“These two initiatives have brought together people from across the world that are masters at what they do and has, in a sense, decontextualised them, giving them a platform to converse, design, collaborate, and be challenged.”
– Farah Nasri, Assistant Manager – Curation & Design for Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
Adorno is pleased to announce a new partnership with Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council and the launch of the council’s inaugural collections from their initiatives Crafts Dialogue and Design Labs. This launch represents the first example of a new partnership model for Adorno which will present collections in partnership with cultural organisations and institutions around the world.
Based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council works to develop craft connections; support and champion artisans, craftspeople, and designers; and empower women through a programme of creative, cultural, and commercial initiatives. 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 knowledges and the development of technical skills, preserving cultural heritages and the use of traditional techniques and materials for future generations. As discussed by Farah Nasri below, this exchange has created strong intercultural connections; provided opportunities for diverse approaches to craft and design; and brought the incredible work of the craftswomen from the Bidwa Centre to the international stage.
The Crafts Dialogue initiative merges the arts and crafts of the UAE with global crafts. Dialogues are developed between pairings of local and international designers, juxtaposing Emirati and European elements to create unique pieces which link and reinterpret cultural boundaries. The project has produced four limited edition collections which make use of craft traditions such as safeefah, Murano glassblowing, ceramics, leatherwork, and Emirati talli.
The collection has been curated by Samer Yamani and Farah Nasri. Featured designers include Fatima Al Zaabi of Studio D04, Matteo Silverio, Sheikha Bin Dhaher of Abjaad Studio, Adrian Salvador Candella of Estudio Savage, Ghaya Bin Mesmar, Mermelada Estudio, Abdallah Al Mulla, and Pepa Reverter.
Acting as a space for the exchange of knowledge, the Design Labs initiative pairs local or international designers with Emirati artisans and trainees to collaborate and develop new production techniques and approaches to craft. As part of the Bidwa Social Development Programme, artisans from the Bidwa Centre have worked with designers to create pieces which speak to the integration of traditional and contemporary approaches to craft and design.
The collection has been curated by Farah Nasri. Featured artists and designers include Meher and Farhana of The Lél Collection; Kazuhito Takadoi; Patricia Swannell; Dima Srouji of Hollow Forms Studio; Nada Taryam, Faisal Tabarrah and Khawla Al Hashimi of Architecture + Other Things Studio; Alia Bin Omair of Alia Bin Omair Jewellery; Jennifer Zurick; Khuloud Al Thani of Bint Thani Studio; and Adi Toch.
Interview with Farah Nasri, Assistant Manager – Curation & Design
Both initiatives, Crafts Dialogue and Design Labs, place great focus on collaboration, how has the process of creating the collections been affected through this focus?
For both initiatives, collaboration is a key factor in the design process, whether it’s channelling two designer mindsets into a single, cohesive concept and a shared design language, or bringing together diverse perspectives and spheres of expertise to find new forms and functions for an under-utilised craft technique or raw material. These collections are rooted in the possibilities and opportunities that come from new, often unexpected connections across craft disciplines and creative approaches – they could only have come from collaboration.
Another focal point for these initiatives is knowledge sharing, in which ways has this been achieved through the pieces that have been produced?
These two initiatives have brought together people from across the world that are masters at what they do and has, in a sense, decontextualised them, giving them a platform to converse, design, collaborate, and be challenged. The programmes create a degree of liberating alienation from one’s comfort zone, creating a space in which cultures and knowledge can be exchanged – on both a professional and a personal level. I don’t believe that knowledge sharing stops after the pieces have been designed and produced; the finished products stand as a testament to this process of mutual discovery and, in turn, introduce these ideas to new audiences.
What valuable insights have the initiatives given you in regard to the council’s approach to collaboration between artists/artists and artists/artisans?
The most valuable benefit to the artisans of the Bidwa Center has been the confidence and trust in design thinking that they have acquired through the design exercises they’ve undertaken as part of the programmes. Sometimes they would be asked to engage with a craft in a non-traditional manner or apply a craft technique unconventionally. I’m sure that, at the time, many of them didn’t see the purpose of this or weren’t convinced that the design process they were applying would eventually lead to the magnificent products that they have created. Now, I think they have a greater understanding and respect for design thinking.
The Crafts Dialogue initiative pairs international and local designers, what effect does this combination of design processes, styles, and elements have on the final pieces produced?
It creates a truly contemporary approach to design. The final pieces do not necessarily relate to a particular European or Emirati design or lifestyle but are the result of a craft hybrid. Each design has been informed by the crafts they are made with, shaped by the unique opportunities and restrictions that those crafts create.
What has surprised you most about the outcome of this initiative?
It wasn’t surprising to visualise the positive impact these initiatives would have on the craft and culture of the region, and specifically on the craftswomen themselves, as they went through a sheer learning curve in less than a year and can now absorb any design request or bespoke order. What I did find surprising is the international brand positioning that these collections, designers, and artisans have managed to attain through the UAE exhibition launch at London Design Fair, which granted us the Guest Country Pavilion in 2019. It was proof that the artisans of the Bidwa Social Development Programme are capable of catering to the international market, and their skills have been honed to compete at international standards.
In reference to the Design Labs initiative, why was it important for you to create a collaboration between artists and women from the Bidwa Social Development Programme?
It is only through a long, ongoing programme of workshops and collaborations between maker-designer, maker-maker, and maker-artist that the Bidwa artisans can be exposed to a wide vocabulary of crafts and crafted objects. This initiative’s syllabus structure allowed the artisans already enrolled to learn a variety of novel international crafts, and encouraged a younger generation of women artisans to enrol in the programme, who might not have responded if Irthi had only been offering the ‘traditional’ or the ‘familiar’ crafts. However, after just six months, the younger generation has taken up Talli and Safeefah just as enthusiastically as the rest of the crafts (which include sand casting, leather weaving, embroidery, jewellery making, pietra dura, and glassblowing). This has helped ensure the preservation of the Emirati craft culture for generations to come.
How has this initiative affected the Bidwa artisans?
Design Labs has created greater diversity within the Bidwa community, opening up the artisans of a rural area in Sharjah (Dibba Al Hisn) to a wider range of age groups, ethnicities, cultures, and crafts. This education has been invaluable, and the possibilities that have opened up as a result of this dialogue are truly boundless.