10 contemporary products that showcase Emirati design heritage

Following its participation at the London Design Festival last month, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council brings its collections to the UAE – here's a preview

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Contemporary design and traditional craft come together in Irthi Contemporary Craft Council’s luxury product line, which will be showcased and sold in the Middle East for the first time on Thursday, October 31 at the Al Bait Hotel in Sharjah.

The products are the result of a collaboration between designers from the UAE and abroad and artisans from Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme, which employs 37 craftswomen from Sharjah’s Dibba Al Hisn district.

Their works fall under two of Irthi’s projects, Crafts Dialogue, which features four collections, and Design Labs, which features eight. A total of 39 products across these 12 collections will be on display at Al Bait, ranging from wall tapestries and furniture to jewellery and handbags. The pieces can be bought on a made-to-order basis.

As the name suggests, the Crafts Dialogue project brings together craft practices from the UAE and other countries. The collaboration between Fatima Al Zaabi and Matteo Silverio, for example, combines Emirati clay with Italian Murano Glass to create vases and lamps. There’s also the stackable furniture developed by Abdallah Al Mulla from the UAE and Pepa Reverter from Spain. These stools, made from clay and traditional woven textile, can be placed on top of each other to create totem poles.

The collections under the Design Labs project include contemporary wall tapestries by artists Patricia Swannell and Kazuhito Takadoi. The latter worked with Bidwa artisans to embroider organic materials such as palm fronds and Japanese grass using traditional Emirati and Japanese weaving techniques.

For the Talli x Misbah Collection, the Pakistani design studio The Lel Collection designed large-scale ‘misbahs’ or prayer beads that incorporate the Emirati weaving technique called ‘Talli’ with macrame methods to string together beads of semi-precious stones, marble and wood. Other products include camel leather bags designed by American craft artist Jennifer Zurick, who has drawn from weaving traditions of the Emirates and indigenous peoples in the US.

The full line of products – totaling 78 – was previously shown at the London Design Festival in September, after the council, an affiliate of Nama Women Advancement Establishment, was invited to participate. Irthi was created out of a desire by Sheikha Jawaher, wife of Sharjah ruler Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, to support local craftswomen and preserve cultural heritage. A portion of the sale proceeds will go to these artisans, while the rest will be reinvested into Irthi.

Over the next three months, the products will be showcased across the UAE, including at Downtown Design, held from November 12 to 15 at Dubai Design District (D3). The display in Sharjah will run through end of January 2020.