Hasan Adri al-Khayamiya (tent) maker: Artisan of al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo

For 27 years Hasan has been producing al-Khayamiya textiles. He started tent-making at 17 whilst in college. “I had to fight with my father to do this. He wanted me to get a normal job. But I could tell that something very good would come out of this. It started because as a boy I would walk along al-Khayamiya street and I was so intrigued by people working with this tiny thread. They would be creating beautiful things. I wanted to learn how it was done.”

al-Khayamiya street

After he started, he began creating a new style, with new colours and he began to make a name for himself. “It is a very difficult craft. It requires a lot of concentration and patience. It is very hard for men. It is usually done by women.”

A khayamiya maker sketching out a design

“When I see the final product, it is like seeing a finished painting. Then it feels worth it.”

Designs are inspired by pharonic, folkloric, Islamic and modern styles

Discovered in some of the Pharaonic temples, tent-making is one of the oldest crafts in Egypt. During the Fatimid period (10th - 12th century), tent-makers would produce the the kiswah, the fabric that covers the great stone at Mecca, as well as tents, cloths and saddles for those setting out on the hajj (pilgrimage).

Designs are hand stitched.

The Sultan, sitting nearby on a balcony upon the ancient Fatimid gate, Bab Zuwayla would watch the caravan headed for Mecca depart in procession.

“We are lucky to have been born here" - Hasan Adri

Bab Zuwayla, the gate from which the Sultan would watch the procession depart for Mecca each year. Below: Bab Zuwayla in the distance.

Built in 1650, the Street of the Tentmakers is a succession of workrooms and shops whose interiors are lined with colourful, decorative textiles.

A typical workshop on al-Khayamiya street

“Today, our craft is 80 percent dependent on tourism. The market is not as lucrative as it used to be. Ultimately, it’s about God’s will; Riz – the abundance that comes to me from God.”

“Chinese imitations do not represent any importance for me. They tried to replicate our work but couldn’t. They are not even competitors. Theirs is a completely different product.”

A Khayamiya and his designs

“If you start to think about it as a business, it is no longer a craft. For me it started as a business but because I grew to love it, my position changed. My focus now is about creating something, and putting myself into it.”

To keep the craft going and to support disadvantaged women from Cairo, Hasan negotiated an arrangement to use one of the rooms at the Museum of Islamic Art to host weekly training sessions in Khayamiya and other crafts. With the skills they learn, the women who attend can earn a living. Hasan provides this training at no cost for the last 15 years.

Top: One of Hasan's team instructing a women's group. Below: Hasan and some of the women learning the craft, training that he provides for free.

About the neighbourhood in which he lives, al-Darb al-Ahmar, Hasan is effusive.

“We are lucky to have been born here. It is a heritage site, and a spiritual place. If you wanted to create a neighbourhood like this, you could not, it is impossible to conceive of all the elements that you find here.”

“It has a character of its own. al-Darb al-Ahmar is always changing. al-Darb al-Ahmar at 6am is different to how it is later in the daytime. It is always changing. Even the rich people in Cairo come to al-Darb al-Ahmar, at times like Ramadan, because it brings them something.”

‘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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