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County Durham exhibition shows off the Art of Egyptian Tentmakers

An exhibition in Durham has celebrated the art of Eqyptian tentmaking at Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel

Exhibition of the work from Tentmakers of Islamic Cairo, R Reem Abou-El-Fadl of Durham University
Exhibition of the work from Tentmakers of Islamic Cairo, R Reem Abou-El-Fadl of Durham University

An exhibition celebrating the art of Egyptian tentmaking enjoys its last day in Durham today.

Weekend visitors to Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel have been treated to displays of exquisite textiles as well as demonstrations of the ancient craft tradition and associated lectures as part of The Art of Egyptian Tentmakers.

Contemporary appliquéd pieces of design, craftsmanship and colour were commissioned for this exhibit in the 900-year-old chapel. In a variety of sizes, the pieces, serve as wall hangings, bedspreads, and pillow coverings. They are not woven, as are European tapestries, but stitched with impressive dexterity.

For centuries Cairo’s master craftsmen have recorded their rich cultural heritage in this way.

Originally intended to line tents, the pieces have subsequently been used in an array of contexts from weddings and pilgrimage celebrations to political rallies. Craftsman Hany Abdel Kader, who is one of many keeping this ancient tradition alive has been on hand throughout to demonstrate the complex techniques employed in the creation of the beautiful pieces. As well as being able to look at the displays and see the craftsmanship for themselves, visitors have been invited to buy contemporary examples of the Egyptian textiles.

Exhibition of the work from Tentmakers of Islamic Cairo, Prof James Piscatori, Middle East Studies at Durham University
Exhibition of the work from Tentmakers of Islamic Cairo, Prof James Piscatori, Middle East Studies at Durham University
 

The exhibition made up part of a wider season dedicated to exploring and celebrating the cultural traditions of the Arab World built on years of study of the Middle East in Durham. Organised by the Durham World Heritage Site, in conjunction with Durham University’s School of Government and International Affairs, the season also included a photographic exhibition featuring the Tentmakers of Islamic Cario.

Meanwhile James Piscatori, professor at Durham’s School of Government and International Affairs, and Seif El Rashidi, the co-ordinator of the Durham World Heritage Site, also presented two short and informal talks on the history of Islamic Textiles yesterday.

Challenging the pervasive image of the Middle East as volatile and troubled, it was intended that displaying these lavish pieces while exploring the heritage behind them should serve as a reminder of the region’s ancient, intricate and aesthetically rich cultural traditions.

James Piscatori, project leader says, “This is a fantastic opportunity to discover the rich visual culture of the Middle East, and to meet with a master craftsman representing a highly specialised skill that has existed on one street in Cairo for at least a thousand years.

“It is a tradition that resonates very well with the quilting tradition of the North East.”

The Art of Egyptian Tentmakers in Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel will be open from 10am to 6pm today.

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