Independent Design Magazine

Woven by Faith: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center

Woven by Faith: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center

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Our article is a story. A story of belief, of love and of creativity. It’s a story of humanity. We’ll not mention how to be persistent as Steve Jobs when he his success story began from a garage or how to be a genius as Albert Einstein who made great inventions and contributions towards science or even how to have an unlimited imagination as J.K. Rowling to write one of bestselling book series. We’ll be mentioning how faith will not only make you great, but will make others around you great as well. We promise you that our powerful story will touch you and may even leave you speechless at times. So, keep reading to know more about the story of Ramses Wissa Wassef art center and the faith behind it.

About Ramses Wissa Wassef

Ramses Wissa Wassef (1911-1974) was an Egyptian architect, artisan, artist, and teacher whose ideas and work exercised a significant influence on the 20th century Egyptian art and architecture. He earned his BA degree from the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1935 and taught Architecture at the College of Fine Arts in Cairo. Ramses Wissa Wassef placed human physical and psychological well-being at the center of his architectural philosophy. So, he adhered to the ideology of traditional architecture which was adaptable to the country’s climatic, cultural and economic conditions. Some of this pioneering architect’s projects include: Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum, Habib Gorgi Museum, St. George Coptic Church in Heliopolis, St. Mary Coptic Church in Zamalek and of course his art center in Harranya, Giza. Finally, the legacy of Ramses Wissa Wassef lives on through his humanist architecture approaches.

Obsession With Traditional Crafts

The whole story began in the 1940s with Ramses Wissa Wassef’s obsession with tradition arts and crafts, which were beginning to perish due to lack of evolution. However, with faith stronger than mountains and true passion, the iconic architect believed that there could be a solution for this stagnancy that affected the traditional craftsmanship. But how could one revive this dead artistry?  For Ramses Wissa Wassef, the answer was clear, it was simply re-generation. He believed that if he couldn’t help adults to develop their craftsmanship and forge it in the direction of creativity, then may be children could do so. This extraordinary architect came with this extraordinary idea due to a steady belief. He believed that everybody has an in-built energy of creativity and innovation, and if we nurture this energy, the result would be phenomenal.

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Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center Official Facebook Page

Picking Weaving

Therefore, seizing the opportunity given to him and in the year 1942 specifically, the architect was commissioned by a group of church members to build a charitable school in Old Egypt as a service to help illiterate kids and support their education. It was from here that passion began to be put into action. Ramses Wissa Wassef designed and built the school adopting the traditional architecture philosophy. Then, after the school was constructed, he began to seek a traditional craft that could be taught to children to unleash their creativity. After a very deep research and a very long practice, he chose the art of weaving to be taught as an extra activity next to the school’s main program.

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Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Official Facebook Page

Aims And Goals

The architect selected this specific traditional art due to two main reasons. Firstly, it’s a slow artistic process. To clarify, in order to create a tapestry, a child could actually take months. This slow-moving activity of creation would give the child’s work a great chance to grow and develop with them. Secondly, this particular art allows children to practice freedom of expression. To illustrate, when a child draws, paints or even sculpts, they would began to correct themselves if they saw some flaws in their work. However, in tapestry, the process moves from the child’s own imagination right to the looms without any critical correction. Ramses Wissa Wassef wanted the children to directly put their thoughts on the threads. To sum up, he wanted to keep them enthusiastically challenged so as to see their imagination translated into art.

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First Generation Weaver/Artist. Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center Official Facebook Page.

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Third Generation Weaver/Artist. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag.

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First Generation Weaver/Artist. Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center Official Facebook Page.

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Third Generation Weaver/Artist. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag


Building Relationships

In this school, Ramses Wissa Wassef taught many children, three of which fell in love with this art and actually mastered it. While seeing children attachment to tapestry grow, the architect felt the urge to take his plan to the next level. So, he of enlarging the circle of enthusiasts and create a community of artists. Because of his delight in having deep relationships and connections with those around him, Ramses and his wife, Sophie H. Gorgi began to visit a village near their house, Harranya in Giza. They talked, played and even traveled with the village’s children showing them around and building deep connections with them. After years, the great architect Ramses Wissa Wassef became best friends with the village’s little children. After having a strong bond with those children, he bought a land and the whole center began with a small room for the weaving art in 1952.

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Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center Official Facebook Page.

Faith In Friends

With wide open eyes and jaw dropping mouths, the kids approached the center, their center. This place embraced Harranya’s village children and engaged them in the traditional art of weaving. The 15 boys and girls joining center were all working in a single room. Some threads were torn, other looms weren’t easy to use, a few colors didn’t quite match. However, one thing was firm and that was faith. Ramses Wissa Wassef believed in his little friends. He had always admired their pure imagination and had encouraged their tiny hands to persist. Without a single critique, those village children mastered the art of tapestry making the way for their artwork to be presented and sold in the world’s most prestigious museums as The British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum in London and many other museums as well. YES! Indeed, it is a story of creativity.

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Tapestry Art Piece. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

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Tapestry Art Piece. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

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Tapestry Art Piece. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

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Tapestry Art Piece. Photo Courtesy: Linesmag


The Art Of Weaving

When we visited the center, the artist Souzanne Ramses Wissa Wassef showed us around and explained the process of weaving. She clarified that the wool or cotton that they use is 100% natural. In addition to that, she mentioned that they grew certain plants from which they take the colors from. She proudly presented her father’s first tapestry artwork. “He made it by himself” she commented. Then, she added “He wanted to go through the whole process before teaching it to the kids.”

“One cannot separate beauty from utility, the form from the material, the work from its function, man from his creative art” – Ramses Wissa Wassef

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Ramses Wissa Wassef Woven Tapestry. Photo Courtesy: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center Official Facebook Page

An Experiment of Creativity

To sum up, this art center is not a building, but rather an experience. Ramses Wissa Wassef embarked upon an experiment of creativity which later became universally acclaimed. Today, and after 60 years, more than 30 adult artists weave in wool and cotton keeping the legacy alive for Egypt and the world. To see more artworks of the center, head to: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center. To read more about art hubs in Egypt, check: Museum of Islamic Art and The Coptic Museum. Also, you can get to know the architecture of the center when you visit: Architecture of Ramsees Wissa Wassef Art Center. 

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Ambitious architect, eccentric writer and a lifelong learner. Fascinated by the world and always in search of new adventures and experiences to tell. The dream is to inspire people to pursue new perspectives through the splendid art of writing.