some Egyptian colour prints ... and their relevance for studying visual culture in Kano (and beyond?)

I have to confess something: I have allowed myself to get seriously distracted from writing up my thesis. Alright, this is not the first time this has happened but this time it is kind of related to my research, though nothing I will be able to discuss in any depths in my thesis ... thus, I thought I bother you with it ...

Remember the religious prints I mentioned here a bit more than half a year ago? The ones I was shown at Kurmi Market in Kano and bought? - I have recently come across a German scholar who has just finished her PhD thesis on prints and poster in the Muslim world. Unfortunately her thesis has been published so recently that its not yet available in any of the libraries I have access to. However, when I mailed her she suggested some articles for me to look at and, having been written in German, I have used my time in Germany to actually get hold of them. And, believe it or not, for almost all of the prints I bought in Kano last summer I have found a reproduction of an almost identical print acquired by the author(s) or some other collector in Cairo some time between the early 20th century and the 1970s!

(Left: Photograph of the Nigerian print depicting sheikh of Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani I collected in Kano, summer 2008, Right: Print collected by Kriss & Kriss-Heinrich in Cairo in the 1950s.)

This is amazing, because it suggests that these prints continued to be locally reproduced almost one-to-one for at least the last fourty years, probably longer, in Kano. While motifs probably imported from Persia where successively 'localised' from one edition to the other in Cairo (one of the authors, Peter Schienerl, here particularly refers to the background's composition and the architecture of the mosque depicted in the al-Buraq images), no such attempts seem to have been made in Kano. I think this is quite interesting. I mean, I'm pretty sure that local artists would have been able to do so if they wanted or were commissioned to do so. After all, enterprising traders have invented and adapted other motifs to supply a flourishing modern market for religious (and profane) posters. Here a few more examples, left the prints I collected in Kano in 2008 and to the right reproductions I found in the below listed literature.

Left: Photograph of a colour print depicting al-Buraq collected in Kano, summer 2008, Right: Print collected by Centlivres & Centlivres-Demont in Cairo, n.d. but prob. 1950-60s.

Left: Photograph of a colour print depicting Ibrahim's attempted sacrifice of Ismael collected in Kano, summer 2008, Right: Print collected by Centlivres & Centlivres-Demont in Cairo, n.d. but prob. 1950-60s.

Left: Photograph of a colour print depicting Ali with his sons, Hassan and Hussein collected in Kano, summer 2008, Right: Print collected by Centlivres & Centlivres-Demont in Cairo, n.d. but prob. 1950-60s.

Be that as it may, it reminded me of an observation David H. Heathcote noted in his 1979 thesis on Hausa embroidery: a tendency to preserve the 'foreign flavour' of certain kinds of textiles and dresses over extended periods of time, a tendency that could only be explained by a conscious choice of customers and tailors. If I recall correctly (and I'll have to double check this) this particularly concerned dresses associated with religious and, an extent, wordly authority. But that only as a remark at the side. It, anyway, raises more questions than it answers, e.g. as to who bought/buys these colour prints as opposed to the target audience of modern, shiny religious prints designed and commissioned in Kano but mass printed in China apparently. All extremely interesting ...

P.S. I've uploaded a few more of examples to Flickr and if you're interested have a look here. Obviously I'd appreciate it if you treated the pics according the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. (cf.

Literature/Image References:

Pierre Centlives & Micheline Centlivres-Demont (1997): Imageries Populaires en Islam. Geneve: Georg Editeur.
Rudolf Kriss & Hubert Kriss-Heinrich (1960): Volksglaube im Bereich des Islam. (Popular Belief in the Sphere of Islam.) Vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz.
Peter W. Schienerl (1985a): Volkstümliche al-Buraq Darstellungen aus Ägypten. (Popular Al-Buraq Depictions from Egypt) In: Archiv für Völkerkunde. No. 39. 181-97.
Peter W. Schienerl (1985b): Zur Darstellungsweise Ali's auf alteren agyptischen Buntdrucken (Regarding Depictions of Ali in older Egyptian Colour Prints) In: Annals of the Naprstek Museum. No. 13. 178-86.
Peter W. Schienerl (1986): Koranisches Erzählgut im Spiegel volkstümlicher Buntdrucke aus Ägypten. (Quranic Narrative Motifs in Popular Egyptian Colour Prints) In: Baessler-Archiv. Neue Folge. Band XXXIV. 305-332.


  1. alright, now that I've posted it and been thinking about it again: 40 or so years of local reproduction I wrote? there's obviously also the possibility that for part of this time Egyptian prints were still imported or had been imported in large enough numbers to be continued being sold ... after all, I bought an 'original' last summer myself, the 'Seduction of Joseph' might just not have been too popular a subject (probably because of the woman's posture and partial nudity) and, hence, was still on stock ... so, maybe for at least part of the time the originals were still sold and the 40 years suggested above are a bit of an exaggeration ... I'll have to go back to Kano and ask, I guess ...


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