Egyptian ambassador visits tapestry display at San Diego Botanic Garden


After installing an exhibit of 24 Egyptian garden-themed tapestries earlier this month, the San Diego Botanic Garden hosted a visit by Egyptian Ambassador Lamia Mekhemar on Jan. 19.

The tapestries, which are on display through March 31 and came from the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Egypt, were originally developed as an experiment in creativity in 1952 by leading Egyptian architect Ramses Wissa Wassef, who believed everyone possesses artistic skills but these develop only when they practice the crafts as children.

Wassef then began teaching children to weave, which is a skill they brought into adulthood.

The children were instructed to depict whatever they liked but copying, preliminary designs and help from adults were not allowed. The goal was to show any child can create works of art, confirming that creativity starts at youth.

Since Wissa Wassef died in 1974, his widow Sophie and daughters Suzanne and Yoanna expanded the experiment, guiding more children to master weaving. Now, 30 adult wool and cotton weavers work at the Art Centre in Egypt.

Eighteen wool and six cotton tapestries have been on display in the Ecke Building at the Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Drive, since the exhibit opened Jan. 14.

Mekhemar, who was visiting from the Consulate General of Egypt in Los Angeles, said the displayed pieces used a dying technique, from henna and local plants, that belongs to Egypt.

She considered the art expressive.

“You see the evolution of the art from childhood to adulthood,” she said. “You can see the character of each of the artists.”

As he was leading Mekhemar on a tour of the exhibit, Julian Duval, president and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden, said he believes children taking the time to learn art in the United States is rare.

“I think the idea of children having so many things available to them these days and virtual reality, it makes it difficult for a child to want to take the time to learn artistic techniques,” he said. “I think there’s something sad about that. This [weaving] can take a long time, but it’s something you produce with your hands, which is a human experience.”

Some of the tapestries portray lifestyles in Egypt, with one displaying a busy city and large family, but most include plants.

One piece, which is not on display in the exhibit, includes poinsettias, which were originally grown by Ecke Ranch in Encinitas about a century ago and have become a staple flower during Christmastime.

“The plants in many of the tapestries are from all over the world, and it’s very interesting that this one was done with poinsettias,” Duval said. “I think that it makes me feel good because it talks about the universality of some of these things. It doesn’t matter where you come from. The beauty of nature is something we all share in different ways.”

Mekhemar said she was excited to see Egyptian art on display.

“I’m glad to see it’s well appreciated because this is so spontaneous,” she said. “It comes from the environment, from the attitudes of people and how they feel inside. The art really reflects that.”

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who also attended the tour, said Mekhemar’s visit is a testament to the hard work performed at the San Diego Botanic Garden.

“Encinitas is lucky to draw such prominent people to see the resources that we have,” she said. “The San Diego Botanic Garden is an example of a premiere garden in the region, and [Mekhemar] wanting to come down and see the things we have here is a reflection of that.”

The 24 pieces on display are for sale, with proceeds divided between the garden, artist and curator Glenn Weiss, Duval said. About a half dozen have been sold since the exhibit opened.

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