05 February 2013

The tentmakers of Cairo

My splendid cushion was obtained in the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo, by a friend after I told her (based on what I'd read on the internet) how to find it. She got another for herself, and I feel right at home when I see her "twin" cushion on her sofa. This beautiful work, with its long history, brightens my day - but it saddens me to think that it is under threat.

Jenny Bowker got to know the men during her years of living in Cairo and has been championing the continued survival of their craft - and livelihoods. There is no historical documentation of the men and their craft, but now a film is being made. The film maker, Kim Beamish, is having to fund this himself, and is asking for donations via a crowd-funding site, http://www.pozible.com/tentmakers  - where you can make a donation, or rather a pledge, as no money will be collected unless the target amount is reached. (He also has a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CharehElKhiamiah?fref=ts.)

This is what Jenny wrote on the SAQA yahoogroup - I've put in some photos found on the internet to show off the gorgeous work.

''The Tentmakers are a group of men in Cairo who make spectacular applique. Nowadays most of what they make is intended for the walls of houses or on beds, but in Pharaonic, early Islamic, and Ottoman times it
was intended for the inside walls of tents. With canvas behind it which formed the outside wall, the rich appliqué glowed with light on it, and was intended to amaze visitors to a leader's tent. Did you know that Cairo was originally called Fustat - which means the big tent? In pharaonic times the tents were appliqued leather, now all the work is cotton.


The art has been slowly dying. Big pieces of cheap, badly registered, printed fabric made in China have poured into Cairo and people buy this rather that the real appliquéd pieces. On top of that disaster - tourism has stopped with unrest for the last two years. Without the work sold in the exhibitions that I have been arranging in other countries they would all be gone by now - instead - stitchers who left are coming back and young ones are learning again. I am thrilled with the progress we have made and very happy with the AQS who committed to them for three years. But - it is still hardly documented at all. There is not one piece in the Cairo Museum or even in the Cairo textile museum. The best article I have ever found is in the Uncoverings magazine and there are no books. Older stitchers are dying and no history has been written.
Kim Beamish is an Australian friend who - when I took him to visit the street on his third day in Cairo - picked up the baton I offered and ran with it. He is making a film about the Tentmakers in these difficult times. He has given most of five days a week for the last seven months - or more. He has paid his own way to shows in England, and has had to pay for three more that have not even happened yet in France and two in America. He has become part of the street and the men are used to him and his camera. He has two young children and a wife who works in the Australian Embassy in Cairo. They have to pay a nanny so that he is free to film. He is, like I was, a trailing spouse. He did not choose to live the 'cocktail parties and bridge' life, but has chosen to go out on a limb
to tell a very moving and necessary story. I know that at the moment he is on the bones of his behind financially and simply cannot afford anything else.

The movie will not be made without funding for the essentials - the long and boring stages when the filming is done and the hard work starts. Editing, top level translation and the rest has to be done by experts and paid for. Please help. Even a little bit from a lot of people will add up to a lot - that is what crowd funding means. The link is now open and working. If he does not get to his total he gets nothing. Kim will spend the month hovering over the site and biting his fingernails.The work is really special and the film is essential.

http://www.pozible.com/tentmakers - this is the link to support the film - The Tentmakers of Chareh el Khiamiah. If Kim Beamish does not get this money the film cannot be made. Even tiny donations will help and big donations will help more. Please.

If you use PayPal it will ask you to preauthorise. It sounds odd but it simply means that when the total is reached the money will then be taken from people's accounts so it has to be done this way. Kim gets nothing if he does not reach his total and that is the way that Pozible works. He is a bit worried at the moment as only about 29 have helped in three days.

I am hoping a lot of people will have read this far and be willing now to help us. PLEASE send this on to as wide an audience as you can reach. The moment the total is reached the project will be assured. Until then it looks as if it might be dead in the water.''
The tentmakers of Cairo were at Festival of Quilts and also at Art in Action, so you may have seen their work. A UK champion of the tentmakers is Barbara Chainey, who lectures on the tentmakers and has a workshop based on an Egyptian-style design. Two of her books are inspired by the tentmakers' designs.

3 comments:

Maggi said...

Thanks for doing this post Margaret. I hope you don't mind if I add a link to it from my blog.

Aut0pS33 said...

Thank you Margaret.

Really appreciate your post and really hope that we get to make this a great film.

If people are interested in pledging please send them to pozible.com/tentmakers

Thanks again and cheers.

Kim Beamish
Producer/Director
The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah

beatrice De said...

That reminde me the architect who was... Well I write in french.
Ceci me rappelle l'architecte qui faisait travailler des enfants dans un quartier du Caire. De grande magnifique tenture avec une technique particulière de superposition de tissus. J'avais reçu, une fois une de ces tentures. Quand je mettrais la main dessus, c'est une idée de la faire paraître sur le blog. Elle est restée longtemps accrochée au mur.