Once upon a time… A cultural trip to Egypt in 1999.
During that trip in Luxor, I met Mina Refat, who owned a bazaar in Luxor’s shopping mall. In the shop, he sold authentic Egyptian artifacts, fabrics and statues, as well as wall hangings woven by the ancient method. I was a cultural person and he, among other things, helped me explore the hidden prayer rooms of Coptic Christians. Those places were encrypted because the situation of the Copts has been and is difficult in Muslim-majority Egypt. Those interesting excursions helped me in my studies of art history.
The following year, Mina brought the tapestries of Ramses Wissa Wassef College weavers to Finland. His tapestry exhibition was at a Topelius Gallery on Uusimaa Street in Helsinki. Meanwhile, I had my own watercolor exhibition a couple of blocks away on Kalevankatu in Gallery Oma Huone. I was at the opening of the Egyptian tapestry exhibition and invited Mina and his entourage to visit my exhibition. At some point, we began to consider the possibilities of making tapestries from my watercolors. That reflection led to an agreement that three tapestries should be woven in Egypt according to my watercolors. That’s where my collaboration with Egyptian weavers began. This co-operation with Egyptian weavers has led to approximately 30 gobelines during the years.
The tapestries have been woven by an Egyptian weaving group led by an artist and weaver named Atef in his studio in Gisa, Cairo. Atef is not only an artist, but also a teacher at the Cairo Academy of Arts. The weavers are raised by the world-famous Ramses Wissa Wassef School. The tapestries are made from naturally dyed wool yarns, respecting the old Egyptian tapestry tradition. The fabrics are made exactly according to my watercolors or fine art graphic papers. I’ve been working with the Egyptian weavers since 2003 and also visited mass of on-site work.
Egyptian weavers generally used exclusively earth tones in their fabrics and I was not pleased with the first two fabrics as my own works are purely coloristic and the lighter shade of traditional Egyptian style did not match the color scheme of my watercolors. After each weave, I gave instructions on how to use the colors. Reds in particular were stumbling blocks. Finally, the third contract job pleased me.
I made a new contract and eventually my collaboration with Egyptian weavers continued for more than a decade. I also visited the studio of the Atef Group in Giza, Cairo, to observe the work of the weavers.