Ancient crafts techniques meet digital technologies to present the latest collections from Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. In this immersive virtual presentation, created by ADORNO, Irthi welcomes visitors to the deserts of Sharjah, where, amidst the wind-blown sand dunes and under the rustling leaves of a Ghaf tree, Emirati design – and the artisans behind it – takes centre stage.
In conjunction with their physical presence at design events, including last month’s Milan Design Week, this digital medium allows Irthi to continuously present and exhibit their staple collections, visualising the roots from which they come and reaching an extended audience around the globe. Entering the virtual exhibition, visitors are transported to this real-life locale through the attentive details of the surrounding desert and the soft voices of the artisans themselves. “Irthi’s immersive Virtual Experience provides insight into the behind-the-scenes action of our artisans’ work”, Farah Nasri, Irthi’s Acting Manager – Curation & Design, explains. “It was essential for the Council to create ‘real’ sensations in the exhibition to best support and showcase the hard work of the artisans”.
Founded in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, in 2015, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council has a vision to create a valued women artisan economy. Their work seeks to champion designers, artisans, and craftspeople and empower women professionally and socially through both local and global collaborations.
Through social development programmes, including the Bidwa Social Development Programme and the Artisan Skills Exchange Programme, among others, Irthi is able to support the exchange of knowledge and the development of technical skills, preserving cultural heritage and the use of traditional techniques and materials for future generations.
As part of their 2022 exhibition, Irthi presents four collections: the Faroukha collection, the Embroidery Collection, the Safeefah collection, and the Talli collection. Each collection has drawn inspiration from traditional craft techniques to create contemporary pieces which assist in the craft’s continuity in the contemporary fashion and textile markets.
For Irthi, this virtual format has allowed greater “accessibility to various publics, intriguing the younger generation – designers, collectors, and researchers alike – in heritage”. As one of the first crafts councils to explore this digital space, “the virtual environment [has] not only proved to be a great mode to document the crafts in 3D for many generations to come but also is in itself a shoppable experience, allowing the Council to sustain a cashflow through the sales of textiles and support a larger base of artisans from the UAE”.
“The use of the digital platform ensures the continuous development and accessibility of craft,” Nasri explains. “And soon enough, [the platform will] be able to commission artisans from the rest of the MENASEA for both the Faroukha and Embroidery collections, expanding our production base. Such platforms support the Council in its mission of empowering women through the crafts internationally”.
In 2020, ADORNO worked in partnership with Irthi to launch the council’s inaugural collections from their initiatives “Crafts Dialogue” and “Design Labs”. These initiatives highlighted the strengths of Emirati crafts from two perspectives: “Crafts Dialogue” merged the arts and crafts of the UAE with global crafts, pairing local designers with international designers to link and reinterpret cultural boundaries, while “Design Labs” brought local and international designers together with Emirati artisans to create a space to exchange knowledge and develop new production techniques and approaches to craft.
Speaking of the evolution of these initiatives in 2022, Nasri explains that “it was important for the Council to think long term and collaborate with the designers and artisans highlighted through ADORNO through a sustainable scheme”. To do so, Irthi has developed “a diffused line from the ‘Crafts Dialogue’ and ‘Design Labs’ collections, [presented at] an approachable price point, [which] the council coined [the] ‘Irthi series’, released in the form of collection ‘drops’.”
This series features high-quality, mid-range homeware pieces, created with a focus on sustainability and championing positive social and cultural impacts.
During Irthi’s exhibition at Milan Design Week 2022, visitors were able to experience the latest collection drops from the Irthi Series. Through this coordinated presentation, audiences gained further access to these scalable crafts techniques, offering the opportunity for future applications and design interventions. “The more designers exercise emirati crafts today, the larger the potential of emirati culture in the future in becoming scalable and positively effecting the UAE’s economy,” Nasri describes. “Much like the positive impact of Milan Design Week for the city of Milan’s economy”.
Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
Representing both traditional and modern crafts across the MENASEA and Central Asia regions, working with partner organisations, and championing artisans and designers, the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is looking at the empowerment of women professionally and socially.
The council aims to provide a fresh narrative for women, by developing new market opportunities, and sectors, delivering social development programs and vocational training, as well as preserving the skills and rich cultural heritage of the UAE for current and future generations through its five initiatives:
– Bidwa Social Development Programme, which employs 40 artisans and provides them with vocational training and helps them find new markets for their skills through commercial collaborations and regional artisan exchange programmes.
– Artisan Skills Exchange Programme, which enables the development of artisans’ capacities and technical skills as well as social development through a series of artisanal skill exchanges within the MENASEA region.
– Hirfati Youth Programme that seeks to train and engage with the next generation of designers and artists through a mix of activities that combine traditional and contemporary crafts.
– Azyame Fashion Entrepreneurs Programme that aims to develop the next generation of UAE-based fashion designers through training, mentoring and business development.
– Crafts Dialogue, a unique project that brings together the Council with Barcelona-based Creative Dialogue to create works, which will marry Emirati and international crafts into contemporary designs.
Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, an organisation that was established under an Amiri decree by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and is chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah.