At a small chamber in a building belonging to Egypt’s Cultural Development Fund, one of the Culture Ministry sectors in Al Fustat, Cairo, Hamouda Abdel Latif, wearing a classic pair of eyeglasses, was working on a new hand-made carpet, whose features were not yet clear.
“Some pieces could take more than a month of work to finish,” Abdel Latif said, adding, “this may justify their high prices, sometimes exceeding EGP 2,000 or more.”
Abdel Latif, a 53-year old man who was born in Fayoum, started his long-time career in the craft of wall hand-made goblin carpets, rags and kilims at the age of ten. He left his hometown and headed to Cairo in the 1970s searching for new opportunities in his field, which were not too many in Fayoum.
“The shapes and colours of each piece depended on the crafter’s imagination,” Abdel Latif elaborated. He mostly preferred to simulate notable Egyptian artists’ works, such as those of Mahmoud Sa’id.
Additionally, he revealed his addiction to the Egyptian rural areas, where he grew up, by embodying its scenes into well-designed and glamorous goblin carpets.
“I left school at age of 10, a friend who works in the goblin carpets craft encouraged me to try my chance, and it worked well,” noted Abdel Latif.
Goblin carpets are tapestries of textures of wool, linen, cotton or silk, handcrafted, and used as decoration on house walls or furniture, traditionally woven by hand on a loom.
Originally, kilim is a flat tapestry-woven carpet traditionally produced in Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia.
Wall tapestries are works of art, which usually represent the most well-known paintings of prominent global artists such as Vincent Van Gogh.
Abdel Latif’s artworks represent a collection of streets in Cairo, villagers at their farms or houses, ancient mosques, and female rural women holding potteries. “I moved into different places of works, ending now by working at the Cultural Fund. I have been working for 10 years there.”
Abdel Latif’s family consists of four girls and four boys, and none of them inherited the father profession. Some graduated from universities, while others were moderately educated. “I am trying to teach one of them the basics of the craft. I need him to help me, as sometimes I get many orders of work,” he said.
He added, “not a single one of them wanted to enter the field, as there were always many ups and down in the tourism sector, due to political upheavals.”
Abdel Latif elaborated further to say, “our generation of crafters, whose works essentially related to tourists, has witnessed serval events, which made substantially effected our business, such as Anwar Sadat’s assassination, in 1981, the Luxor massacre 1997, and the Gulf war, as well as such similar events.”
He added, “we are the people most affected by such events, we are the ones who pay the price, as those kinds of crafts are the only source of living for hundreds of families in the country.”
Moreover, amid changes in the market of manufacturing tapestries, the availability of printed wall carpets make it difficult for the crafter to keep the profession. “Of course, those new ways of creating wall tapestries negatively affect our work. As they are cheaper than ours,” Abdel Latif elaborated.
Though he gets some offers to try his chance in printing wall carpets, he rejected. “It is not the same. It will never be the same. I used to work by my hand and to exert extra effort to create something from nothing. This is my job and I love doing it.”
Abdel Latif believes that Egyptians do not appreciate their work. “We essentially depend on tourists, so if anything affects the tourism sector, our work could be suspended.”
Whatever comes through Abdel Latif’s imagination, he tries to apply to his works. “my work reflects the places, cities, cultures and people who influenced me in my life. It is like documenting my life, and people who passed through my path.”