Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship – EN
Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship, 2023
Copper, glass, seashell, calligraphy, burlap ropes, brocade, faince
L 1,4, W 2, H 2
The art installation titled “Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship” is a representation of the Damascene Rose, magnified to create an immersive experience for its viewers. The central focus of the installation is a larger-than-life Damascene Rose, meticulously crafted with exquisite attention to detail. Each petal of the rose is uniquely designed and constructed using a diverse range of materials, symbolising various Syrian handicraft traditions.
“Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship” is an ode to the rich artistic heritage of Syria, paying homage to the diverse handicrafts that have thrived in the region for centuries.
The installation aims to celebrate the artisans and their skillful craftsmanship while highlighting the beauty and intricacy of their art forms.
The Damascene Rose is a beloved symbol in Syrian culture, representing resilience, beauty, and the interconnectedness of different art forms. By magnifying this rose, the installation invites viewers to explore and appreciate the intricate details and unique characteristics of each petal, much like the individuality and creativity found in Syrian handicrafts.
Each petal of the rose is crafted using a different material representing a specific Syrian handicraft technique. Mother of Pearl inlay symbolises the art of delicate and meticulous craftsmanship, while copper showcases traditional metalworking techniques. Straw-making represents the ancient practice of weaving and braiding straw to create functional and decorative items. ‘Qishani’, a traditional clay tile technique, signifies the architectural heritage of Syria. Brocade, known for its ornate textile weaving, represents the art of fabric-making. Lastly, Arabic calligraphy, a revered art form in the region, adorns a petal with elegant Arabic script, reflecting the beauty of the written word.
About the artists:
To further emphasise the focus on the beauty and details of the installation, the designers of this art piece have chosen to remain anonymous. This intentional anonymity allows the viewers to direct their attention solely to the exquisite craftsmanship and the artistry of the Syrian talents behind the creation. By removing the spotlight from individual identities, the installation becomes a collective celebration of the immense skill and creativity present within Syrian artisans.
The decision to highlight Syrian talents in “Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship” stems from a desire to shed light on the incredible artistic contributions that often go unrecognised. Syria has a long history of artistic traditions, and this installation serves as a tribute to the exceptional talents and dedication of the craftsmen and craftswomen who have upheld these traditions for generations.
A Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship
Approximately 4,000 years ago, it is believed that the Canaanites, also known as Phoenicians, residing in the city of Sidon on the Syrian coast, made a groundbreaking discovery—the art of crafting exquisite glass objects. Since then, Syria has played a significant and enduring role in the global development of glass-making.
In the early Christian era, Syrian craftsmen invented the blowpipe, revolutionising the art of glass manufacturing. Prior to this development, glass objects were created by pouring molten glass into molds. However, with the advent of blowing, craftsmen gained the ability to craft delicate objects of exceptional lightness and transparency, ushering in a new era of exquisite glasswork.
However, it was the adoption of the glass manufacturing technique from Damascus by the Venetians that laid the foundation for Europe’s thriving glass industry. In the 13th century, two Italian brothers embarked on a journey to Damascus, where they acquired the skills of glass-making and later transported this knowledge back to Venice. This pivotal event formed the basis for the renowned Venetian glass industry that would soon emerge.
Initially, Venetian glass products closely resembled their Syrian counterparts and were often difficult to distinguish. However, by the 15th century, Venetian glass craftsmen had not only mastered the technique of enamelling, but also became pioneers in Europe by refining and enhancing the beauty, form, and ornamentation of the Syrian prototypes.
Even in the present day, the process of handcrafting glass products remains largely unchanged for over two thousand years since the invention of the blowpipe. A mixture of silica and alkali is heated to a high temperature, transforming it into a brilliant red amorphous substance. Historically, ground olive pits known as “jift” were used as fuel, but modern methods involve utilizing diesel fuel and air compression to intensify the heat within a thermal brick oven. This enduring technique perpetuates the craftsmanship and tradition that has been cherished for centuries.
Mother of pearl:
The artistry of mother-of-pearl inlay flourished during the Islamic Golden Age, particularly in the city of Damascus. Skilled Syrian craftsmen honed their techniques, creating masterful works of art. During the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, mother-of-pearl inlay became an integral part of Syrian decorative arts. The skilled artisans of Damascus were renowned for their intricate designs and meticulous craftsmanship. The inlay work adorned not only furniture but also musical instruments, weapons, and architectural elements of palaces and mosques.
