One of the great things about living in a city vs just visiting it is the time to find hidden gems. The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center is one of those amazing little spots in the city that few locals visit, and even fewer visitors. I’d first heard about at a Women of the World (WOW) meeting and knew I had to visit. My in-laws visiting gave me a perfect excuse to track it down and I’m so glad we did!
Ramses Wissa Wassef had a strong belief that everyone has an innate creativity and is an artist, but that those natural skills must be used from a young age. He tested this belief by teaching school children weaving in the 40s and was very impressed with their skill. So in the early 1950s, he opened the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center and invited local children from the nearby village to come and learn weaving.
This proved to be extremely successful and the tapestries produced were vivid and gorgeous. The children grew up and are now adults still weaving. Both men and women are weavers. For much more information about Wissa Wassef, check out their pdf with very comprehensive FAQ. Their website in general is also excellent.
Some of the most fascinating things to me about it are:
*1 square meter of weaving takes about a month
*They work from their imagination and do not sketch or create a plan ahead of time except from imagining in their heads and picking the materials
*Wissa Wassef Art Center creates most of their own dyes by growing their own plants. All the dyes are natural.
*All weavers are paid based on time spent weaving and the size and quality of the piece, regardless of whether or not it is sold.
*Tapestries are in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY and the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. The US Embassy in Cairo also has 3 pieces.
We got to see several women working on their tapestries. The level of detail in the work that came just from their mind and no sketching or copying is amazing. Not to mention that due to the size of most of the pieces, they can’t see most of what they already created and must remember it.
We also got to see women working on smaller, finer tapestries with very small threads. The center also does batik work, though we didn’t get to see that process.
Batik involves dying fabric over multiple steps. Hot wax is dropped onto the fabric where the artist wants it to stay white. Then it is dyed the lighter base color. Then more hot wax is added to cover the light color that should remain and it is dyed again. More wax added and dyed again. Then it is boiled, which removes all the wax and sets the colors.
The museum was amazing as well. Several small rooms filled with art work. Some of the pieces were incredibly huge and detailed. There were also many pieces for sale in a range of price points (tapestries about $100 and up and batik work starting for just about $10 and up)
You can visit the center during the week for a tour to see the weavers and to view their private collection. You can also buy from their work.
Location? southern Giza on way to Saqqara, accurately marked on Googlemaps with signage. http://www.wissa-wassef-arts.com/visit.htm
Cost? No cost to visit, though we bought art. A donation if just visiting would be nice.
Camera Fee? No
Toilets? Unknown, none seen
Food/Drinks Allowed? Sold? None sold, bringing water or a snack is fine
Stroller Friendly? Mostly. A few steps and some dirt paths but most strollers should be fine. Inside museum is all one floor
Parking? Street parking on a quiet village street was no problem
Notes: Wissa Wassef was amazing. It is two parts—the working side where you get to see weavers actually working on their art and the museum side where you see some amazing finished pieces and have the ability to buy two different styles of weaving or batik work. A man guided us through and gave us excellent information. Very easy to combine with a stop to the Adam Henein Museum (just a few doors down the road), the Saqqara pyramid area or horseback riding at Abu Sir. Check the link above for hours, as the weavers don’t work every day. If combining with the Adam Henein Museum, it is closed on Weds and Thurs.
Edit to Add: There is a second museum in the back in another building. I didn’t even know it existed until my 3rd visit when a group was getting a tour. There are some amazing, massive tapestries there! It is worth asking for the building to be opened or prearranging a tour.