Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

'The Tentmakers of Cairo' looks at Egypt’s overlooked art. (Shutterstock)
Updated 09 January 2019
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Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

BEIRUT: In the heart of medieval Cairo, facing the gate of Bab Zuwayla, lies the picturesque Street of the Tentmakers, Shari Khayamiya, lined with shops selling vibrant applique panels. This sewing technique, whereby textiles are sewn onto a ground material, is known as “khayamiya” and is unique to Egypt.

“The Tentmakers of Cairo,” by Seif El Rashidi and Sam Bowker, traces the origins of “khayamiya” from the 11th century to the present day. Khayamiya, the art of the tent, is derived from the Arabic word “khayma,” meaning tent.

It is difficult to understand why khayamiya has been the focus of so little attention besides a few articles, including an excellent piece in 1996 by John Feeny in “Aramco World Magazine,” a 2003 thesis and a 2015 documentary film by Kim Beamish.

Until the end of the 19th century, khayamiya was essentially viewed in architectural terms. The authors reveal clear links between tent panels and doorways from that period, “indicating that these textiles were conceived of as architecture in cotton.”

With their colorful patterns of greens, blues, reds and yellows, these distinctive textiles brighten up a street. In the words of the authors, “they unite ornament, function, and ritual in a spectacular display of Egyptian visual culture.” A more decorative khayamiya devoid of Arabic calligraphy emerged in the 1880s to cater for the needs of the nascent touristic market for souvenirs of Egypt.


What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque

Updated 18 March 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque

Author: Ünver Rüstem

With its idiosyncratic yet unmistakable adaptation of European Baroque models, the 18th-century architecture of Istanbul has frequently been dismissed by modern observers as inauthentic and derivative, a view reflecting broader unease with notions of Western influence on Islamic cultures. In Ottoman Baroque — the first English-language book on the topic — Ünver Rüstem provides a compelling reassessment of this building style and shows how between 1740 and 1800 the Ottomans consciously coopted European forms to craft a new, politically charged, and globally resonant image for their empire’s capital.
Rüstem reclaims the label “Ottoman Baroque” as a productive framework for exploring the connectedness of Istanbul’s eighteenth-century buildings to other traditions of the period. Using a wealth of primary sources, he demonstrates that this architecture was in its own day lauded by Ottomans and foreigners alike for its fresh, cosmopolitan effect. Purposefully and creatively assimilated, the style’s cross-cultural borrowings were combined with Byzantine references that asserted the Ottomans’ entitlement to the Classical artistic heritage of Europe. Such aesthetic rebranding was part of a larger endeavor to reaffirm the empire’s power at a time of intensified East-West contact, taking its boldest shape in a series of imperial mosques built across the city as landmarks of a state-sponsored idiom.