The Street and the Screen: Egyptian Tentmakers and Craft Online

Sam Bowker, Seif El Rashidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The tentmakers of Cairo have a history of resiliently adapting their craft to the demands of the world around them. For generations, operating from small workshops in the heart of the historic city of Cairo, they have responded to local and international demand, as well as speculatively developing new products based on their own vision and understanding of their market. Today, these craftsmen, working in the decorative technique of needle-turned cotton-on-canvas appliqué known as khayamiya (from the Arabic for “tent”) and utilizing social media and the Internet, have developed new understandings of their craft heritage through engagement with global craft networks and international forums. The tentmakers’ craft practice is linked to changing uses and production of khayamiya, the vulnerability of Egyptian tourism, and local perceptions regarding the value of khayamiya as a craft. Despite fears relating to the sustainability of the craft, the future of the tentmakers gives cause for optimism. New international markets - namely western craft exhibitions specialized either in quilts and textiles - are changing khayamiya design. They bring a new appreciation of the craft for audiences with little previous exposure to Egyptian craft and heritage, supporting the competitive drive for higher-quality objects. Use of online spaces - Facebook, Etsy, and Instagram - challenge some of the foundations of the craft, such as who becomes a tentmaker, how their businesses operate, attitudes to the ownership of designs, and the introduction of new visual elements and business collaborations. This paper will review these forward-looking implications for Egyptian khayamiya, noting how the dynamics of the street and the screen are shaping global engagement with this contemporary craft. The research relies on conversations with the tentmakers and online research carried out by the authors in 2019.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-66
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Modern Craft
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 02 Jan 2020

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