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Sunday, 29 September 2019

Egypt’s khayamiya has to evolve to survive

Egypt’s khayamiya has to evolve to survive: The ancient art of khayamiya is unique to Egypt, but despite enduring for years, it is now most likely to draw attention because of the multiple threats it faces, Stephanie Vermillion writes for Atlas Obscura. These include a dearth of tourism, competition from cheaper textiles imported from overseas or locally-produced fabric replicas, and dwindling interest from young Egyptians who are uninterested in taking up the craft, which doesn’t exactly promise a steady income. Most of its activity is now concentrated on Sharia Khayamiya — the Street of the Tentmakers — opposite Bab Zuweila. Here, an estimated 20 artisans work to make a living and keep the tradition alive, but it is painstaking and time-consuming. One piece of khayamiya can take weeks to complete, and, with prices for a quilt ranging from USD 200 to USD 950, it isn’t cheap to produce or to purchase.

Online sales offer a way to stay relevant: The events of 2011 and beyond took a heavy toll on the khayamiya craftspeople. "Tourists used to make up about 98% of our clientele. It's usually them who appreciate the effort put into these handicrafts as opposed to Egyptians," said one. But while Egypt’s tourism appears to be rebounding, a small international movement that has mobilized to support the artisans seems the best chance for khayamiya’s long-term survival. Traditional artisans now partner with Egyptian Etsy shop owners to reach customers all over the world. And an award-winning documentary, The Tentmakers of Cairo, has shed light on both the craft itself and the uncertain future it faces.

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