Victoria and Albert Museum London – Dr Keireine Canavan

V&A Museum: Oral History Society Conference Paper – July 2010



Al Sadu is an ancient Bedouin tribal weaving artform, which in its broadest linguistic identity is rhythmically linked to poetry, memory, the weaving practice, the extension of the hand, and the graceful moving pace of a camel.[i]

Al Sadu weaving conveys the Bedouin’s rich heritage and instinctive awareness of natural beauty, with patterns and designs messaging the nomadic lifestyle, the desert environment, and the emphasis of symmetry and balance due to the making process.

Nothing is written down or recorded.  Due to widespread illiteracy of Bedouin nomadic tribespeople, all motifs, patterns and associated symbolism are memorised and passed from generation to generation, by word of mouth and example. [ii]

The paper discussed the findings of my nine-month field study in Kuwait, in collaboration with AlSadu Weaving Co-operative Society, Sadu House museum, Bedouin master-weavers, academics, poets and social anthropologist.  The oral history of a dwindling number of master-weavers were video-recorded and documented to preserve the declining memory, practice and awareness, and to prevent further loss.

The focus of the paper was on the interpretation of the woven shajarah or central tent divide, establishing the wealth of meaning and communication from the codes or pictographic language.  Quoted from recorded interviews, the paper discussed whether contemporary weavers are disinterested in the names assigned to the overall design composition, but 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 Kuwait, appreciated only for its traditional aesthetic values.

Keireine Canavan

University of Wales Institute Cardiff UWIC,

Principal Lecturer/ Programme Director Contemporary Textiles

Email: textiles

[i] Al Sabah, Altaf Salem Al Ali. 2001. Kuwait Traditions. Creative Expressions of a Culture.Al Sadu Weaving Cooperative Society, Kuwait. Pg.37. ISBN: 99906-604-1-7.

Crichton, Anne-Rhona. 1989. Al Sadu. The Techniques of Bedouin Weaving. Al Sadu, Kuwait. Pg. 11.

Dickson, H.R.P. 1983.The Arab of the Desert. 3rd edition, rev. & abridged. George & Allen & Unwin (Pubs) Ltd. ISBN: 0-04-953010-0

Keohane, Alan. 1994. Bedouin. Nomads of the Desert. Kyle Cathie Ltd., London. Pg. 124. ISBN: 1-85626-342-8.

[ii] Dickson, Violet. 1978. Forty Years in Kuwait. 3rd Impression. George & Allen & Unwin (Pubs) Ltd. Pg. 91. ISBN: 0-04-920032-1

Thesiger, Wilfred. 1960. Arabian Sands. Readers Union Longman, Greens & Co, London.



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2 responses to “Victoria and Albert Museum London – Dr Keireine Canavan

  1. robert stockley

    I loved your lecture today at UWIC especially your desciption and demonstration of the reduction of ideas taken from local people and environment to geometric design. That simple triangles and lozenges could mean so much.

    (Ist year BA Ceramics)

    • alsaduweaving

      Thank you for your comments, Robert, which I really appreciate. I am glad you enjoyed the lecture and descriptions of the shajarah patterns. Keireine

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