Syrian craftsmen display their expertise by arranging and affixing the shell fragments into intricate motifs, geometric patterns, or even pictorial scenes. The shells are polished and smoothed, enhancing their natural iridescence and producing a captivating display of shimmering, multi-coloured surfaces that change in appearance as light dances upon them.
Syria’s historical importance as a crossroads of trade and cultural exchange greatly influenced the development of mother-of-pearl inlay. The city of Aleppo, a major trading hub, served as a centre for sourcing mother-of-pearl shells and other materials from distant lands. This facilitated the exchange of ideas and techniques, contributing to the refinement of Syrian inlay craftsmanship.
Syrian mother-of-pearl inlay work gained international recognition, with exquisite pieces finding their way to the European market during the 19th century. European nobility and collectors admired the intricate beauty of Syrian inlay, leading to its incorporation into luxurious furniture and decorative objects.
The covered souks in Damascus and Aleppo are the cities’ main markets. They feature long streets covered with high canopies, lined with booths and shops and bustling crowds. The shops are narrow and shallow, filled with goods of every kind, and shopkeepers sit in front of the shop ready to haggle with the passing crowds. It is noisy as men and women bargain back and forth, and the clangs of the coppersmiths never miss a beat, echoing your footsteps as they mold and shape this versatile metal into intricate masterpieces.
Syria has long been renowned for its tradition of copper engraving, a craft that has been passed down through generations. The coppersmiths of Syria possess a deep understanding of their materials, harnessing the malleability and durability of copper to create exquisite pieces that captivate the eye and tell stories of culture and heritage.
Through their painstaking techniques and unwavering dedication, these artisans breathe life into their creations. With precision and artistry, they intricately carve intricate patterns, delicate motifs, and ornate designs onto the copper surfaces. Each stroke of their tools reflects the rich tapestry of Syrian history and the fusion of diverse influences that have shaped the region.
The coppersmiths’ artistry extends beyond aesthetics. Their creations serve functional purposes as well, ranging from stunning plates, bowls, and trays adorned with intricate engravings to dazzling coffee pots and samovars that exude both beauty and utility. These masterpieces find their place in homes, capturing the essence of Syrian hospitality and preserving traditions that have withstood the test of time.
Straw weaving is an ancient technique that involves the intricate weaving and arrangement of dyed natural straw to create decorative patterns and designs.
Syrian straw weaving has a long history and is deeply rooted in the country’s cultural heritage. It is mostly spread across the coastal villages of Lattakia and Tartous, and has been practiced for centuries by skilled artisans who have perfected the art form over generations.
The process begins with the collection of straw, usually wheat or rye straw, which is carefully dried, cleaned and soaked in hot water to increase its flexibility and elasticity. Craftsmen can use natural ingredients to dye the straw, where it can be boiled in water together with onion peels to intensify its yellow colour, or with alder cones or oak bark which makes it brown. These days, the straw is dyed in various vibrant colours to achieve a palette for creating intricate patterns. The dyed straw is cut into thin strips and woven together using traditional techniques.
Artisans skilfully create geometric patterns, floral motifs, or even depict scenes from everyday life through the precise weaving of the dyed straw. The patterns can be highly intricate, requiring meticulous attention to detail and a steady hand.
Once the weaving is complete, the straw tray is typically varnished or coated with a protective layer to enhance its durability and preserve its vibrant colours.
Syrian straw-woven trays are valued for their exquisite craftsmanship and unique aesthetics. They are not only functional used for food preparation, storage and serving trays, but also serve as beautiful decorative pieces that reflect the cultural identity and artistic traditions of Syria.
The main challenges faced by Syrian artisans today remains in promoting and selling their products. Despite these challenges, Syrian artisans continue to preserve and promote this traditional craft, showcasing their skills and keeping the art form alive. These handwoven straw petals from Syria serve as tangible representations of the country’s rich heritage and the remarkable talents of its craftsmen and craftswomen.
