Hasan Carpet-maker: Artisan of al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo

When he visited Cairo in the 17th century, the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi recorded 20 carpet-making workshops. “They weave silk carpets and prayer-rugs, in praise of which the tongue falls short”, the Ottoman wrote.

The carpet makers use a sketch of a section of the finished carpet to guide them.

In a small room in the backstreets of the nearby Manshiyat Nasser slum, of all places, that skill is alive today. Pairs of artisans sit on a low bench, facing the vertical loom with a drawing of the finished design above them guiding their hands.

A section of finished carpet is revealed behind the loom.

It takes two people working eight hours a day, six days a week, six months to produce a two-by-three metre silk carpet. Their technique, we are told, has been employed for over 1,500 years.

Hasan sells the carpet wholesale for EGP £24,000. The material and labour costs him EGP £20,000, leaving him EGP £4,000 profit for each carpet. They will go on to sell for for around EGP £3.5 million (approximately GBP £150,000) in the well-heeled shops of London and Paris.

The carpets are 100 percent Egyptian silk which is coloured using natural, plant-based dyes. The technique is Egyptian, and has been employed for over 1,500 years. Hasan’s family have been making carpets for 75 years over three generations. Hassan himself has a degree in IT but he had been making carpets since he was 12.

When asked about considering a desk job: “I don’t see any creativity in such work. It is all the same.”

The Artisans of al-Darb al-Ahmar: Life and Work in Historic Cairo’ exhibition is taking place at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, London, from 22 March to 24 April 2018.

This exhibition showcases the people and personalities that make up daily life in this unique district, home to over 1,000 artisan workshops and 60 monuments of Islamic architecture. It presents artisans at work, some of whom are part of a tradition going back a thousand years but whose skills may not last another generation. More information available here.

For more information, please contact: christopher.w-steer@akdn.org

Created By
Christopher Wilton-Steer

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