It’s no surprise that many ancient Egyptian works of decoration are rife with symbolism. Today’s leading Egyptian art, created by the Tentmakers of Cairo, stitches together modern interpretations and styles with the timeless symbolism of birds throughout Egyptian culture and history.
Like many cultures, birds and other animals play a key role in symbolism, mythology, and art. Learn some of the secrets behind the Pharaonic designs in the appliqué from Cairo.
Tree of Life
An image familiar to many cultures, with their own unique interpretations, is the “tree of life.” One very common and ancient interpretation of this can be found in Egypt, and re-interpreted today by the Tentmakers of Cairo. In ancient form, it even serves as the backdrop to Rameses II.
In this traditional motif, from the Ali/Amr Hassan Sheik Shop, the symbolism found in the birds, their color, and the directions they face harkens back to the ancient interpretations. The four birds facing to the right (or east) represent the four phases of life: childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age.
The orange bird, the hoopoe, with its typical long, thin tapered bill and crown of feathers is usually representative of a bad omen. A traditional symbol of death, the hoopoe is depicted in orange, the color used to show old age in the phases of life.
As it is facing the left (or west), it anticipates the approach of death. Jenny Bowker, noted expert on the Tentmakers of Cairo, notes how sad that such a beautiful and unique bird is used to represent death.
Origin of Life
Another common symbol in Egyptian art – both ancient and modern like – is the goose. Geese have a long history in the cultural mythology as the prime mover of the creation story. Symbolic of the origin of life, geese depict an outpouring of hope and life-giving power.
This piece to the right depicts geese in flight, soaring above an abundant marsh, teeming with fish. The detail and energy in this work is a powerful representative of the life-giving Nile, key to Egyptian civilization throughout history.
It’s no surprise that pieces like this are usually first to sell when the work of the Tentmakers of Cairo are displayed at AQS QuiltWeek!
Filled with Wisdom
The ibis is another common bird found in the work of the Tentmakers of Cairo. Recognizable by their long, spindly legs, and thin necks and beaks, this bird saturates many of the most enjoyed bid-filled appliqué brought from Cairo. Traditionally a symbol of wisdom, learning, and writing, the ibis adorns many ancient Pharaonic reliefs and modern works of the Tentmakers alike.
The work found on the left is a feast of color and movement. Notice the flutter of activity in the tree, as birds move to fed, sing, and fly together. Grounded by the wise stability of the ibises below, it calls to mind the wisdom of parents raising a child with calm in spite of sometimes hectic surroundings.
The plume detail atop the ibises is finely done with a common couching technique, where the thread itself creates dimension and interest. The ease and speed with which the artists create these details is a joy to watch.
Wisdom, calm, and beauty amid the chaos of everyday life can ground every culture.
Learn more about the Tentmakers of Cairo
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Meet Tarek and Hosam
Two of the Tentmakers of Cairo will be traveling to the United States this fall, headlining at AQS QuiltWeek events.