Get to know the artisans of Fez.

23 01 2014

Start with the ancient North African city of Fez.  Add the often hidden, traditional artisans who tenuously preserve the old craft techniques.  Spice it up with local and international contemporary visual artists,. The result: – Exposé Artisanal –an exciting project emerging out of Fez’ old medina to inspire creativity, expand portfolios of design and celebrate the treasured yet dwindling number of Fassi artisans.  Exposé Artisanal offers a unique opportunity to foster a new appreciation of the talent and traditions behind the crafts people of Fez and celebrate the influence of their unique heritage on the wider world.

Probably you would like to be part of this project, give yourself the opportunity to be among those artisans thousands of stories ,legends, popular wise sayings. Be the person who can help the process of appreciation. Here’s how


Artist in Residency Program – AiR Artisan

16 11 2013

Artists Call Out 

Residency 7th April – 6th May 2014.

Application deadline –  3rd January 2014.

Fez. Morocco.

Artists and designers are invited to apply for a one month artist residency with an attribute of working alongside a Fassi artisan. Culture Vultures invites designers, visual artists, installation artists, writers, musicians, performers, researchers or conceptual artists to spend a month investigating and practicing the techniques,  materials and personalities of the traditional crafts masters in Fez. The definition of artist is broad.  C.V. has a preference to unexpected collaborations that combine both approaches and an in-depth exchange.


AiR Artist – Artisan – Spend a month residing in a house in the ancient city of Fez, the world’s largest car-free urban metropolis and Moroccan capitol of crafts. Recognized by UNESCO and many national and international development organizations as a valued heritage of Fez, the crafts and their makers play an important role in the cast of this magical North African city. Artists will be housed together in a traditional house in the medina of Fez and spend extensive  time in the workshops of the artisans.


When – This residency will take place from 7th April to 6th May 2014.

Culture Vultures is an arts and cultural organization based in the Fez region. Founded in 2009 by visual artists Jess Stephens, C.V. has a rich and active portfolio of activities that encourage cross culture encounters through an arts agenda. With Jess’ experience in facilitating artist’s visits, projects and presentations in Morocco and good relations with a network of artisans based in the medina and beyond this residency promises food for thought, material for creativity and insightful exchanges.


Artisans portfolio  – Local artisans that are in C.V.s netwrok and welcome an artist into their working environment include traditional plaster carvers, potters, metal workers, weavers, mosaic ( zeliig) artists, carpet knitters, wood carvers, tailors  and tanners.


The program includes

  • Orientation of Fez medina. A half tour of the labyrinth-like old city of Fez with a historical guide.
  • An artisanal tour – an introduction to some of the artisans of the medina and the new artisanal centre for training.
  • Artists dinners. Informal dinners where visiting artists are introduced to the  Fez arts community.
  • Weekly lectures, round tables and presentations.
  • 2 excursions out of Fez to get a fresh perspective of the surrounding area.

Price   950 €


Half board, comfortable accommodation in the medina of Fez.

Extensive workshop time with the artisans and skills exchange.

Professional facilitation between visiting artists and artisans.

The rich program of activities mentioned above.

Does not include

Travel to or from Fez at either side of the residency.


One meal a day.

Application deadline January 3rd 2014.

Note – Full residency places are limited to 8 people. Places are secured after confirmation from the organization and a deposit is paid.

For an application form and proposal outline write to Jess at

All images courtesy of The Art of Islamic Pattern 

culture vultures

Morocco: Anonymous Mosaic Masterpieces

20 08 2013

Geometric patterns made by Moroccan zillij, mosaic masterpieces, capture attention and mesmerize. For me, the fascination with zillij is so overwhelming that it makes me love Moroccan artistic traditions.

Zillij is an incredibly impractical art form. It requires the understanding and execution of complex geometric patterns. The production process involves multiple artisans and various skill-sets; such as planning and drafting and producing (mining, firing, pigments, glazing, and cutting) clay tiles. For all the training, discipline, and practice required, it results in a piece of art that is nameless and unattributable. Many zillij masterpieces are public water fountains in the medina of Fes. They are city assets, public utilities, and works of art. Tiles are broken, come lose, or otherwise need repair.

