The Future of Moroccan Artisan Design

 

Part I: Traditions

Anou Artisans Morocco Fair Trade Rugs

Fatiha (right) sits alongside Brahim El Mansouri of Association Ighrem to create some of her first sketches. 

Fatiha Ait Ouagadir of Cooperative Tifawin, just before becoming an artisan leader, sat in Anou’s office with an unusual request: use colored pencils to sketch out a new idea for a rug. Fatiha sat in her chair struggling to put a pencil to paper. She eventually sketched a design she had woven many times before. When pressed to create something new or simply rearrange the design she had sketched, she struggled more and eventually gave up. It just wasn’t possible, she said.

Fatiha’s story points to the widely held idea that artisans are not designers. Research artisan businesses and you’ll see an economy that embodies this. It may be easy to conclude that artisans can’t design because they’re not capable, but it is actually the result something much more systemic.

Most businesses design products and then have artisans make the product. Rarely, if ever, are artisans truly consulted on design work. Generally, a Moroccan artisan’s input goes only as far as a designer gaining inspiration from the artisan’s culture and traditions. Outside designers then drive innovation and change by refreshing, revitalizing or incorporating a western twist on artisan traditions. The language of innovation and change is often used to describe the outside designer, but rarely the Moroccan artisan. This is because if artisans were to drive change, the traditions they represent might be lost forever. Instead of change and progress, the language that surrounds artisans focuses more on preservation and tradition.

The artisan sector as a whole seems to have accepted all of this as a natural symbiosis between a designer and artisan. Yet this relationship is structurally flawed. The reason is that the artisan and designer are not equal in today’s economy. The designer, who normally controls market access, has full control over the design and can dip into an artisan’s tradition as much or as little as she/he wants.

The less obvious reasons can be uncovered by asking what traditions are artisans expected to preserve? As Ashley Miller, a PhD candidate of art history at the University of Michigan writes in Negotiating Design, “We commonly imagine tradition as a fixed, unchanging set of practices or beliefs; it is something that can be contained, something already complete.” But the reality is many traditions, as Ashley goes on to write, may appear to be timeless but in fact can be dated to a specific time not that long ago. A great example is this rug, which is commonly sold as a vintage, tribal Berber rug, when in fact it is commonly known amongst artisans that it was first designed by a European artist in the 1990’s.

In fact, it is not difficult to argue that most traditional Moroccan designs that many gain their inspiration from aren’t even firmly rooted in the history and culture of Moroccan artisans. In 1914, the French Protectorate initiated a massive campaign via what was called the Native Arts Service to revitalize Morocco’s craft industries. Through their efforts, Moroccan artisans produced work that largely embodied a French colonial notion of traditional Moroccan craft. Even to this day, revered publications on Moroccan design follow the language and structure that the French Protectorate created to preserve what was ultimately their perspective of Moroccan craft and tradition.

If we continue to believe that the purpose of the artisan community of Morocco exists to preserve tradition, then we have to ask if what they are expected to preserve is truly theirs. And if we continue with the belief that artisans can’t design, how will artisans ever be able to drive the progress of their own traditions and craft? If we accept that artisans can’t design then we must accept the incorrect museumification of artisan craft through the sale of vintage products, which omits today’s artisans from the economy completely.

This deeply matters to Anou. Our vision is to create a growing, vibrant, inclusive community of all Moroccan artisans. How can a community possibly grow if it is restricted to a fixed idea of tradition and the creativity and ideas of others? You only need so many artisans to recreate what exists. And in an increasingly mechanized world, it’s not hard for some to question whether artisans are needed at all. In this context, it is unsurprising that the number of Moroccan artisans has decreased from 1.2 million to 400,000 in a very short period of time.

For us at Anou, it’s a false question to ask if artisans like Fatiha are capable of design or if they even should. Rather, Fatiha represents the actual questions that must be answered: How can an economy be created that is capable of unlocking the creative potential and evolving traditions of Moroccan artisans? This is the heart of our vision in creating the future of artisan design in Morocco.

Coming Soon

Part II: Artisans, Designers & Customers: At the Center of Innovation

Part III: Anou’s Collaboration Tool

From Prehistoric Rock Carvings to New Designs

 

Touda lives in Ait Bouli and is only a 25 minute drive to the near by prehistoric rock carvings. Last month, she visited for the first time ever to gain inspiration for new rug designs rooted in the culture of Ait Bouli.

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The picturesque and mysterious Tizi N’tighrst rock carvings of Ait Bouli are relatively unknown except to the local villagers of Ait Bouli. The carvings sit on a pass between two villages of Ait Bouli, often only frequented by shepherds and villagers traveling to the weekly souk. Little is known about them, but many say they are over 3,000 years old and may have been an important religious site. This is not lost on Touda, who believes that these carvings are an important part of Ait Bouli’s culture.

 

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Touda photographed her favorite symbols from the carving site with her smartphone. When she returned home sketched them in her drawing book. Here are a several of her favorite:

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After a week or so, Touda had developed over 20 designs and worked hard to integrate the symbols into her sketches:

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Touda thought hard and received feedback from Anou’s artisan leaders and team and eventually selected her favorite design to weave. After a month of weaving, her newly designed rug was complete!

