The Tentmakers of Islamic Cairo

16 Apr — 20 Jun 2015 at Brunei Gallery in London, United Kingdom

8 APRIL 2015
A view from Bab Zuweila, Cairo, Egypt: 2013 © Massimiliano Fusari / Massimedia.com
A view from Bab Zuweila, Cairo, Egypt: 2013 © Massimiliano Fusari / Massimedia.com

In the labyrinthine milieu of old Cairo, in the vicinity of Bab Zuwayla, the last remaining southern gate of the medieval city, craftsmen have been producing textiles of both utility and striking beauty for centuries. Intended originally for tents, these decorative pieces of stitched cotton - known as khayamiyya - have long attracted local Cairenes as well as distant travellers.

Large pieces line pavilions set up to celebrate weddings or returning pilgrims; other pieces assume a decorative domestic function as wall hangings, bedspreads, or pillow cases. Whether publically or privately displayed, the floral, geometric, calligraphic, and Pharaonic patterns visually charm. But, as both artisans and traders, the tentmakers of Cairo form part of an enduring, creative world that may be visited but is rarely seen.

The Italian photographer, Massimiliano Fusari, acclaimed for his work on Middle Eastern themes, in 2013 spent several months in the Tentmakers Bazaar. With many years of experience in the theory and practice of photography and multimedia communication, he applied his skilled and discerning eye to this traditional Egyptian marketplace. His photographic record of the work and milieu of the tentmakers is both vivid and sensitive. Arresting images capture the tentmakers at work as stitchers and sellers, their medieval street and its changing neighbourhood, and the uses to which the textiles are put in daily Cairene life.