Egyptian Landscapes: Fifty Years of Tapestry Weaving at the

Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo

Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies,

University of London

18th January to 17th March 2006

 

 

The exhibition Egyptian Landscapes: Fifty Years of Tapestry Weaving at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo was an outstanding success, attracting more than 14,000 visitors, a seasonal record for the Brunei Gallery. People came from all over the UK, and from France, Sweden and Germany. At least two visitors, one from Australia and one from New York, reorganised their travel itineraries in order to see the exhibition.

The exhibition contained over one hundred pieces from the Art Centre’s permanent collection, occupying both floors of the Brunei Gallery and the connecting stairwell. There was no admission charge.

View of the first floor gallery

 

 

The display in the ground floor gallery consisted of high warp tapestries by first generation weavers (those who learned as children with Ramses Wissa Wassef in the 1950s), including retrospective collections of work by Karima Ali and Ali Selim spanning five decades. It also featured one second generation weaver, Sayed Mahmoud, with six pieces charting his progress from childhood in the 1970s to the present day.

Gallery and high warp loom

The lower floor gallery concentrated on the second generation of high-warp wool and low-warp cotton tapestry weavers and batik painters, all of whom learned as children with Suzanne and Yoanna Wissa Wassef in the 1970s. It also contained a small exhibition of work by one adult British weaver and by pupils at two secondary schools in England inspired by Ramses Wissa Wassef’s "experiment in creativity" after the 1985/86 UK touring exhibition.

Opening night. From left to right: Sophie Wissa Wassef, Joanna Lumley, Reda Ahmed, Taya Doss, daughter of Yoanna Wissa Wassef, Sabah Ragab and Suzanne Wissa Wassef.

The Exhibition

 

Four weavers from the Art Centre in Egypt (two in January and two in March) worked at looms in the Brunei Gallery. They demonstrated their art to crowds of fascinated onlookers who found it impossible to grasp the fact that the weavers had no preliminary designs or cartoons and in some cases were weaving sideways.

As well as pieces from the permanent collection, the exhibition contained a selection of first and second generation tapestries for sale.

Weaving demonstration

Education Programme

 

There were very many group visits. Open University graduates, art and textile design students, members of art and craft groups, students of Arabic, adult education groups, primary, secondary and special needs school children all enjoyed the exhibition. Many individuals enjoyed the family weaving day on 21st January at which children were helped by adult weavers to create paper weavings and images on small-scale looms, the teachers' evening on 19th January and the lectures on 25th January and 15th February. The specially designed Teachers' Resource Booklet and Children's Activity sheets were in great demand.

 

 

Family day, 21st January

Children weaving

Response to the Exhibition

 

Public response to the exhibition was overwhelming, as shown by the following few extracts from the visitors' book:

  • Each visit takes one into another world…..a wonderland of creative and original art.
  • Inspiring and uplifting. Totally fabulous.
  • Stunning, a real inspiration. I am deeply touched by the level of creativity.
  • I enjoyed these striking, stunning works even more that my visit to The Tate Modern.
  • Hope the Ministry of Education visits and learns!
  • Breath-taking exhibition. Awesome - in the real sense of the word.
  • The intensity of the colours is breathtaking. The influence it has had on individual weavers' lives is thought provoking. It would be a therapeutic experience to do this for many young people in this society.
  • Why is this not in a major gallery such as the RA or the National Gallery- why not on BBC Arts programme? This is the best art exhibition I have ever seen.
  • Luminescent, strikingly beautiful and vivid. Thank you for a stunning & humbling exhibition.
  • Walking through the door and facing the "Hymn to the Sun" brought tears to my eyes. The tears rarely had time to dry. I was so moved by seeing such paradisiacal scenes that they were constantly shed.

The press was similarly enthusiastic:

  • …(the tapestries) are almost overwhelming in their density of imagery. Unquestionably, this exhibition provides exciting viewing. Hali Magazine "Modern"
  • (an) uplifting exhibition.. Alison Oldham, Hampstead & Highgate Express
  • This exhibition is breathtaking. …it is undeniable that these weavers have established themselves as highly skilled, monumental artists in their own right. Ptolemy Mann, Selvedge Magazine
  • (the tapestries) are stunning…..should not be missed. Dave Stevens, Raw Vision

Visit this breathtaking collection. You will not be disappointed. Zahrah Awieh, Islam Online

Reda Ahmed in front of her tapestry

 

Weavers sightseeing in London.

 

 

 

Family day

Organisation and Funding

 

The "Egyptian Landscapes" exhibition was organised by the Ramses Wissa Wassef Exhibition Trust, a UK charity established in 2005 to promote, support and encourage the advancement of education in the art of weaving, particularly with regard to the philosophy of Ramses Wissa Wassef, and to disseminate knowledge and promote understanding of tapestries woven at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Egypt. The Trust has no staff and mounted this major exhibition on a wholly voluntary basis.

The Trustees are very grateful to all those who provided support in the form of grants, donations and help in kind, without which the exhibition could not have taken place:

Altajir Trust, Awards for All, BG Egypt, The Brunei Gallery, Camden Arts, The Cayo Foundation, The Egyptian Ambassador and Mrs Madi and staff at the Egyptian Embassy, Handweavers' Studio, National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies, Oriental Weavers, SOAS, Transform Medical Group, Werner Forman Archive and others who wish to remain anonymous.

 

 

Conclusion

The exhibition exceeded the best expectations not just of the Trust, but also of the Art Centre in Egypt. The record number of visitors, their response to the exhibition and the revenue generated from tapestry sales have encouraged the Art Centre in Egypt to expand its efforts to promote Ramses Wissa Wassef’s philosophy to the public. In a letter to the Trust dated 23 March, Suzanne Wissa Wassef and Ikram Nosshi wrote:

“With no doubt, this has been one of the most successful tapestry exhibitions we had in years. We have been receiving hundreds of e-mails every week especially from British tourists who are planning to visit Egypt during the next few months and would like to visit the Centre where the tapestries they have seen at the Brunei gallery are made.

This success has accelerated the start of the construction of our long needed new exhibition gallery. The architectural drawings of that building will be shown on our web site within the next few weeks. Construction will start in October 2006.

Such an exhibition gives vitality and positive support to our Art Centre and makes it possible to sustain all the external pressures that we face. It also emphasises to the weavers how important and unique their work is.”  

Trustees of the Ramses Wissa Wassef Exhibition Trust very much hope that one or more of the UK’s major museums or galleries will decide to acquire a piece from the Art Centre, and that educationalists and others will be able to draw on the extraordinary results of the experiment for the benefit of children and adults in the UK. The Trust will continue to disseminate information about Ramses Wissa Wassef’s philosophy and the tapestries woven at the Art Centre, particularly through the book published to accompany the exhibition (copies available from the Trust at the address below).

 The Ramses Wissa Wassef Exhibition Trust

April 2006

 

Registered office:

36 Camden Square

London NW1 9XA

00 44 (0)20 267 1034

barbara@wissa-wassef-arts.com

www.wissa-wassef-arts.com

 

Registered as a company number 5350258

Registered as a charity number 1109899