Connecting Through Craft
Irthi debuts its latest, beautiful initiative to empower women through artisan collaborations
Though just a few years old, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council has quickly made a name for itself on the international design scene. This rapid rise is, in large part, thanks to the organization’s inspiring mission—namely, to empower female artisans from the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, and South-East Asia, both socially and economically, through craft; its commitment to the preservation and revitalization of craft heritage; as well as the exceptional quality of the projects it produces.
In 2018, Irthi launched its debut collectible design series, Crafts Dialogue and Design Labs, featuring exquisite furniture and accessories made in collaboration between traditional, regional artisans and contemporary designers from around the globe. The gallery-worthy work was immediately celebrated by international press and followed up by additional collections, along with other efforts—both socially minded and of-the-moment—including children’s youth workshops, a virtual design gallery, international exhibitions, and more.
This month, Irthi reveals its latest initiative at Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai. The Irthi Series, which kicks off with two collections of handmade, uniquely designed yet functional objects, marks an important new chapter in Irthi’s efforts to safeguard the region’s crafts legacy while also carving out sustainable economic paths forward. While the new pieces again merge the talents of local and international makers and honor cross-cultural collaboration, they are produced at a different scale and price point—objects framed as everyday luxuries—and intended to make the artisans’ work more accessible to a larger audience, while simultaneously opening up a new market to these gifted makers that will ensure long term productivity.
And just as before, the latest collections—curated by Farah Nasri, Acting Manager, Curation and Design of Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council—partner regional artisans with standouts from the modern design landscape. This time around, featured collaborators include renowned Beirut-based, Levantine designer Nada Debs, Bahraini designer and sculptor Hala Kaiksow, graphic designer Ghaya Bin Mesmar, and Peshawar-based artistic collective Studio Lél.
Debs, who describes her larger approach as both “handmade and heart made,” is known for work that spotlights craftsmanship and cross-cultural values. Her new series with Irthi, entitled Zenobia, weaves together the worlds of Emirati Talli (a centuries-old craft of intricate, handwoven braiding) and Lebanese marquetry—resulting in a gorgeous collection that reinterprets the traditional vases and vessels carried by Bedouin tribes. While these two crafts are similar in appearance, they traditionally employ markedly distinct materials and processes—one practiced mainly by men using wooden cross-sections, combined together and then shaved using machine tools; the other hand-woven by women in cotton and metallic threads. The resulting forms create a brand new narrative, blending the experiences and expertise of artisans from differing parts of the region.
Describing the partnership with Irthi, Debs says: “Our collaboration with Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council reflects a non-stop dialog between culture and craft; rooted in local identity but with a contemporary twist.”
Meanwhile, the Thaya collection consists of a series of collaborations among the aforementioned designers—Kaiksow, Bin Mesmar, and Studio Lél—and traditional local artisans centered around Safeefah, the traditional Emirati palm frond weaving craft, blended with the Emirati leatherwork, Bahraini hand dyeing, and Pakistani stone carving. Produced in palm fronds, leather, stone, and recycled felt, the resulting pieces offer a contemporary take on Safeefah homeware objects typically found in Emirati homes, elevating the quotidian mats, food storage items, and more to sculptural objects worthy of center piece stature.
As HE Reem BinKaram, Director of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, of which Irthi is a proud affiliate, reflects: “Crafts enrich and uplift us all and play a vital role in the preservation of our national heritage and the fabric of our collective society. An important element of our work is to foster cross-border collaboration with international design platforms to champion and amplify the valuable work that we do. We are delighted to be showcasing not one but two collections at Shanghai with the support of Design Miami; an important stage through which our partners can reach and inspire new audiences and grow future commissions.” ◆
Explore and shop Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council’s latest collections here.