Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council (Irthi), an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, brought together young Emirati women to train with international designers to create handmade products that merge local and international crafts.
The women, aged 18-35, were trained in eight different crafts and techniques through the ‘Design Labs’, a project launched by Irthi. Design Labs organised intensive craft courses and soft skills training to enhance their artisanal capabilities.
Similar to art residencies, the Design Labs allow for an exchange of crafts, design and knowledge between local artisans, and internationally renowned designers hosted by Irthi, through its Bidwa Social Development Programme Centre in Dibba Al Hisn – Sharjah.
The project aims to offer young Emirati women who were recruited as trainees for the Design Labs project, the training and support to develop their potential and expertise in various crafts, which also results in creating a sustainable future for traditional handcrafts.
Reem BinKaram, Director of NAMA, said: “The Design Labs project reflects our dedication at Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council to expand the scope of our crafts, while contributing to the sustainability of this vital sector and empowering the women working in it. The project engages young women trainees from the city of Dibba Al Hisn in Sharjah and the surrounding areas, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to develop their skills in the crafts.”
She added: “We are immensely proud to see these collections coming together to create an entirely new perspective on traditional and handmade crafts, elevating these crafts in both local and international markets where their true value will be recognised.”
“Our ultimate mission is to empower women in the crafts sector, and our innovative approach plays a critical role in fostering Sharjah’s position as a regional and international hub for craftspeople, artisans and designers around the world, offering them a platform to really take their craft and practice, to another level,” BinKaram reiterated.
The Design Labs explored eight product themes through different collaborations, incorporating Emirati crafts such as Talli and Safeefah with international crafts, and modern techniques to make sand-cast and gold-cast products, misbahs (prayer beads), woven leather bags, glass-blown perfume bottles, oud midkhans (incense burners) and other handmade products.
The lab themes included ‘Talli and Misbah’ in cooperation with Pakistani design studio ‘LEL’; ‘Safeefah and Japanese Grass’ in collaboration with UK-based artists Kazuhito Takadoi and Patricia Swannell; ‘Oud and Palestinian Glass Blowing’ in collaboration with Palestinian designer Dima Srouji; and ‘Oud and Metalworks’ in cooperation with UK-based artist Adi Toch.
A ‘Safeefah and Sand Casting’ lab was held in collaboration with UAE-based design studio ‘Architecture & Other Things’; in addition to the ‘Safeefah and Gold Casting’ lab in coordination with the UAE-based jewellery designer, Alia bin Omair; ‘Embroidery and Camel Leather’ in cooperation with UAE’s Khuloud Al Thani; and ‘Safeefah and Camel Leather Bags’ in collaboration with artist Jennifer Zurick from the United States.