Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Ramses Wissa Wassef School, Threads of Life

Birds in a cage, made after a trip to the zoo. The first piece

I saw Wissa Wassef today!

It was actually accidental. I have been going out on Friday mornings when the traffic was not heavy, to try to learn my way around Cairo. Last week I drove loops all over Zamalek, but was too afraid to leave the island as I was afraid I wouldn't find my way back.

This time Bob was able to come too and was willing to navigate.

I decided to try to find the Pyramids at Giza. It is something I am going to need to do with visitors coming through, and I felt that as they were big and would be easy to see I might be able to find them easily!

We managed that with only a few wrong turns, and then I decided that as we had seen the road to Sakkara we would go there next. I had been there before and liked it better than Giza, as there were less annoying sellers of postcards and camel drivers trying to ask you to pay exhorbitant charges for a ride on their camels. We were driving down the side of the canal when Bob noticed a signpost for Wissa Wassef. I looped back, and around again to cross a very full canal, and still only intended to find out where it was so we could make an appointment to visit next week. However, it was much closer than I realised, and I had to pull up beside it to turn. A man waved us in, telling us it was open for visitors, but of course no weavers were there on a Friday.

I wrote a little about this place a day or so ago, and so I don’t need to go over it again.

The basics - Ramses Wissa Wassef started a school for weaving in 1952. He trained children to weave, out of a belief that every child can make art, but that usually we train it out of them. He decided that he would not select children, but would take any children who wanted to come (within their restrictions on numbers of course). He would not permit them to copy others ideas, or to repeat ideas, nor was anyone to direct what they made in any way. They provide a lot of visual stimulation with trips to the desert, the Nile, the Red Sea, and more local trips to zoos and market places.

I have a huge selection of photographs of the work on the walls and of the absolutely beautiful buildings designed by Ramses Wissa Wassef in mud brick to sit easily with the landscape. Some I will put on this site, and I will have even more on my Flickr site (see the link to the right hand side).

Madder growing in the garden

Ramses Wissa Wassef wove his own first tapestry to make sure that he knew how to do it. He dyed his own wools also. They grow all the plants they use for dyeing themselves, with the exception of indigo which they bring in. I was shown madder growing, and the root of this is harvested after it has been in the ground for three years. They use no dyes except natural dyes. They weave in wool and cotton, but most of the bigger work is in wool.

Angels telling of the birth of Jesus the Wissa Wassef Centre through a weaver's eyes
this piece was made a a pair with the one I described at the palace , but was not purchased. The gardens at Wissa Wassef
A bronze girl dreams by an old door Ceramic dove on a window sill
This plant produces the yellow dye

The Funeral
This piece was made by a child weaver. The tradition is from the time of the Pharoahs, that mourners are brought in for a funeral who would paint their faces with indigo and dance and sing traditional songs. Behind them, the family of the deceased are also painted with indigo, and they have prostrated themselves with grief. Other members of the village have come to the funeral to sit and chat.

Yoanna and a very interesting piece
One weaver came to Joanna's mother and said "My husband has left me for another woman, and I am so upset and angry and sad that I cannot make beautiful things".
"Make a war,” was the answer, "and show your anger".
This piece is the result. At the bottom of the image, where it was started, are rats and sly slinking animals to represent the husband. Then we have the violence of a battle on horseback, swords clashing, and horses falling.
These pieces take a long time to make. At about this level, her husband returned.
She added the water, to calm the image. Then life came back to normal, and she allowed horses to drink at the water, and to dance with their riders on them. The sun rose in glory, and the sky was blue again.

Life in a village by the Nile The Creation, a tryptich
Noah's Ark, by a young weaver
The Marketplace
Detail of the Marketplace, with a quilt covering a table.
Two pieces by the same adult weaver
Pool and trees with rocks behind - detail follows
Detail of the previous tapestry, note animals hiding in the trees
Details of the wonderful colours used in the rocks on the left of the same image
Plants against the sky
Detail of women weaving boxes from the centres of palm leaves
The courtyard at the Pottery at Wissa Wassef
Wonderfully expressive people at the pottery


Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,
Once again I have spent my early morning reading and re reading (just to make sure I haven't missed anything)your great blogs and studying those wonderful photos. After reading about your visit to the palace I logged into the Ramses Wissa Wassef School website and was fascinated. It is now in my "favourites" list. Wasn't that convenient that you just happened to have to pull up to make a turn just beside the school??? It's a bit foggy in Canberra this morning and was -2o at 6AM.

Regards Helen

9:09 am  
Blogger Kt said...

Oh my giddy aunt!
They are all such beautiful pieces. I have looked longingly at the shots in your Flickr album - yet at the same time saying a quiet word of thanks that you didn't post them ALL to your blog! (grin)
Done now - hope I got them all in an acceptable order.

12:11 am  
Blogger Kat said...

The textiles are wonderful - so vibrant and rich in their colours. Certainly worth all the photos and always a special treat to see them. Someone in computerland out there has a hissy fit and I can never download the photos all at once so different photos come through every time I visit your blog. I wish I could be there to visit all the wonderful places, see all the sights and experience all the sounds and smells.

6:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi mum

Missing you. Helen is right - its seriously cold. Sam had a good birthday - I did what I could.

love you

10:31 am  
Anonymous Sam Bowker said...

Sam had a *fantastic* birthday!

Quite right on the cold too - winter is in but the colours are so last season.

11:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny

You really are very humble about the absolutely fantastic opportunity you have to visit and see all these wonderful sites and especially to share them with your friends. I for one feel so very privileged to walk alongside you, looking throught your eyes.

Well my eyes are overwhelmed by these wonderful works of art. The amount of work and years of patience it requires are something for the rest of us to contemplate.

Enjoy your time away and keep them coming.

LaVone in Lesmurdie

10:50 pm  
Blogger Liz Needle said...

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for the photos of those incredible tapestries. In real life the colour and vibrancy must have been mind blowing. What wonderful ideas you must be storing up for quilts. Enough to keep you going for the next 50 or so years!!


7:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What amazing inspiration these weavings are! So many wonderful colours, stories and Pictures.

Thank you for sharing them with us!

10:16 pm  

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