Treasures of the Tentmakers: Discovering Egyptian Khayamiya

Hi folks,

I will give a free public lecture for the Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies in the Australian National University on Friday 18 October at 2pm.  This will review highlights of my research so far, focusing on major developments in the history of Khayamiya. You are most welcome to attend, and please share this PDF flyer far and wide.

ANU CAIS Treasures of the Tentmakers Bowker 18 Oct 2013

On other news, the research and lecturing tour of the UK and Ireland was a great success. Plenty of new material was gathered for upcoming articles, and plans are in progress for the extended international tour of the exhibition “Khayamiya: Khedival to Contemporary”. Thank you very much to James and Claire Birch and Amy Claridge of Doddington Hall, Venetia Porter, Helen Wolfe and Cynthia McGowan of the British Museum, Catherine Wynne of the University of Hull, Ann Murray and Alan Drumm of the University of Cork, Jim Piscatori of the University of Durham, and Craig Barclay of the Oriental Museum in Durham, and Joan and John Fisher, for all your generous help.

Studying Khedival Khayamiya from the British Museum's collection in Blythe House, London. Cynthia McGowan, Joan Fisher and Helen Wolfe pictured, photograph by Sam Bowker on Tuesday 10 September 2013.
Studying Khedival Khayamiya from the British Museum’s collection in Blythe House, London. Cynthia McGowan, Joan Fisher and Helen Wolfe pictured, photograph by Sam Bowker on Tuesday 10 September 2013.

Finally, if you would like to see new images of the first installation of this exhibition in Wagga Wagga, including intimate close-up photographs of these spectacular hand-made textiles, Aaron James Neal has generously uploaded a portfolio of his superb photographs to this link:

Talking about Khayamiya

Bob and Sam Bowker chatting in front of the "Milan Panel", a Khedival Khayamiya dated 1899.
Bob and Sam Bowker chatting in front of the “Milan Panel”, a Khedival Khayamiya dated 1899. Photo by Jenny Bowker.

I was interviewed in the exhibition Khayamiya: Khedival to Contemporary for ABC Radio Riverina by the charming Peter Casey.

Peter has kindly provided this link to our conversation as it was broadcast:

Detail of the 'Suradeq', or Cairo Street Tent. This 5m x 3m panel is the most typical form of Khayamiya seen across Egypt  over the past century, and remains in use today.
Detail of the ‘Suradeq’ panel, or section from a Cairo Street Tent. This 5m x 3m panel is the most typical form of Khayamiya seen across Egypt over the past century, and remains in use today.

“Khayamiya: Khedival to Contemporary” to open in Wagga Wagga

Khedival Khayamiya, circa 1890-1910. (Bowker Collection)
Khedival Khayamiya, circa 1890-1910. (Bowker Collection)

Khayamiya: Khedival to Contemporary is the world’s first exhibition  to reveal the story of the Egyptian Tentmakers from the Late Ottoman Empire to present-day Cairo. I am delighted to announce that this free exhibition will be shown in Wagga Wagga from Monday August 26 to Thursday September 12, 2013, in the HR Gallop Gallery (in Building 21 off Carpark 2), on the Charles Sturt University Campus, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales (Australia).

It will be open from Monday to Friday during office hours – my apologies that it is not possible to open this exhibition during weekends as well.

This exhibition has several purposes. It is the first physical manifestation of my research into the art history of the Egyptian Tentmakers, and kicks off an ‘in-tents’ month of public lectures in the UK and Australia. It is also an experiment to test the feasibility of touring these textiles around Australia and internationally in 2014, as well as a great opportunity to document and study this world-class collection of very large antique Khayamiya.

I curated this exhibition to cast Khayamiya within the rich historic context that this Egyptian art form deserves. By doing this, I hope to raise awareness of the Tentmakers of Cairo by embracing the unique visual and cultural heritage that has resulted in contemporary Egyptian Appliqué.

Previous Tentmaker exhibitions have only featured their recent work, partly because until now, that was all that could be accessed for display. After extensive primary research, this situation has changed.