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You can now find it on her online store at:

www.theanou.com/product/5800

Launching the Second Edition of the British Council Common Thread Program!

British Council Anou At the end of last summer, we concluded the first edition of the Common Thread Program with the British Council. The program brought British designer Sabrina Krause Lopez out to Morocco to teach, learn and work with Anou’s artisan leaders in Morocco. Then, all artisan leaders flew out to London with Sabrina to showcase their work at the London Design Festival and visited with leading designers, studios, schools and artisans in London. To say the program was a huge success would be an understatement. The experience exposed the artisan leaders to a wide range of new designs and ideas and the people behind them, fundamentally altering how the artisan leaders think about and value design. Since the artisan leaders returned, some have launched new product lines for 2015 and others began creating drafts of their new ideas for the first time. The program was most successful in the more complex questions it provoked from the artisan leaders: What constitutes a design? How does one continually innovate and evolve their design? How can one’s design be protected? Having the knowledge and exposure to develop, much less answer these questions have long been elusive for the artisan community. That is until now. It is in this context that we are excited to announce the second edition of the British Council Anou Common Thread Program. Our vision with this program is three-fold. First and foremost, we want to continue exposing artisan leaders to as many ideas as possible so they can accelerate the development of their craft and the wider artisan community. Second, we hope that the topics covered will provide the artisan leaders more insight into how they can build the rules and policies that will help further Anou’s evolution into a vibrant community that fosters both skill development and creativity. And lastly, to ensure continuous exposure for the artisan community, we want to continue closing the gap not only between Moroccan artisans and British creatives, but also between Moroccan artisans and Moroccan creatives of the nascent design scene rapidly expanding in Morocco’s urban centers. Starting on August 10th, we will gather six artisan leaders alongside British creatives and three Moroccan creatives to gather for three weeks. Each person selected to attend will be asked to develop a small half-day workshop focused on questions artisan leaders developed after their time in London and/or their creative processes. These workshops will be presented in the first week and will all serve as the foundation for developing a theme that all the participants will each design a new product idea around. Once a design theme has been established, each artisan leader will be paired with a British and or Moroccan creative and will host them in their village and workshop for two weeks. There, artisan leaders alongside their partner will each develop their own product that will eventually be added to a special collection on Anou. We hope that by bringing together designers and artisans from many different backgrounds, it will create a nexus of creativity that will not only transform each person who takes part, but also ripple across the entire Anou community. Does this excite you? Are you a design minded person? Take a look at the call out and submit an application by July 6th! To learn more take a look at the British Council’s Open Call Announcement! https://vimeo.com/106479121

Revealing Common Threads: Mustapha Chaouai

Learn more about the rug Anou Leader Mustapha Chaouai’s designed during the British Council’s Common Thread Project below! These rugs can be purchased online at: http://www.theanou.com/commonthread

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“Co-Existence” by Mustapha Chaouai
2.3m x 1.6m
Mustapha’s rug is available for purchase at:

www.theanou.com/commonthread

All proceeds will go to Mustapha’s association (Association Nahda) and cover the costs of future artisan-led trainings to grow the Anou community in Morocco.

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“The design I created represents Morocco — a country where all people and religions co-exist despite different languages and cultures.”

— Mustaph Chaouai

201408 BC Common Thread Project 290

About Mustapha:

Mustapha’s works as a metalsmith in the small town of Oued Ifrane where he earns his income repairing metal doors, trucks, axles and pretty much any other metal object villagers bring to his shop. It might seem peculiar to many that an established metalsmith would establish a female weaving cooperative, but that is exactly what Mustapha did by founding Association Nahda.

Mustapha, as one quickly learns after meeting him, is an anomaly in Morocco. When he was younger, he was always near his mother and grandmother while they weaved. Just by observing he became skilled in a craft that is reserved for women. With this rare skill set, he thought that he could help create jobs and opportunity for his wife and the women of Oued Ifrane.

Today, Mustapha serves as the artisan director for the Anou community.

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Mustapha’s rug on display at the Common Thread Exhibition at the London Design Festival.

Common Thread (Part 2): In Sabrina’s Words

The core experience of the Common Thread project is rooted in collaboration, understanding and the exchange of ideas. After the completion of the design workshop led by Sabrina Kraus Lopez (www.sabrinakrauslopez.com), Sabrina accompanied Rabha Akkaoui back to Tounfite where she stayed for three weeks working and living alongside the women of Cooperative Chorouk (www.theanou.com/store/3). In this album, Sabrina reflects on her experiences through pictures taken throughout the three weeks.

