Photo courtesy of Darb 1718
by Anna Bernsen
Darb 1718’s showroom in Coptic Cairo is currently filled with textiles in all shapes and forms imaginable. The contemporary art space is showing the exhibition Half Way Through The Thread that spotlights sewing, embroidering and stitching techniques as an art form, rather than a craft used for practical purposes.
The artworks created by 18 different artists vary greatly in their shapes and expressions. While artist Miral Mokhtar has created a miniature treehouse in yarn and wood, Riham Saif has stitched small and colorful flowers onto pairs of shoes.
Textile art often has a commercial purpose—whether it’s high-end clothes brands, Persian rugs or the embroidery on a wedding dress—which is why the exhibition’s curator Yomna Osman wanted to show textiles as a non-commercial art form.
“There is a whole section dedicated to textiles in the fine arts department of Cairo University, but I haven’t seen a lot of textile exhibitions in Egypt, despite the fact that textiles are so important in both ancient and contemporary Egyptian practices,” says Osman.
To find artists and artworks to showcase, Darb 1718 had an open call for applications. “We had the concept for the exhibition and we basically called all the artists who are practicing or playing around with textiles to send us their works. I met with every single artist and discussed the process, and some ended up deciding to change their work while others sent us different pieces,” explains Osman.
As the exhibition’s guests move around the showroom several gently touch the soft fabrics and fine stitching. Especially two pieces which can best be described as cloth books with embroidered pages draw the audience’s attention.
“I think with textiles it’s all about the feeling and the touch, so it would be difficult to have people not touching the artworks. But as far as I’m seeing, people are still being cautious and they are treating the art carefully,” says Osman.
The majority of the artworks are colorful and detailed, but in one corner of the showroom Farah Khaled Abdelhamid’s pieces stand out. The minimal, almost futuristic clothing pieces are without color and made from gray fabric and white silicone.
“With these pieces, I was exploring and studying the different ways we understand wearable objects. So I began deconstructing and researching different concepts and what design attributes tell the wearer that this item is, for example, for the head. Then I removed all those attributes to give the wearer the cleanest experience of just the material,” says Abdelhamid.
She explains further, that she wanted to experiment with how she could make the wearer truly lost in the act of wearing her art. In the end, it’s about the piece, how the wearer is wearing it, and how the viewer is looking at the piece, she says.
Abdelhamid studied jewelry and metalsmithing at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US. This is her first time exhibiting in Egypt, and Abdelhamid explains that the conversation here has been different from the one in the States.
“In the States, the conversation was about the concept, how it’s photographed and how it’s presented, but here the conversation tends to center around how it’s supposed to be worn if it’s sellable and if someone were to buy it, where would they put it in their home. It’s opening up my mind in terms of the market’s culture and how we define the audience,” says Abdelhamid.
She adds that it is interesting to explain her art to an audience that is more consumer driven, but that the end goal is to have the conversation. “It’s not so much about what happens after that. People have been saying I like it, but I don’t understand it at all,” Abdelhamid says with a laugh.
In the opposite corner of the showroom, Fair Trade Egypt is exhibiting an entirely different kind of textile art. Marketing Officer for Fair Trade Egypt Amira Nabil explains that the organization works with 34 different artist groups from 11 governorates in Egypt.
“We are here because we believe that crafts are a visual art. They are not only heritage, or for commercial use, they have value as a visual art,” she says.
Nabil points to the different scarves, embroidery, and dolls in traditional Egyptian clothing as she explains that the pieces were chosen for the Half Way Through The Thread concept from more than 500 different products. Every piece has its own story as they come from different artist groups, each with a unique background and traditions.
Visit the exhibition until May 15, every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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