Qishani, or Faience, is an ancient art of coloured ceramics. It traces its roots back to the city of Qishan in Iran, and early Islamic eras, particularly during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty. Over the course of Islamic history, the art of Qishani evolved and flourished, eventually attaining its present-day form.
Among the cities that played a pivotal role in the development of Qishani, Damascus stands out with its exceptional contributions. Skilled craftsmen in Damascus dedicated themselves to innovating, refining, and expanding the art, ultimately influencing the wider Islamic world and even making significant impacts on European ceramic traditions.
The city’s craftsmen were revered for their mastery of faience techniques, creating intricate and vibrant ceramic pieces that showcased meticulous craftsmanship and artistic excellence. From delicately glazed tiles and plates to ornamental vessels adorned with richly coloured patterns. The process involves several stages, including shaping the clay, drying, firing, glazing, and then painting the intricate patterns. Qishani indicated social status and adorned heavenly spaces. The tiles and patterns embellish the ‘liwan’, the central gathering space in Damascene homes, creating a visually stunning display. The art also enriches mosques with its vibrant colors and designs, elevating the spiritual atmosphere.
The legacy of Damascus Qishani endures to this day and presents itself within the Floral Tapestry of Craftsmanship sculpture, alongside its other revered Syrian crafts, as a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the craftsmen who contributed to its development. It stands as a testament to the transcendent power of art and the ability of cultural traditions to transcend time and geographical boundaries.
In celebrating the art of Qishani, we honour the artisans of Damascus whose vision, skill, and dedication shaped its evolution. Their remarkable craftsmanship and contributions have left an indelible mark on the world of ceramics, forever linking Damascus to the rich tapestry of artistic heritage spanning centuries and continents.
Damascus is renowned for its elaborate crafting of brocade. The creation of each meter of this Damascene fabric requires ten of hours of meticulous craftsmanship due to its delicate and intricate patterns.
The term “brocade” finds its origins in the Italian word “Procatello,” referring to an opulent silk cloth adorned with gold or silver threads. Initially, the Syrians utilised silk imported from China to embellish brocade. However, a century ago, they began using silk produced in Dreikish, a Syrian town known for its silkworm cultivation. The silk thread from Dreikish was sent to Aleppo for processing, including twisting, dyeing, and preparing it for weaving in Damascus.
The marriage of silk thread with gold and silver resulted in a breathtaking combination fit for royalty. Damascene brocade boasts diverse patterns such as Saladin, Romeo and Juliet, Cashmere, Sinbad, and ‘Ashiq and Mashooq’ (the lover and the beloved). Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth selected the ‘Ashiq and Mashooq’ pattern to adorn her wedding dress.
In 1947, Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli sent Queen Elizabeth II of Britain with two hundred meters of brocade fabric. This exquisite fabric was woven on an antique hand loom dating back to 1890, originating from the Al-Munzer factory in the Bab Sharki neighbourhood of Damascus’ Old City. The regal dress featured intricate embroidery of ‘two love birds’ exchanging kisses, woven with 12-karat gold thread.
Initially serving as a means of communication, Arabic calligraphy gradually expanded its influence to encompass diverse realms such as architecture, decoration, and coin design. This evolution emerged from the early Muslims’ adherence to their beliefs, which prohibited the use of figurative and idolatrous imagery that prevailed prior to the establishment of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. Consequently, calligraphy emerged as a powerful form of expression, offering an alternative means to convey messages and imbue visual beauty without resorting to visual representations of idols. This transformation allowed Arabic calligraphy to transcend its utilitarian origins and assume a significant cultural and artistic role in Islamic societies. This art form has continuously flourished, with the Baghdadi and Ottoman eras making notable contributions to its development.
Even today, Arabic calligraphy remains highly esteemed as an art form and continues to evolve. It thrives not only through traditional methods but also in the realm of digital and computer-generated arts. Calligraphers from Syria and around the world persistently explore new styles and create unique artworks that build upon existing scripts while incorporating their own personal letters and script variations.
The enduring significance of Arabic calligraphy lies in its ability to merge artistic expression with the written word, captivating audiences with its aesthetic beauty and profound meaning. From ancient manuscripts to contemporary masterpieces, Arabic calligraphy serves as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Syria and its ongoing influence on the global artistic landscape.