24″ x 30″ Acrylic on Canvas
Hand-knotted carpet making is a traditional craft in Egypt. Children, especially the girls, learn the craft at home or at carpet factories such as those found west of Cairo, near the Pyramids. Here once stood the School of Ptah, in the city of Memphis, the oldest capital of ancient Egypt, which produced the greatest artists and craftsmen Egypt ever saw.
It is claimed that the carpet factories are vocational schools where children are taught a skill that will improve their standard of living as adults. The owners assert that the children work for up to three hours a day either in the morning or in the afternoon depending on their school shift. Whether true or not, they get paid a sum allegedly higher than what their parents earn. The carpets are sold primarily to the tourist market and the export market.
The carpets are made by hand the same way they have been made for thousands of years and the kids sit on a bench almost at ground level, stacking knot after knot until a colorful pattern emerges. The painting shows two boys and two girls. The little boy, staring out of the picture, is not actually doing any work. The couple of girls are busy and, well trained in their craft, can look to the back with curiosity while their hands keep at the task. The little boy and the girls are dressed in traditional Egyptian garb. Only the older boy is busy without distraction.
The painting uses as reference a photo the artist took during a visit to Egypt. Aside from the significance of this realist painting as a visual narration of child labor and education in Egypt, the artist has included in his conceptualization the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph sign for “to know”, carved in the wood of the loom machine. The older boy seems to stare at this sign. Learning a trade at his young age will set him free from want, and that is good, but attaining knowledge is what ultimately will set him and the future Egypt he represents free from ignorance.