The Ramses Wissa Wassef School, Threads of Life
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).
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.
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.
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.