This exhibition will prove that further research into the history of Khayamiya is justified, valuable, and fascinating. For every question it answers, new questions are raised.

If you would like to know more, you are most welcome to join in a public conversation to be held inside the exhibition from 1pm on Tuesday August 27, 2013.

Media Release – Egyptian Appliqué in Wagga Wagga – 15 August 2013

Exhibition Flyer – Khedival to Contemporary, Wagga Wagga

UK Lecture Tour – Khayamiya (September 2013)

The 'Tent Room' of Doddington Hall - a spectacular Khayamiya Tent in the UK
The “Tent Room” of Doddington Hall – a fully restored late-nineteenth century Egyptian Khayamiya, a masterpiece of Egyptian Tentmaker Applique. Photo courtesy James and Claire Birch, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire UK (2013).

This September, I will travel from Australia to the UK to present aspects of my research into the history of the Tentmakers of Cairo, as well as conduct fieldwork for future articles.

If you would like to attend one of these presentations or meet to discuss Khayamiya whilst I am travelling, please feel free to contact me.


UK Lecture Itinerary

September 5-6-7: University of Hull Visions of Egypt Conference (website)

Tentmakers and Tourists:  The Re-Orientation of Khayamiya

ABSTRACT:  Khayamiya, or Tentmaker Appliqué, is a spectacular form of Egyptian textile art. It has been made in Cairo since the days of the Ottoman Empire, with antecedents known from the Pharaonic era. This vibrant art form was once manifested as elaborately decorated tents, designed as impressive ceremonial backdrops for public events. However, the Khayamin (or Tentmakers) dramatically changed their output from the 1890s, moving away from Khedival tents to create Neo-Pharaonic and Folkloric scenes on smaller linen panels. These were designed as practical souvenirs for visitors to Egypt, unlike the grand tents that were usually purchased by Egyptians, for Egyptians.

By the 1920s, the traditional forms of Khedival Khayamiya had been superseded to the point of extinction.  The souvenir format had become so popular that “Vintage Egyptian Appliqués” are now regularly seen circulating in the international antiques trade. Even contemporary Khayamiya continues to find its most important following within non-Egyptian audiences, though this may be set to change as the Tentmakers embrace emerging Egyptian cultural identities.

The invention of touristic forms of Khayamiya presents a striking case study in the dynamics of interaction between Egyptians and their international visitors at the turn of the nineteenth century. These objects are manifestations of touristic perceptions of Egypt, as imagined by both Egyptians and visitors to Egypt. They demonstrate both the resilient entrepreneurial spirit of the Tentmakers and the ongoing cultural significance of the Khayamiya as a uniquely Egyptian art form, centered upon perceptions of what Egyptian culture ‘looks like’.

Touristic Khayamiya, circa 1900, cotton applique on linen.
Touristic Khayamiya, circa 1900, cotton applique on linen. (Bowker Collection)

September 8: Doddington Hall (Lincolnshire) to view their spectacular Tent Room and present a public talk. (website)

Khayamiya in Context: The Tent Room

ABSTRACT:  The ‘Tent Room’ at Doddington is a former bedroom filled by a spectacular appliqué Egyptian tent, a colourful, evocative Khayamiya which fills the space right up to the high ceiling. It was given to Doddington Hall by Harry, later Viscount Crookshank, who was MP for Gainsborough for over 30 years. Harry would pitch the tent on the lawns of Doddington Hall and use it to entertain his constituents; he was born in Cairo and the tent was made there at the turn of the twentieth century. Such tents are still made today for weddings and fairs and as such it is a bright, vibrant design perfect for celebrations under a hot sun.

For over seventy years, the tent lay in a storeroom at Doddington where it deteriorated until it was restored by James and Claire Birch in India, whilst they lived there in the late 1990s. Both Claire and James loved the tent and its colourful history, so restoring it and displaying it for visitors to enjoy was considered a right and proper purpose as it was originally intended – for social enjoyment.

From within this very special tent, Dr Bowker will tell the stories of the Khayamiya, past and present. This is a remarkable object, and a remarkable history can be drawn from it.

