Kuwait Textile Arts Association: Woven Pieces
23rd March 2010
Discovered Through Translation: Permanent Collection Gata No 2.
As an artist, weaver and researcher, Dr Keireine Canavan has previously researched and documented the endangered skills of traditional backstrap loom weaving with Iban Dayak ikat weavers in Borneo, Malaysia, and worked with the declining number of highly skilled Salvi Patola weavers in North-West India.
In March 2008, Dr Canavan’s KTAA lecture entitled From Dayak to Digital communicated and shared her wealth of knowledge about the many facets of ikat weaving and the rapidly declining knowledge and practice of specific traditional back-strap loom textiles. She concluded her lecture suggesting that in the future, she hoped to contribute academic rigour to a greater understanding, appreciation and preservation of the traditional Sadu woven textiles of Kuwait.
As a regular visitor to Kuwait for the past seven years, Dr Canavan is currently being sponsored by the University of Wales for a six-month research sabbatical concerned with an academic study of the Bedouin’s rich heritage and instinctive awareness of natural beauty, through the translation of patterns, symbols and designs which message the nomadic lifestyle, the desert environment, and the emphasis of symmetry and balance due to the making process. Nothing is written down or recorded by the weavers and all motifs, patterns and associated symbolism are memorised and passed, from generation to generation, by word of mouth and example.
With kind permission from Sheikha Altaf Al Salem Al Sabah, Dr Canavan embarked upon her study of Sadu textiles from the Permanent Collection at Sadu House in September 2009. Advised by Sheikha Altaf and working closely with master weavers and Sadu House staff, Dr Canavan has formed a firm, professional collaboration with Dr Ali Alnajadah (weave consultant to the ALSADU Weaving Co-operative Society). The process of a literature review, a rigorous fieldstudy involving Arabic and English translated recorded interviews with master weavers and photographic recording of Sadu textiles, plus regular documentation analysis followed.
In November 2009, Dr Canavan presented a public lecture at the American University of Kuwait, entitled Communication and the Language of Textiles, which reflected the early stages of the research project and explained the focus of the study of the sharjarah motifs and patterns within the Gata or central tent divider textile.
Tonight’s lecture describes the discoveries through the translation of a dwindling number of master-weavers’ testimonies about the integrity and symbolic meaning of Kuwait’s Sadu weaving heritage. The importance of preserving the memories of existing oral history and knowledge of declining practice and awareness of Sadu textiles, to prevent further loss is examined.
The visual focus is on the translation of the woven shajarah of Gata No 2 from the Sadu House Permanent Collection, and establishes a recorded lexicon of meanings and communication from the codes or pictographic language. Quoted from recorded interviews, the lecture discusses whether contemporary weavers are interested in the names and meaning of single motifs or components of motifs, or if names and definitions are personal testimony only to the weaver who created them, or whether the language of AlSadu has been lost in modern-day Kuwaiti society, appreciated only for its traditional aesthetic values.
The lecture concludes with ideas for future research and developments to generate and encourage second-generation weavers to continue to generate Sadu textiles.
Drs Alnajadah and Canavan will continue their collaboration and are seeking funding for future research. They are currently writing documents for publication.
Dr Canavan will disseminate the outcomes of her sabbatical research study at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff UK in May 2010, and at the Oral History Society Conference, Victoria & Albert Museum, London in July 2010.
Dr Keireine Canavan is principal lecturer and head of Textiles at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, and DIGIT, the academic textile research group of WIRAD South Wales. Having graduated with an MA in woven and knitted textile design from the Royal College of Art, in London, and an MDes in textile design with computer application at the Scottish College of Textiles, she completed the first design PhD at Heriot-Watt University, and was awarded the McFarlane Prize 2003 for outstanding academic contribution to research.