Heritage in Dialogue
Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council forges connections to empower women
Empowering women through craft; this is the singular mission of Sharjah-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. From championing traditional skills to opening new markets, Irthi’s creative, cultural, and commercial initiatives uplift women artisans across the Middle East and beyond by forging connections and collaborations between them and the international creative community.
Irthi envisions a female-driven artisan economy that preserves the area’s cultural heritage for future generations. The resulting design collections uplift both the makers and their communities—and the pieces are simply gorgeous. Here are a handful for your delectation.
Safeefah Chairs designed by Ghaya Bin Mesmar and Mermelada Estudio and handmade by the female artisans of Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme
For this chair collection, Emirati designer Ghaya Bin Mesmar partnered with Laura Blasco, Juanmi Juárez, and Alex Estévez from Barcelona-based Mermelada Estudio to envision a new use for traditional Safeefah palm-frond weaving: furniture. During their research, the designers came across images of desert houses known as Areesh, which are made from palm fronds. One of the images showed an Areesh blown down by the wind and inspired the cone-shape of this chair made of palm fronds. Bidwa artisans wove the upholstery of the chairs by combining old and new Safeefah alongside other weaving techniques.
Safeefah x Clay Stools and Tables designed by Abdallah Al Mulla and Pepa Reverter and handmade by the female artisans of Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme
A collaboration between Dubai architect Abdalla Almulla and Spanish designer Pepa Reverter, the Safeefah x Clay collection consists of clay stools and tables that function as indoor-outdoor dining furniture and can be stacked to look like a totem pole. As part of this integrated vision, the design incorporates traditional palm frond Safeefah as decorative belts. The handmade process requires tremendous skill due to the tremendous size of each piece.
Safeefah x Sand Casting Stools and Tables designed by Architecture + Other Things and handmade by the female artisans of Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme
For the Safeefah x Sand Casting collection, UAE and Denmark-based designers Nada Taryam, Faisal Tabbarah, and Khawla Al Hashimi of Architecture + Other Things drew on their research into the historical environmental building methodologies of the arid MENA region. The designers and Irthi’s Bidwa trainees experimented with different combinations of water, sand, concrete, clay, and soil to create a substance that can set into a rock-like material. The result is an exquisite collection of environmentally friendly sand-cast tables and stools
Bonus: Videos by Kenyan artist-filmmaker Amirah Tajdin commissioned by Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, an organization that was established under an Amiri decree by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and is chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah.