I am half way through my sabbatical in Kuwait and time is flying by so fast.
My days are packed to capacity, seven days a week, but I am thriving on the thrill of exploring and learning more and more about Sadu weaving and the Bedouin people of Kuwait, and energised by the warmth of the bright sunshine and kindness of the Kuwaiti people . I have experienced so many wonderful events and occasions, and met many generous and talented master weavers, academics and scholars.
It is time to review not only my research work, but also my experience in Kuwait.
My days still start very early, with the call to prayers. I have become a familiar with the routine, and sometimes remain asleep throughout the loud muezzin call, but normally I wake, greeted by the start of another beautiful, fresh day. The weather generally is getting very warm, and soon daylight breaks and the sun rises. It is a glorious time of day, with great clarity of light, as my eye stretches over the Gulf coastline towards the Arabian Sea.
My general routine is work, work and more work, but I so enjoy what I am researching and the people that I am collaborating with, that it seems little like work and more like a gift. I arrive at Sadu House, and am greeted by the same security man each time, who speaks little English. We play a game and I try and learn different Arab words, which I try and say as I enter. The security man finds my pronunciation hilarious, and we both laugh.
Sadu House is a beautiful place to study. It’s cool surroundings and friendly staff greet me and make me feel very welcomed. I am working closely with an academic from Kuwait, whose interest and love for Al Sadu weaving is as infectious as my own. We spend many, many hours pouring over old Sadu textiles, discussing the symbols and patterns, talking to Master weavers, meeting other knowledgeable people, recording and documenting information and discussing new challenges and exciting future research ideas. It is wonderful to share this passion with another indigenous academic, and without whose excellent knowledge of the English language, would have made my role as foreign researcher, far more difficult and less productive. All the research findings will be documented in English and Arabic.
Having spent many days recording the expert knowledge, thoughts and memories of a large number of master weavers, the research is now at the analytical stage. There are hours and hours of recorded tape for me to revisit and document. Each weaver has been very generous of her time and in sharing her information. Fascinating stories about different interpretations of images and reasoning behind different symbols have been told. Geometric patterns come to ‘life’ when messages and explanations are interpreted, and environmental influences of the desert are woven into motifs and shapes.
University students from different Kuwait institutions have also been involved answering questionnaires (including recorded interviews with their Mothers and Grandmothers), attending lectures & workshops, competing in a poster competition and two public exhibitions.
Shajarah weaving is a real skill and I am told there are few remaining weavers (possibly 7/9 only remaining in Kuwiat) with the knowledge. Not to be confused with Sadu weaving, which is still practiced by many more weavers and for which there is a small commercial call. Shajarah weaving is a much slower process and sadly has less cultural demand now, as the use of desert tents and tent dividers or ‘gata’ has declined and are rarely, if ever, woven now. This sad message is similar to my findings when working with Iban Dayaks in Borneo, Malaysia, and researching the traditional warp ikat woven ceremonial ‘Pua Kumbu’ textiles.
Natural dyeing knowledge is still known by a few, but as throughout much of the world in the twenty-first century, speed is often of the essence and chemical dyes provide a faster, and more permanent solution to older, more beautiful (to my eye) traditions. However, there is still an interest, and I delivered a natural dye workshop with a large number of interested ladies, using traditional dyes and material purchased from the local markets and souks, like pomegranate skins, henna, safflower, turmeric and madder. We had a wonderful day and dyed a huge range of beautiful hand spun yarns and fabrics.
One thing I have confirmed during my time in Kuwait, is my strong belief in the bond and integrity between traditional and the contemporary, and the preservation of traditional, declining practices, which can only be done with a solid understanding and comprehension of the craft-practice. As a trained weaver and textile artist/ academic, I have spent many sessions weaving with different master Bedouin weavers on the basic floor looms, reminiscent to the back-strap looms I used with the Iban tribespeople in Borneo; learning the small, peculiar nuances and interesting details particular to Sadu weaving.
To all my wonderfully talented students at home in Cardiff, UK on the Contemporary Textile course at UWIC, my message to you is clear: embrace your love of textiles, make the most of your studies, and enjoy and celebrate the traditional hand and contemporary processes that are available to you. CTP is a unique experience of mixing ancient and modern, hand and digital, with hand processes and techniques learned, before introducing modern digital applications.
A wonderful experience not to be wasted……. so work hard and I hope you have a life-long passionate association with textiles, much as I have.
I shall be conducting video-link tutorials with L3 students soon and look forward to seeing you all upon my return. Inshallah!