Reviving a legacy: Moroccan artist supports traditional handcrafts

Through a combination of Islamic teachings and arts, Sara Ouhaddou, is attempting to shed light on the works of Moroccan craftsmen

Rajia Aboulkheir - Al Arabiya News
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In an era where computers and machines seem to be slowly taking over the world, one Moroccan artist is trying to revive the traditional handcraft techniques.

Through a combination of Islamic teachings and arts, Sara Ouhaddou, is attempting to shed light on the works of Moroccan craftsmen and their unique techniques.

“I understood that if I wanted to offer [Moroccan] craftsmen a chance to exist and develop, I needed to have a real project, not only an artistic one, but also an economic plan,” Sara Ouhaddou told Al Arabiya News.

Using textiles, ceramic tiles as well as glass, the Moroccan artist uses her creations to promote and support traditional craft techniques that are otherwise at risk of being forgotten.

Ouhaddou said that thanks to her research on Islamic geometry and her various arts creations she was aiming to create a “small brand representing” Moroccan craftsmen.

Her passion for traditional Moroccan hand-made designs and forms began in 2011, when she first started researching Islamic geometry.

“My passion for Islamic traditional art started in high school in Paris when I was asked to do a research paper on ‘how Islamic traditional art could lead to innovation in Morocco’,” Ouhaddou explained.

“I never stopped since then and started leading my own research on it,” she said adding that she managed to finance her studies through several jobs for international luxury brands such as Lancôme and Viktor & Rolf.

“Lancôme helped me a lot to support my research and they still do,” she said, “I use to work for them as a designer and I am now a research and development artist.”

But jobs in the luxury sector are not the only means Ouhaddou is using to finance her research and expand her artistic career.

The Moroccan artist is also relying on international residency-programs that help artists from the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am currently part of a residency-based contemporary art institution called the International Studio & Curatorial Program [ISCP] and I aim through the program to partner with glass artisans in Brooklyn to develop models I could use when I go back home.”

ISCP allows Ouhaddou to share her work with new audiences and promote her art in different countries.

The Moroccan artist, who is currently in New York for the program, was selected among 200 other applicants.

Traveling from one place to another and mixing cultures, is not new for the French-Moroccan artist who has used the experiences of her dual nationality to develop her work since the start of her career.

“I had the chance to grow up in France, but with a very conservative family which allowed me to get two different cultures and visions,” Ouhaddou said explaining that she has never lived in Morocco but visits every year.

“I quickly learnt the differences between France and Morocco, and I’ve been trying to use it as much as I can in innovative ways for work,” she said, adding that she tries as much as she can to keep her roots “alive.”

“All my work is based on a balance between the two different visions … France on the one hand, which is this occidental contemporary country, and Morocco on the other hand which is an unfair country, searching for a middle ground between being a Muslim country or following the modern world,” she added.

In one of her attempts to bridge the gap between the two cultures, Ouhaddou, created a collection that brought the art of Moroccan craftsmen to the streets of Paris.

“MadinMedin was the name given to the collection of items I created with craftsmen to sell them in creative and design markets as at the Gaité Lyrique in Paris,” she said.

“It was like a collection from which we sold tools and garments made in the Rif Mountains - in Morocco - or in Marrakech by the artists,” she said.

Speaking about her future plans, Ouhaddou, said: “I am expecting to be working on the different pieces I started and expose them in different galleries.”

“I began a series that aims to represent each part of Morocco so I hope to develop that as well,” she said.

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