Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre

The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre is located not too far from the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt. It was founded in 1952 to teach young children to weave tapestries. I can't even begin to do justice to the story of the school -- which I visited in mid-September, shortly before departing Egypt -- but I love this quote by Ramses Wissa Wassef:

"I had this vague conviction that every human being was born an artist, but that his or her gifts could be brought out only if artistic activity was encouraged from early childhood by way of practising a craft... The creative energy of the average person is being sapped by a conformist system of education and the extension of industrial technology to every sphere of modern life."

Wissa Wassef was an architect and he designed the school. These domes are done in the Nubian style of Upper Egypt. Can you imagine working in a gorgeous place like this?


The weavers (adults now) use these large looms to create the wool tapestries. They can work either horizontally or vertically, and as they go the work is rolled onto the lower bar, so they never see the entire work until it is finished. They never use any cartoon or drawing, but instead improvise as they go along. You read that correctly - this work is improvised, even though they can only see the small section that they are working on, which may even be sideways, such as the one in the next picture.




The weavers can work on each image independently.

This was my absolute favorite tapestry. It's called Wool Dying and was made by Rada Mohammed. All the wool used in the tapestries is dyed by vegetables that are grown at the school. This tapestry depicts each step in the process of growing the vegetables, harvesting them, dying the wool in the vats and then hanging the wool to dry.
See the women carrying baskets and bales balanced on their heads? It's still quite common to see that in Egypt, particularly the rural areas.


This tapestry depicts a camel market.


And this final one was a huge landscape, obviously done by a very experienced weaver. If I remember correctly, it took the artist a year and a half to create.

My favorite part of it was the men climbing the palm trees to get the dates.

And here is a date palm right outside in the garden. Compare the two photos and see how fabulously the weaver depicted the trunk of the palm and the fruit.

And a final picture of the backsides of some cotton weaving. I was fascinated by all the threads hanging out. I suspect they will be woven in with a needle to finish them up.

I highly recommend the article Threads of Life: A Journey in Creativity to learn more about the school's founding and how these works of art are created. There's also excellent info in this article here.

15 comments:

joyce said...

Amazing! THanks for the pictures and story.

candyschultz said...

Wow Tonya that was an impressive post and so informative. The weavings are gorgeous. Imagine being immersed in a creative environment from childhood. What a brilliantly progressive thinker he was. The world would certainly be a better place if everyone's artistic side were allowed to flourish. Sort of a garden of eden. Thanks for all the photos and the story behind.

Alexandra said...

This article is extraordinary, both the story and the photos. The tapestries are one of a kind, and I believe it was a great experience for you to have the opportunity to visit this center. Thank yoo very much for sharing this, not only the world would be a better place if creativity would be allow to flourish, but also if people would make such generous acts like you did with this post.

Holly said...

They are amazing. I'm patient but I wonder if I could wait a year and a half to see a finished product if it was the only one I was working on. Maybe I could if it turned out as brilliant as these.

Tanya said...

A fascinating story and the pictures are gorgeous. What dedication! I wonder how the artists feel when their tapestries move on to permanent homes.
Hope you are feeling well.

Sweet P said...

Thanks for sharing the story of the school. The quote is so perfect for our times. I've often felt my artistic side was held in check in school, probably because I was always the teacher's pet and a straight 'A' student.

Those tapestries are exquisite. It's hard to believe the artisans make them without a design to follow.

KCQuilter said...

Tonya, what a beautiful, beautiful post. And the quote is so perfect. As a retired teacher, I have become very concerned about the over-emphasis on testing and the back seat that the arts and creativity are taking in our schools. Wish I knew how to turn that around!

Juliann said...

that quote will stick with me for awhile - I really believe we need to give our kids more opportunities to discover ways to be creative, to explore the arts - thanks for this post

Sandra said...

I was gobsmacked by the amazing artistry of these weavers! It's hard to comprehend they do these pictures while only seeing a little at a time. A fascinating story.

Kristin said...

What a fantastic post! I just linked to it on my blog. The quote is very relevant to me and the main reason why I unschool my children. We do art and craft every single day and it makes our lives so rich. Thanks for sharing a wonderful place!

Susan said...

Thanks for all the pics of both the buildings and the weaving. That was one of the things that amazed me about the Navajo weavers, too. They don't have the whole thing in front of them until they are finished, either. Unless it's a very small rug they are weaving.

I spent quite a bit of time watching them weaving at Hubbell's TP when I taught in Ganado. There would be several women working along the bottom, and at the end it's all wonderful!

Tracey @ozcountryquiltingmum said...

That was fabulous, Thank You! Tracey

Dawn said...

Wow, Its been a long time since you've had something from Egypt posted. Those weavings are so beautiful! I love the camels! And yes the date trees! That building and landscape of the school is spectacular as well. I can't believe you got to see all this in real life1 Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

Shellie said...

Tonya, thanks for sharing these pictures. They're amazing.

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