Independent Weavers and
Some of the adult artists who began weaving as children with Ramses Wissa Wassef
have left that studio to work independently; some even have their own young
students -- sons and daughters or neighborhood children. Samhira Ahmad, Rowhia Ali, and
Garia Mahmoud, shown together at the right, are among the most well-known
independent artists in Harrania.
In the late 1960's, as the financial success of the Harranian experiment first became
obvious to others, the inevitable imitators appeared in surrounding villages. The old
adage, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," certainly applied, but
many lifeless copies of the Harrania work were produced -- and still are today.
The most perceptive and imaginative individuals elsewhere, however, have produced original
work and exceptional examples pop up in unexpected places, displaying
diverse styles. Tapestry weavers are especially active in Kerdassa and
Monofia. Although Ramses Wissa Wassef once commented that he would love
to see tapestry weaving in every village, he might well have wished that
better guidance was available to direct the expanding production.
Individuals like Nasr Salem in Kerdassa have offered valuable support to
young weavers, while encouraging new avenues of creative expression.
Unfortunately, the Egyptian bazaars and shops in tourist areas are full of coarse, dull,
purely commercial weavings with little artistic merit, while the work from some studios
has taken on an unfortunate "calendar picture" bent, with photographic rather
than expressive aims. Panoramic Pharaonic subjects and woven copies of post
cards have even appeared, to compete in the tourist marketplace with papyrus gimmickry.
Americans and Europeans are sometimes concerned that children may be exploited by the
studios. The activity is voluntary, however, and the best workshops offer exceptional
opportunities for personal artistic growth. Young people are paid as they learn, and their
creations are a source of great pride. Indeed, it is rare in the Middle East that
children's and teen-agers' expressions are so valued and encouraged. Education is
supposedly mandatory now for children in Egypt, and half-day school sessions are offered nearly
everywhere. Young people may weave either before or after their classes if they wish.
Since 1952, when tapestry weaving began in Harrania, then later spread to other villages,
the standard of living has improved immensely. In small settlements that had known few
changes in 2000 years and little income except from farming, the boundaries have expanded.
Village women with income from weaving have become more independent, and so feel less
pressure to marry at extremely young ages. Men and women have normally been compensated
equally on the basis of their abilities and production.
These marvelous tapestries result from an inspired
experiment which combined children, tradition, and economics. Earthy, exuberant weavings
made by young people who had never heard of "art" are now treasured possessions
of collectors and museums around the world.
|On this website, you will find tapestries
from the Wissa Wassef and Fouad El Awadly workshops in Harrania, from studios in Monafia and Kerdassa, and from independent artists in several villages.