Nesrine El Tibi Maalouf is Co-founder of 81 Designs.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
UAE-based social enterprise 81 Designs and Moroccan artist Bouchra Boudoua unveiled a fusion craft combining traditional Moroccan pottery and Palestinian Tatreez (cross stitch) at Abu Dhabi Art (ADA, Nov. 16 – 20). The embroidered ceramics were showcased at CP 8 – Auditorium in Manarat Al Saadiyat at the fair. ‘Autumn Harvest’ is a collection of intricate, earthy coloured ceramic pieces jointly made to preserve time-honoured artistic traditions. It reflects the desire to unite makers and artisans and to inspire them create art together.
The process entailed clay moulding and design by the artist and local potters in Morocco, before transporting them to Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, where Palestinian refugee women, employed by 81 Designs, skilfully embroidered the ceramics, using raffia fibre. Seven months in the making, the collaboration is an ode to the union of cultures across borders through the revolutionary use of traditional skills and sustainable materials.
There were further enchantments by 81 Designs before the fair concluded. At the Round Theatre on November 16, Nadine Maalouf, co-founder of 81 Designs and Boudoua, joined a panel to discuss the subject of “Social Enterprise through Artisans.” They were joined by Mourad Ben Ayed, Strategist for purpose-led organisations, Conceived Weaving Alliances; and Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro, Social Entrepreneur.
The panel discussion was part of ADA’s Talks programme, featuring a series of engaging cultural talks given by curators and artists, as well as the heads of the UAE’s art institutions and other eminent art professionals. 81 Designs’ mission is to preserve and modernise Tatreez, the ancient embroidery technique, while empowering refugee women with employment opportunities. The social enterprise curates each project every year in collaboration with an artist from the Middle East and North Africa region, and provides artists with a platform to present their work in different mediums.
It is a UAE-based social enterprise that strives to “bring both art and humanity together.” In 2015, Nesrine El Tibi Maalouf and Nadine Y Maalouf, founded the platform with a group of refugee artisan women living in Ein El Hilweh Camp in South Lebanon. The enterprise’s mission is to showcase their artisanal talents, arouse hope in building their future, and preserve and modernise Tatreez. By providing employment opportunities, 81 Designs empowers and improves social and living conditions of these skilled refugee women. Ein El Hilweh camp is located south of Saida in South Lebanon.
It is the largest Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon. Its inhabitants were displaced in 1948, most from coastal towns in historic Palestine. The camp also hosts a large number of Palestine refugees displaced from other parts of Lebanon, particularly from Tripoli, who came to Ein El Hilweh during the Lebanese civil war and in the aftermath of the Nahr el-Bared conflict in 2007. Nahr el-Bared is a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Today, the ongoing Syria crisis has also led to an influx of Syrian refugees and Palestine refugees displaced from Syria. Boudoua graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design with a BA in spatial design. She is an artist and designer based between Marrakech and Casablanca.
Working from her creative studio in Marrakech, she collaborates with local potters to create both functional and decorative ceramics. In an aim to preserve age-old techniques of Moroccan craftsmanship, she reinterprets traditional pottery to create pieces that simultaneously go back in time and also live boldly in modern-day homes. Her work is largely informed by the graphic information from her daily life in Morocco and from her travels around the country. Boudoua’s artistic practice is also a personal quest and inner search to connect with her roots and those of her ancestors.
Always striving to find the balance between craft and design, her work echoes the naive and simple aesthetic unique to the Moroccan south. “My aesthetic is very graphic and aims to tell stories of roots and heritage,” she has said. “I am continuously inspired by ancient Moroccan craft and the daily graphic information I encounter while living in Morocco. “It could be an architectural detail, a pattern on an old rug, or the wall paintings found in certain rural areas of the country. I extract and transform all this information that has now sort of become my own personal language, which I translate onto ceramics.”
Among her inspirations are Maryam Riazi, Paola Navone, and architects Studio KO. She likes them for their relationship with craft and for the natural and earthy aesthetic of their work. She is careful about sustainability. “Sustainability is a very important part of my practice,” she says. She recalls that when she first started pottery in Morocco, she realised many small pottery workshops did not have the necessary tools or right raw materials to create safe and sustainable products.
“That was a turning point in my journey because that’s when I decided to open my studio. Having my own studio space allowed me to have more control over the sustainability aspect of my work. We try to recycle as much clay as possible but are very strict on using only non-toxic, lead-free glazes, making all our ceramics food safe. “I think as a ceramicist, sustainability is of great importance. Pottery is made of clay, and clay is naturally sourced from the earth - it’s important for me to respect Mother Nature by using its resources to create objects that continue to live in harmony without causing any harm.”
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