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Tentmakers of Cairo

The Project

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, the Khayamiyya Project has unfolded as a collaborative project under the auspices of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW), a joint enterprise of Durham and Edinburgh Universities (grant number AH/K000098/1: ‘The Arab World in Transition’). It seeks to document the social history and daily life of traditional craftsmen in Cairo through their own words and in graphic depictions of the world in which they live and work. In so doing, it aims to enhance the scholarly and public understanding of a folk art, and its producers, that have infrequently been studied in the past and still only narrowly seen or encountered outside the Middle East.

©Massimiliano Fusari/

This website, which will be augmented over time, will present on-going work through images, stories, analytical essays, and links to related work. It is conscious of the innate and mutually reinforcing linkage between knowledge production and digital dissemination.

In addition to the website, the project had several components:

  • An exhibition by a photographer noted for his work on Middle Eastern themes, Massimiliano Fusari, capturing the daily work and physical environment of the tentmakers. This was held at the World Heritage Visitors’ Centre, Palace Green, Durham, from 4 March to 30 March 2014.
  • An exhibition of contemporary khayamiyya pieces in the Norman Gallery of Durham Castle, 28 March to 31 March 2014. This was curated by Jenny Bowker, the overseer of several khayamiyya exhibitions around the world and herself a distinguished quilter. The khayyam (tentmaker), Hany Abdel Khader, was present to illustrate how the works are made.
  • Oral histories of the tentmakers that will highlight their social background and family involvement. These are being collected under the direction of Dr Dina Shehayeb, Professor in the Institute of Architecture and Housing at the Housing and Building National Research Center (HBRC) in Cairo.
  • Occasional lectures, such as ‘The Art History of the Khayamiya’ by Dr Sam Bowker, which was held on 16 September 2013 in Durham. Dr Bowker of Charles Sturt University in Australia has written and lectured extensively on the art history aspects of the topic. Further lectures will be held in conjunction with the two exhibitions.

Used with permission.

The project is building on the prior work, and acknowledges with gratitude the generous continuing assistance, of Jenny Bowker and Sam Bowker. It is also greatly benefiting from the advice and support of Self El-Rashidi, formerly Co-ordinator of Durham’s World Heritage Site and, earlier, Head of Urban Planning for the Aga Khan Trust charged with implementing a conservation plan for the World Heritage Site of Historic Cairo; and Dr Lorraine Holmes, Research Administrator of the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA), Durham University, and an expert in political philosophy. The project is under the general direction of Professor James Piscatori (SGIA).