Egyptian architect Ramses Wissa Wassef (1911 - 1974) once said, "I never took the young weavers to an art gallery or a museum." This saying summed up the philosophy of the art school which he founded in the 1940s to direct children to explore creativity in them through weaving.
An exhibition entitled “Wissa Wassef - The school of Instinctive Creativity '' is being held in Ubuntu Art Gallery in Zamalek, an upscale neighborhood on a cosmopolitan island in the Nile.
“We display works of Wissa center in an attempt to place a spotlight on the concept and to present it to young generations who may be unaware of it and to emphasize that handicrafts are art and craftsmen are indeed artists,” said Ahmed El-Dabaa, founder of Ubuntu Art Gallery.
Wassef’s journey began in 1935 when he traveled to France to complete his studies at the Paris College of Art, at which he delved deep into French culture and learned all kinds of arts, including classic, art deco, Dadaism, and surrealism.
Although he had the opportunity to continue his life there, he preferred to return to Cairo and started teaching art and architecture at the Fine Arts College in Cairo. He adopted a unique style of architecture inspired by Coptic and Nubian heritage and dove deep into the architectural and artistic elements of his surroundings, rebelling against the mechanical monotonousness that lacks spontaneity and is restricted by pure materialism.
“Wassef subscribed to the belief that the craftsman is indeed an artist, despite the title of ‘artist’ in Egypt being synonymous with an industry that is associated with fame and profit regardless of the content being produced by that ‘artist’ or whether it is of any benefit to society,” El-Dabaa said.
He added that the artist in this sense, creates what he is forced to digest and retain through formal education and by exposure to the different visual motifs to which they have been directed.
“Wassef decided to take on a blank slate in the form of a child with a clean memory that has not been influenced by or exposed to any art style,” El-Dabaa explained.
Wassef believed that inside every child lives an artist who is able to express himself creatively if the opportunity arose to create something through learning a craft but without any direction or intervention.
He selected weaving because he believed that transporting the picture from the imagination of the weaver to the loom fills the child with joy, and gives them satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. This process reinforces their ability to be creative.
He built his art center in the village of El Harraneya a stone’s throw away from the Pyramids of Giza. The center went on to gain international acclaim insofar as the viewer can take in the works woven by artists led by instinct.
He kept teaching a generation of weavers and passed the baton to his family led by his wife Sophie, and his daughters Suzanne and Yolinda, who brought the second generation of weavers to light in the 1970s. Suzanne’s husband Ikram Nosshi functioned as both manager and patron of the center.
The exhibition, which runs until June 21, displays cotton and wool tapestries rich in colors from nature. Here are wool tapestries showing an underwater world of colorful fish and corals. Another shows lotus and papyrus. Cats, camels and gardens in spring with colorful flowers and flying birds are also featured there. One cotton weaving work shows an oasis with many details like houses, palm trees, denizens and animals - all in motion.
One of the striking works is entitled “Village Market.” The 225 x 325 cm wool tapestry is so rich in people of different ages that the viewer may hear their voices while they are shopping or talking to sellers inside the market.
“All these works came from the artists’ own imagination and creativity,” Wassef’s daughter, Suzanne, told Majalla.
“My father selected El Harraneya village where there were no specialized crafts or specified arts to prove that the art is inside all people, not just those who study it, and that the person has creativity that he himself doesn't know exists,” she said.
On display are 46 textile tapestries made by the first generation which were worked with Wassef, and the second generation whose ages are between 46 and 58.
“There are no differences between the works of two generations as the soul and concepts of the works are from the same inspiration,” Suzanne said, adding that the artistic style is based on the person’s own creation, not imitation.
Indeed, the displayed works are free from pharaonic-shaped designs or any famous design that appeared before.
She added that when we nurture a group of children to let them express themselves through weaving, “we follow up with them and devote our time to them to help them discover their talents.
“We are not a school for certain ages nor do we have curricula. We try with every child to discover his own creativity and let him think what are the hidden talents that God grants to him.”
All the needed materials are available at the center. They choose the colors themselves and dye the loom themselves.
“My father cultivated seeds of plants dating back to the 4th century at the center’s garden. We are using it until today,” Suzanne said.
Many international presidents and kings have visited the center. The center’s works also toured European countries and were exhibited in galleries there, one of which was inaugurated by Princess Diana.
Many international museums displayed their works. “There are five museums in Britain that own some works, which they consider are based on a unique concept. In addition to collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the French Musée du Quai Branly, Jacques Chirac who owned eight masterpieces.
“They have contacted me recently saying they will soon display the eight masterpieces in a separate hall highlighting textiles of Ramses Wissa Wassef. It is a great appreciation from them,” Suzanne said.