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Classic traditions, current techniques
by Muhammad Yusuf August 13, 2015
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French/Moroccan artist Sara Ouhaddou, who works with traditional craftsmen to reinterpret classic motifs and employs age-old techniques in ceramics, textile embroidery, and now glass, is currently a member of the Art Jameel residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn, New York.

Through this summer Art Jameel, in partnership with Edge of Arabia, features Ouhaddou, who lives and works between Paris and Morocco. French/Moroccan of Berber descent, she collaborates with Moroccan craftspeople to reinvent traditional motifs into very contemporary designs.

Her work explores Islamic geometry and also puts a priority on maintaining traditional craft skill and building economic/social connections between artisan communities. She has created a series of tiles in porcelain, textile, rubber and glass. She is dedicated to preserving and reinterpreting dying craft techniques and in using them as the base for her contemporary art practice.

Through her residency in New York City, she is adapting previous explorations in textile and ceramic tile, through glass.

Her award-winning designs are very personal expressions of a contemporary artistic exploration of Islamic geometry. Her ongoing exploration of traditional Moroccan designs and forms began in 2011, when she first started researching Islamic geometry.

Saturated with strong spiritual and cultural significance, Islamic geometry forms a longstanding cultural language used in craft, architecture, clothing and art across the Islamic world. Ouhaddou has been motivated by a strong desire to adapt this visual language to modern forms, as well as to support traditional craft techniques at risk of being forgotten in contemporary Moroccan society.

She began by collaborating with craftsmen and women in her home country. In doing so she created a dialogue between artisans as well as supported micro-economies, through which they made their living.

Working closely with master craftsmen in South Morocco’s Ourika Valley to use locally sourced natural clay, Ouhaddou’s handcrafted ceramic tile collection is influenced by the delicate mosaic tradition of Fez with Spanish and Arabic roots.

Each tile, of which there are five distinct patterns, is hand sculpted and unique as a result of the firing technique, which creates subtle variations. The works combine handcrafted detail with a contemporary dynamic tension evoked through a bold use of space and depth.

Ouhaddou later developed a partnership between the craftsmen of Ourika Valley and the craftswomen of Limoges in France, to create a collection of tiles in thin, almost translucent porcelain.

Tetouan, a town in North Morocco, is known for its unique embroidery patterns that developed through historic cultural links with Andalusia, Spain. Working with young students in the Dar Sanaa school, Tetouan, Ouhaddou developed a curriculum to teach traditional embroidery and to explore modern adaptations of classic motifs through embroidery on textile, as well as on recycled scraps of rubberised-cloth.

Young women with restricted schooling who were her collaborators, worked with her to create a range of adaptations, gaining skills and economic opportunities through the process. Through sculpting, layering, embroidering and polishing rubber scraps, she also worked in Tetouan to design a series of modern stools.

Ouhaddou partnered with Berber communities in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains to re-launch collectives of women led societies of weavers, to create a modern collection of fabric and carpets using traditional weavers’ techniques.

During her residency at the ISCP, she aims to explore adaptations of her designs in glass, partnering with small-scale glass artisans in Brooklyn to develop models she can use on her return to Morocco.

Handmade glass, once a staple in Morocco, has been largely abandoned in the face of mass-produced glassware. Ouhaddou hopes through her work to help revive traditional techniques in collaboration with locally based craftsmen.

She was selected for the ISCP residency along with Ayman Yossri Daydban (Palestine/Saudi Arabia) and Zeinab Shahidi Marnani (Iran) from over 200 applications submitted by artists living and working across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This is the second annual collaboration between the ISCP, Art Jameel and Edge of Arabia.

Ouhaddou graduated from the Olivier de Serres, Paris. She has taken part in artist-residencies at Atla(s)now Artist Residency, Morocco (2015); Africa-Center, South Africa (2014); Dar Al Ma’mun, Morocco (2014, 2013) and Trankat, Morocco (2014). Awards include the Special Jury Prize at Wanted DESIGN NYC (2015); an Arab Fund for Art and Culture grant (2014); the Fondation of France, Fondation Vallet Laureate (2008/2011); and the L’Oréal Brandstor contest (2010).

She has participated in the Africa Design Weeks, Casablanca (2015); Dubai Design Days, UAE (2015); French Institut and Intitut du Monde Arabe Paris open call on Morocco Culture (2014) and Paris Design Week (2014).

While in the US for her current residency, she has also produced a street art mural in Detroit as part of CULTURUNNERS, Art Jameel and Edge of Arabia’s evolving cross-cultural journey across the United States.

Art Jameel’s ongoing Artist Residency Program is a continual project, in partnership with Edge of Arabia, which aims to support artists from the Middle East and North Africa by providing them with platforms in New York City to further develop their practice, share their work with new audiences and collaborate with locally based artists.

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