Another view of the 'Tent Room' of Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, UK. This is a restored late-nineteenth century Egyptian Khayamiya.
The “Tent Room” of Doddington Hall – a fully restored late-nineteenth century Egyptian Khayamiya, a masterpiece of Egyptian Tentmaker Applique. Photo courtesy James and Claire Birch, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire UK (2013).

September 9-10: I will be in London to view the British Museum‘s Khayamiya collection and other sites of research interest.


September 12-13-14: University of Cork  War in the Visual Arts Conference  (website)

Another Egyptian Revolution: Khayamiya as War Art

ABSTRACT: The Tentmakers of Cairo have made decorated tents or ‘Khayamiya’ since the time of the Ottoman Empire.  Their work was widely collected as souvenirs by Allied soldiers in Egypt during the First and Second World Wars, and even appropriated for military purposes. However, in the aftermath of the 25 January 2011 Revolution, Hany Abdel Khader became the first Egyptian Tentmaker to directly address the complex genre of war art. His Revolution Khayamiya (2011 and 2012) are unprecedented and controversial interpretations of this historic textile art form. Given their original context, they are the most provocative of the contemporary artworks that have emerged in Cairo in the wake of the 2011 Revolution. They symbolize a vast break from tradition, and a very direct engagement with the social and political disruption of the Egyptian Revolution.

This paper will discuss the unexpected emergence of Abdel Khader’s highly expressive and individual work as a contemporary war artist within a medium widely disregarded as a decorative textile craft. His original Revolution Khayamiya now belongs to the Oriental Museum in Durham University. This is one of the first contemporary Khayamiya to be recognized by a major cultural institution, and an exemplar of Egyptian contemporary war art.

The depiction of a recent and violent political event, by the conventions of the Sharia el-Khayamiya, is an act of breathtaking audacity and acumen. The Revolution Khayamiya were sewn by hand in secret, depicting the events in Tahrir Square as Hany Abdel Khader saw them, as his friends told him, and as they were related by Egyptian media. The result is simple in the manner of folk art, but profound as his personal narrative of a complex national uprising.

This is an important story expressed through an ancient decorative art; a revolution for the Egyptians, and a revolution for the Khayamiya.

Hany Abd el-Khader, "Hany's Revolution", Khayamiya (2012) Collection of the Oriental Museum, Durham, UK
Hany Abd el-Khader, “Hany’s Revolution”, Khayamiya (2012) Collection of the Oriental Museum, Durham, UK

September 16: Durham University

Link to Event Poster (PDF)

The Art History of the Khayamiya

Khayamiya originated as decorated tents across the Arab world. This lecture will trace their history from early Ottoman origins to the tourist souvenirs sold in the markets of Cairo today. It will address the process through which this unexplored history was revealed, from the painter Henri Matisse to contemporary quiltmakers. It will culminate in a discussion of the work of Hany Abdel Khader, whose Revolution khayamiya depicts the events of the 2011 Revolution in Egypt.

Henri Matisse, Interieur au Rideau Egyptien (Interior with Egyptian Curtain), (1948) Oil on canvas, 116 x 89cm. Phillips Collection, Washington DC.  © Succession H. Matisse. Photo: Archives H. Matisse.






This website exists to document and publish work by Sam Bowker, mostly in relation to his independent research projects.

Sam Bowker’s current research interests include portraiture, self-portraiture, various twentieth-century art and design movements, Australian art, exhibition reviews, nineteenth century travelling artists, contemporary Orientalism, Saharan rock art, philatelic design, obscure South Atlantic islands, and war art.

His PhD thesis, “Their War and Mine: The use of self-portraiture in Australian war art”, was completed in 2011 for the Australian National University, supervised by Dr Elisabeth Findlay. He now divides his time between lecturing in Art History and Visual Culture for Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga (since 2012), and facilitating a wide range of learning programs for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra (since 2003).

Previously, Sam Bowker lectured in Art and Design Theory for the Australian National University’s School of Art (2008-2010). Since 2004, he has also worked in various roles for the National Museum of Australia, the National Library of Australia, and the Canberra Institute of Technology.