 

 

“It is hard to believe that this small mud hut sandwiched in this incredible landscape will now be my workspace for the next three weeks.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

“The first few days at the cooperative consisted of me staring at the women weave, trying to take in all their movements in order to understand how their looms worked. Once we set up my loom I was ready and excited to begin weaving my own rug.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Fatima Haddu,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Looms, Moroccan Weaving, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

 

“At the moment when the women and I realize that I have been weaving, unaccompanied and successfully for the last 30 minutes, there is a loud applause, as only now have I finally earned my place in this remote village cooperative!”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans , Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“There are two other looms in the Chorouk Cooperative, each carefully shared and cared for by ten women, each of whom can be found preparing, cleaning and spinning wool for weaving, but most importantly, laughing and telling stories.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“I was taken by the individual artisans themselves and their situations, sometimes funny, sad and occasionally touching; each of them has a story to tell.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Flatweave, Hanbel

 

 

 

“From collecting and spinning the wool, to picking and hand dying the yarn, it soon became clear to me that for the artisans this is not simply a livelihood but rather an intrinsic part of their culture and everyday life.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Family

 

 

 

“Intensely proud of their heritage and traditions, the Amazigh believe that these carpets have been crucial in keeping their cultures alive. Even today, some tribal women still carry these symbols and motifs tattooed on to their foreheads, chins and arms, in days gone by this would have distinguished them during times of war.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Fatima Haddu

 

 

 

“After two weeks, I begin to feel settled in Tounfite. Every morning I wake up to Rabha’s amazing mint tea and breakfast, all of which is loaded with sugar to get me through each day of weaving.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

 

 

 

“Later, I finally know how to ask for bread, water, phone credit and make it to the closest store on my own. I also know that the Hamam is one of the best things in town and that Sundays at the souq are priceless.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Souq, Tounfite Market

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Market, Tounfite Souq

 

 

 

“At the end of my time in Morocco, I have learnt how to say “Hello”, “thank you” and “I am full”, in Amazigh. I am also now familiar with sleeping on layered carpets, having bucket showers and eating with my hands at almost every meal. However, it is exactly these new experiences, sharing of cultures and most of all friendships that I will miss most and what makes collaborations like this so special.”

Anou, Family, Community

Sabrina Kraus Lopez, Rabha Akkaoui, Common Thread, Design Explore, Design Junction, London Design Festival

 

Launching the British Council and Anou’s Common Thread Project

Designer Sabrina Kraus and photographer Simon Mill arrive in Morocco and take a taxi to Ait Bouguemez to begin the British Council - Anou's Common Threads project.

Designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez and photographer Simon Mills arrive in Morocco and take a taxi to Ait Bouguemez to begin the British Council – Anou’s Common Thread project.

This past week we officially launched the Common Thread pilot project in collaboration with the British Council’s Architecture, Design, Fashion Department. Many changes have been made to the project since we initially announced it and we couldn’t be more excited.

The most obvious change is the project’s new name. The project’s vision is to create a truly equal learning exchange between Anou’s artisan leaders and British designers. We believe that this new title perfectly encapsulates this vision. In addition to this change, the British Council completed an intensive search for a designer to take part and selected Sabrina Kraus Lopez (http://www.sabrinakrauslopez.com), a graduate of the MA Material Futures at London’s University of the Arts: Central Saint Martin’s.

Over the past several weeks, we worked with Sabrina, who has completed similar work with artisans in Peru, to flesh out the details of the project. We ultimately decided to break down the project into three innovative parts:

Part One The first part of the Common Thread project will bring Sabrina, Scottish photographer/designer Simon Mills (http://photosby.si), and all Anou’s artisan leaders out to Ait Bougamez for a one week design workshop. The workshop will equip artisans with new design tools that will enable artisans to create designs inspired by their personal stories, community and craft. At the end of the workshop, the artisan leaders will each design a rug using the tools they learned and the ideas they developed during the week. In addition to this, Simon will also lead a photography training session and document the workshop via photography and video. Update: Success! See pictures of the training on our blog or on Facebook!

Part Two After the workshop concludes, the artisan leaders will return to their villages and to weave the rug they designed. Sabrina will then accompany artisan leader Rabha Akkaoui (www.theanou.com.com/store/5) back to Tounfite and will live and work with the cooperative for two weeks. Sabrina will design and weave her own rug using traditional weaving techniques learned from the members of Cooperative Chorouk. At the end of the two weeks, Sabrina will then travel to each artisan leader’s village to check the final progress of the rugs they designed during the opening workshop.Update: Success! read more about Sabrina’s experience in Tounfite on our blog or Facebook page!

Part Three All the rugs that Anou’s artisan leaders and Sabrina complete will then be shipped to London. From there, an exhibition for the Common Thread project will be set up at the London Design Festival this September to display the rugs the artisans created. All the Anou leaders will be flown out to London for the exhibition and will speak about their experiences during the project and the larger vision of Anou’s community. In addition, the leaders will be given personal tours of leading design studios in London and meet leading British designers and design professors.

With such a huge focus on an equal exchange of ideas between leading Moroccan artisans and leading British designers, we simply couldn’t be more excited for this project. Projects like this are incredibly rare and we have to thank the British Council’s British Council’s Architecture, Design, Fashion Department for making this happen. Follow Anou’s blog, Facebook page, and Instagram account for updates as the project unfolds!