Innovative forms of qamariyya to Europe: Age-old qamariyya prove popular [Archives:2007/1026/Culture]

February 19 2007

Saddam Al-Ashmori
For Yemen Times

One of the most eye-catching features of Yemeni buildings is the high-arched windows decorated with colorful stained-glass panels. Since ancient times, Yemen's stained-glass windows, known as qamariyyas, have represented an important part of its gorgeous architecture and now there's a growing demand for it outside of Yemen. Nowadays, innovative forms of qamariyyas are emerging and becoming well-known outside Yemen. Those new forms can be hung on walls or over windows to reflect the light or one may place a candle or a light inside them.

“We exported the first batch of antiques to Holland. It was approximately 2,000 pieces,” explains Tariq Jabber, project officer at the Small Micro-Enterprises Promotion Service. “A huge range of good-value designs, shapes, sizes and colors are available from the organization. They're handmade by hundreds of small producers throughout the country at the customer's request.”

Those involved in the project depend upon the quality they make, as well as the innovative shapes.

“We now deal with three handicraftsmen, telling them the sizes and shapes the traders want. We help them with the ideas,” Jabber added. “Yemeni handicrafts are handmade from local materials and then refined into unique products with skill and creativity. Most of them are still undiscovered outside of Yemen, so we're trying to market their goods outside Yemen to give them the chance for more gains.”

A second batch of nearly 900 pieces was exported to Switzerland last month, with the approximate $1,400 in profits going directly to Yemeni handicraftsmen.

“We're working to identify and promote unique products produced by small and micro-businesses and social organizations with the goal of expanding the country's domestic and international trade. The program also aims to give advice on how to improve their businesses regarding production methods, quality control, marketing and product design in order to make Yemeni products more attractive to export markets,” Jabber explained.

The startling contrast of brown bricks and qamariyyas is eye-catching in the sunlight, but during an evening stroll, one will be amazed that the qamariyyas sparkle in the darkness like multicolored jewels.

Qamariyyas are unique because they reflect several colors of light at once, whether used to decorate buildings or as antiques.

The qamariyya shapes are made of gypsum and then poured onto a silicone board. Colored glass that's been cut to take a particular shape is affixed onto the gypsum mold. Afterward, the craftsman polishes it.

Qamariyyas used to decorate Yemeni houses and affixed mostly above window frames and doors are made of gypsum.

“The materials used to make qamariyyas are very simple. We mix them with water and put them either on a large board or on the wall. We cut the gypsum according to the shape. We affix the colored glass onto the surface and carve until we reach the surface of the colored glass affixed at the front. The last step is polishing the qamariyya,” explains Mohammed Hussein Jamra.

The origin of the name qamariyya is up for debate, but it's certainly a name reflecting its beauty.

“In fact, there's no accurate evidence for calling it a qamariyya. However, some people think it comes from the root of the Arabic word for moon. The reason behind naming it after the moon is the way the colored glass penetrates the moonlight and reflects the colored light inside houses, especially in the past, when people had no electricity. Others think the term qamariyya comes from qumrya, a beautiful woman,” explains Hussein Mahdi.

Regarding the qamariyya's size, Mahdi adds, “It depends on the customers' request and where it will be placed. Qamariyyas actually are affixed above window frames, doors and in the space between two windows. There are various shapes and designs – some are rectangular, semi-circular, circular, square or other shapes.”

The Small Micro-Enterprises Promotion Service has numerous programs, of which the handicrafts program is one. It launched in 2004 as a subsidiary of Yemen's Social Fund for Development. Several product groups have been classified for promotion: baskets, natural fiber items, textiles, dresses, silver jewelry, metalwork, pottery, decorative items, window decorations, incense, myrrh, recycled crafts, furniture, natural cosmetics, medicine and mocha coffee.