Hello and warm greetings to all interested in Bedouin Al Sadu weaving, and the research that I am undertaking during my extended research leave from Contemporary Textiles Practice (CTP) at UWIC. http://www.csad.uwic.ac.uk/textiles
Initially, the purpose of this blog was to inform and share something of my research methods and outcomes with CTP students and staff only. However, so many people have shown an interest, that I have widened the approach and hope to be inclusive for all. The following correspondence is not intended as an academic report of my research; that will be available upon completion of the project.
After a whiz round Scotland, Wales and England and a very long flight, my feet eventually touched the sand, albeit in a sandstorm with virtually no visibility. I have arrived in Kuwait in the Middle East, caught up on some sleep and started to acclimatise to the hot weather and vast amounts of water intake necessary to stay hydrated.
It is extremely hot – 49/51C. Last night it was 42 C at 10.00pm, but the sheer expanse of the desert is extraordinary on the eye, and the climate so dry, that it is not uncomfortable. Our home is on the coast, so occasionally a sea breeze and the very odd, single cloud offer a little relief from the intense heat. I keep out of the sun, but swimming every day, and exercising frequently.
Life starts very early in the morning (night-time really) at 3.45am with the call to prayers – everyone suffers this, with Mosques every few hundred meters around the city, and a second call at 4.30am. The nearest one to our house is approx. 300 m away and there are loud speakers in all directions from the minaret. Some of the calls are very beautiful and tonal, while others are guttural and quite disgusting; all are very loud and meant to wake you up!
During Ramadan, the day starts a little earlier, and after prayers, ‘If-tar’ celebrates the start of a new day and enables people to eat before dawn, after which a few hours work is undertaken before sleep prevails, only to wake up to break the days fast, at about 6pm. During this period Kuwait is like a ghost town; it is very unusual. Times are slightly different each day, and are published by the Emir in the local papers. Then just prior to the alloted time, everything goes wild. The roads are jammed, people drive in a frenzy, and the restaurants are packed full. People arrive early, make their order, which is presented before them and wait for the exact time before diving into their meals with relish! It’s madness, however, if anyone, except very young children, is caught eating or drinking, it would be seen as very disrespectful. Obviously some people struggle, particularly with smoking, and you read of terrible tales in the papers of people being incarcerated in prison or fined.
As Westerners, we can eat and drink in our own homes, but not publically (all restaurants, of which there are the greatest proportion per capita in the world, and food shops are closed), although our daughters, Imogen and Georgia are fasting and have turned nocturnal, as most of their friends are doing the same. Strangely they have lost contact with some of their friends, as boys are not allowed to mix with girls during Ramadan.
Ramadan is clearly a very ancient Arab tradition, and is very family orientated; an aspect which I respect and admire immensely, although it is a little strange to be hiding in your car, to take a sip of water during the day, when the temperatures are soaring to dizzy heights and your body is screaming for water!
But Ramadan is over and also Eid, the celebration period, and a sense of normality has resumed to Kuwait. The temperatures are also dropping a little, and the weather is beautiful.
I have been very ‘research busy’ to date and made lots of new friends and contacts. I have been reading copious numbers of books, but have also had time with family and caught up with old friends. I have had meetings at the British Embassy, the British Council and the Ministry of Education, and thanks to my husband’s contacts, I have met with the CO of the Al Sabah Royal textile collection. She kindly invited us to her beautiful traditional Kuwaiti home, (of which few remain), where I also met a textile collector/ historian. We all shared common interests in ikat and Sadu textiles. Heaven!
I shall be working from Sadu House, which is the Textile Museum part of the National Museum complex, and holds the largest collection of Al Sadu woven textiles (more next time with pictures). I have been asked to deliver a public lecture at the Museum, about my current and previous associated research, and conduct a series of workshops on natural dyeing and contemporary textile techniques and symbolism. I am hoping to share some of our graduate students’ work and show lots of beautiful textile images. I am also delivering a lecture to Graphic students at the American University of Kuwait; something along the lines of the language and communication of Al Sadu through it’s use of symbolism in the sharjarah, which is the patterned panel that divides the men’s from the women’s section of the traditional Bedouin tents.
Why I haven’t spoken to CSAD Graphic students before, I don’t know! I am always talking to CTP students about developing and communicating their own ‘personal language of textiles’. Hmm!
I have also submitted an Abstract to present a paper at the Muscat International Conference for Creativity and Innovation in Arts & Crafts organised by IRCICA, which is the Research Center for Islamic History, Culture and Art (www.ircica.org) in February 2010. So now I shall wait and see. The conference is in Oman and I would dearly love to travel and see more of the Gulf states.
The Patron to Sadu House, Sheikha Altaf Salem Al Ali Al Sabah and museum staff have kindly made the museum library available to me, so my time is spent reading a huge number of fascinating books and documents about Bedouin culture, crafts and traditions: a literature review from articles in the National Geographic dated 1956; to books written by Sir Wilfred Thesiger, a British travel writer who pursued his deep affection for the Bedu people of the Middle East and spent most of his life coursing the Arab deserts on camel-back ( a far cry from his days at Eton and Oxford University); and Harold R. P. and Violet Dickson, who independently wrote about their 40 odd years’ experiences living in Kuwait, from the turn of the twentieth century and before oil was struck; and of course the Internet and even BBC Radio 4 archive; Great Lives about Freya Stark who visited Kuwait in 1933 and stayed with Harold and Violet Dickson.