravans of goods across India. They are known for their vibrant clothing and domestic textiles in shades of rich yellow ochre and red madder decorated by mirrors, embroidery, applique and shells. This event will be presented by the British Museum’s T. Richard Blurton, Head of the South and Southeast Asia Section, and textile gallery owner (and OATG member), Joss Graham.
See Asian Textiles magazine #64 (June 2016) for a review of a new book on the Banjara: Textiles of the Banjara.
Event location: Blythe House, Olympia, London (more details on access provided when booking).
Please note that numbers for this event are strictly limited and advanced registration is essential. Places will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.
For more information, and to register for your place, visit the Eventbrite page.
Exhibition dates: 6 February – 10 July 2016
This exhibition features thirty-six flags from the West African country of Ghana. A recent donation to Mingei International Museum (USA), these colourful flags dating to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries feature graphic folk imagery and appliquéd designs on solid cotton grounds. They were commissioned by military organisations known as Asafo, or ‘companies’, whose primary role was to exert power, exercise political influence and maintain codes of conduct within Fante communities. Smaller towns had at least one company, and larger towns up to fourteen. Verbal proverbs are given imaginative visual form on the flags, in which messages and customs are remembered and oral traditions are preserved.
Asafo flags are displayed at funerals, annual festivals and other ceremonial occasions, where they adorn central shrines and are paraded and waved through villages and towns. Intense rivalry among companies once led to violent confrontations, but today this is channeled into peaceful competitions. Colonial influence can be noted in these flags, derived in part from the display of European flags in the region; indeed, the British Union Jack appears on flags created before Ghana gained its independence in 1957.
For more information, visit the website of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California, USA.
It’s now a little late in the month, but there’s been quite a deluge of wonderful textile material for the blog recently, and I wanted to share SADACC’s wonderful object of the month with you before it’s too late. (Some of you may have seen this already if you subscribe to the SADACC newsletter – apologies for reposting if so.)
Sap sidi (snakes and ladders) is a popular game in Jain, Hindu and Muslim cultures. Snakes and Ladders originated in India, possibly as early as the second century BC. Early versions were known as Moksha-Patamu (heaven and hell) and the game works on the principle of good versus evil.
Cloth games have been made since the Mogul era and are often included in a girl’s dowry. The board is a miniature patchwork quilt of vegetable-dyed fabric. It was made by female artisans in Kutch, Gujarat. These women are descendants of a nomadic tribe from Nagar Parkar, in the Sindh region of Pakistan. Elderly women typically turn to patchwork from embroidery when their eyesight begins to fade.
For more information, visit the website of the South Asian Decorative Arts & Crafts Collection (SADACC), Norwich.
For my latest Textile Tidbit, I’d like to share a blog post all about sixteenth and seventeenth-century Ottoman military tents. Following various European victories over the Ottomans, a number of these magnificent tents can be found in museums around Europe, and in particular, the Museum of Applied Arts and the Museum of Military History in Vienna. For my part, I think I can safely say I have never seen a tent as large or impressive as these – every inch of them is covered in intricate appliqued decoration – and it’s quite a discovery to learn about them.
To read more about these Ottoman tents, click here.