Interview with Ahmed Kamal Swedan
The Ancient Egyptian art of the Tentmakers
Ahmed, how did you approach the world of Egyptian textile tradition?What does this mean to you?
“Khiamiah” it is an Arabic word which means Tentmakers and this a traditional hand sewing which you can see in Egypt and exactly in Old Islamic Cairo, that is a generation industry but also small stithchers could have their own business in that old covered street in Cairo, 100 years ago that kind of work were used for all different occasions as covering walls such as funerals and wedding as well, that was so much interesting for the west to see same colors and same designs are using for happy and sad occasion.
The “Greatest mum” Jenny Bowker and The Tentmakers
I have seen that you are very committed to the diffusion of this art worldwide, what are the channels you use the most and what results are you getting?
In 2007 when our greatest mum Jenny Bowker was in Cairo as the wife of the Australian ambassador, she met all of Tentmakers and as she is a professional Quilt teacher, started to help and introduce Tentmakers of Cairo worldwide. We worked together since that time till now to help Tentmakers in their overseas workshops and their shows as well, we created for Tentmakers of Cairo more than 65 shows worldwide in the States with the American Quilters Society and many other locations in USA, Australia, Europe, Asia and South Africa.Each time Tentmakers do the event the audience could see how talented they are so they also invite them again for other shows.
I am very curious to know how you have organized your activity: how do you relate with the artisans/artists and how do you promote their work?
Before I met our Greatest mum Jenny Bowker, I was in the Faculty of commerce and my Family home just 5 minutes from the street so from my childhood I am watching Tentmakers stitching and adore their talent, I had inside me lots of dreams for them but all could be done after I met our Greatest mum Jenny Bowker. Also we created online site on Etsy to sell Tentmakers work and can ship the work anywhere in the world
You are participating in many international events: what kind of reception do you find? What are the reactions of the public?
Always we are so much moved by the way of warm welcoming which giving us more energy to work harder than before as I mentioned before we got more invitations to other shows after the audience seeing the Tentmakers work and their demonstration. Just speechless.
Tell me about the book”The Tentmakers of Cairo”: it talk about the relationship between traditional and new work?
I emailed Prof. Sam Bowker the author of the book and he sent me his answer which was:
”Our new book, “The Tentmakers of Cairo: Egypt’s Medieval and Modern Applique Craft” is about the history and skills of the Egyptian tentmakers. It was written by Seif El Rashidi and Sam Bowker, and reviews over a thousand years of Egyptian tents through art history, from illustrated manuscripts in museums to suradeq pavilions in the streets of Cairo today. It shows how the historic work is related to the new work, and interviews tentmakers to show how their designs are created and how the craftsmen are trained in this ancient art. It also discusses the importance of tourism on this craft in the 20th century, and the impact it held on artists like Henri Matisse, who collected textiles including Egyptian tentmaker applique.”
Can you talk about the movie “The Tentmakers of Cairo”?
When we talk about the movie we should definitely mention an amazing Australian film maker who is Kim Beamish, who worked 3 years with Tentmakers to make the movie and created very close bond with all of them to get a real documentary movie which showing how the life is going with Tentmakers from many sights, the movie is too real as after Kim became very good friend with us, we never cared that the camera in front of us, Kim Beamish super film maker, I still miss him after he left Egypt.
What are your future plans? What objective have you set for yourself?
Tentmakers street which contain 20 shops and about 500 stitchers working with these shops, they all have huge challenge to maintain the traditional test of the Ancient Egypt, most of the designs were taken from very old places in Egypt and Pharos temples, I wish they keep working to save this traditional Egyptian Folk-art, and we are always very happy to be invited for overseas shows but through us (our Greatest mum ever Jenny Bowker and me) just to maintain distributing the opportunities fairly between all of them and keep all Tentmakers shops with their stitchers working. In 2019 Tentmakers will have Indian Quilt Festival from 25-27thJanuary to run workshops and exhibit. Also we will have other amazing workshops in California at Asilomar Avenue from 24 February till 6th March. Then we will back again to the states to attend the International Folk Art Market Santa Fe NM on July.