He is also remembered for his academic work as professor of art and architecture at the College of Fine Arts in Cairo.
The current exhibition, however, focuses on works from the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center, the school he founded in the early 1950s in Harraniya, a village near Giza. There Wissa Wassef spread his philosophy of “instinctive art”, teaching young children and local labourers with no formal arts training to weave tapestries and carpets that were works of art.
A Craft That Is an Art
The exhibition showcases a collection of wool and cotton tapestries made by the school’s weavers.
One work shows a horizontal view of an open palm field embracing the sky. Another is teeming with brown rural faces, soaring birds and the domes of mud houses.
Ahmed ElDabaa, founder of Ubuntu Gallery, told Al-Fanar Media that the exhibition “is an attempt to shed light on the thought of the late artist, present it to generations that did not know him, and confirm that the craft [of weaving] is an art, and that the craftsman is an artist.”
The artist and critic Salah Bisar said the exhibition reminded him of “the depth of the local character and the genius of time and place that appears in the instinctive textile arts of Ramses Wissa Wassef.”
He told Al-Fanar Media that one of Wissa Wassef’s biggest artistic achievements was that he had transformed the carpet into a piece of art for hanging on walls. The tapestry carpets from Harraniya became “an extraordinary ambassador for Egypt in the Sixties,” he said, and attracted global interest.
Teaching Instinctive Art
Bisar considers Wissa Wassef “one of the great Egyptian symbols of architectural creativity.” He studied in France, but he used his studies abroad “to develop the local art he loved.”
The late artist’s family “was devoted, after he was gone, to continuing to educate children and sharpen their expressive energies,” Bisar said. “There were generations of instinctive artists who were educated at the Wissa Wassef school.”