The artisans who maintain or restore traditional zillij installations are inspired by the work of the “masters” who came before them. It is a form of inspiration that requires self-discipline because it requires restoring someone else’s unattributable work. They will be another nameless artist in a long line of artists that contributed public art, an expression of the collective. I think this aspect of art for public use and consumption is most beautifully expressed by the many wonderful water fountains used in Morocco’s old cities. The Art is not only anonymous, but useful, lending beauty, wonder and awe to the mundane yet privileged act of collecting water.
For zillij artists, there is no one “master” to worship or admire. There is only the art and the ideas it contains, which, I believe, cannot be accurate expressed in any other form, written, auditory, or visual.
Zillij has been actively practiced in Morocco for over 10 centuries. Despite the current poor economic conditions of the country, Moroccan families continue to commission zillij installations for living rooms. Zillij installations are expensive. Artisans are respected for their craft, but don’t necessarily make much of a living doing their life’s work. Zillij is a truly Moroccan art form and a source of cultural pride.
I had a chance to visit architectural masterpieces in Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, Haigia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. I was disappointed that I didn’t see anything the mimicked the feeling or style of Moroccan zillij. I realized how unique Moroccan mosaics are; they can’t be mistaken or replaced by mosaics of other cultures or styles. Most cultures create tile patterns by painting tessellating patterns on square tiles. The individual pieces of zillij used in Moroccan geometric designs are unique. The result is a mash-up of Phoenician and Roman mosaics, which were forms of representational art, and the abstract geometric patterns of Islam. Yet, they contain none of the arabesque forms of middle-eastern ornamentation and none of the representational depictions used in Roman mosaics.
 Author: Sarah Tricha  Writes about Moroccan Design and Culture.

Moroccan Mosaic – Zeliig

3 08 2013

Putting the Pieces Together in Fez


For centuries, in the Imperial Moroccan city of Fes, mosaic craftsmen have chipped away at ceramic tiles, shaping the tiny pieces that comprise zellij, the art of glazed-and-cut tile pieces arranged in complex geometric patterns.  The fruits of their labors can be found everywhere within the 1,200 year old Fes medina: gracing the walled city’s countless water fountains, adorning the tomb of Moulay Idriss II (the founder of Fes) and decorating the Karaouiyine Mosque and University, which vies with Al-Azhar in Cairo for the title of world’s oldest university.  About a mile outside the stone walls of the medina is the Poterie De Fes factory, where pottery and mosaic craftsmen continue their work, one small piece at a time.

karaouine mosque fez

Karaouine mosque fez

Late in the 8th century, Fes was founded by Moulay Idriss II, who carried out the wishes of his dying father by moving from the small ancient Roman capital of Volubilis.  The new city started as a modest Berber town and grew with the influx of thousands of exiled families from Al-Andalus (southern Spain) and later from Arab families fleeing Kairouan in modern-day Tunisia.  The town rose to prominence with the construction of the Karaouiyine University and it emerged as the pre-eminent city in the Maghreb, the North African region comprised by the present day countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.  Within Fes is the walled medina, known as the “the city of ten thousand alleys.”  It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is believed to be the world’s largest contiguous car-free urban area.

Just outside those ancient city walls is the Poterie De Fes cooperative.  The factory is easy to find; look for the kilns producing black smoke fueled by olive pomace.  This recycled fuel — pulpy residue from the olive oil process–is what allows the furnaces to get hot enough to fire the clay.  Our tour is led by Abdellah Idrissi, who points out that his name is derivative of Fes founder Moulay Idriss II.  Abdellah is one of many craftsmen in the cooperative and he starts his tour by showing us large mounds of clay, all with fresh footprints from workers using their feet to work the clay to the desired consistency.  We then move to the pottery wheel and watch a craftsman spin out about 7 or 8 pieces in 15 minutes.  While the pottery is interesting, it is the mosaic process that is really unique.  We walked over to the furmah tiles, the raw materials for the mosaic pieces and Abdellah explains that these tiles are molded from a hardy clay from nearby Jebel Ben Jelliq.


Once the tiles are fired they can be scored and chiseled to break cleanly along straight lines.  From here we move over to the furnaces, two large bi-level clay kilns.  “The first floor is hotter–about 1,200 degrees–because that’s what terra cotta tiles need,” says Abdellah.  “The second floor is about 980 degrees because that’s what the coloring and glazing require.”  The tiles are fired twice; the first time in the hotter, lower furnace after being glazed and a second time in the upper level furnace after one side has been colored.  The principal colors are blue from cobalt, green from copper, yellow from cadmium and red from iron oxide.  The temperature is increased by feeding the kiln with more olive pomace.


From the furnace we move over to the craftsmen cutting the furmah pieces.  Islamic mosaic work is characterized by geometric multiple-point star, medallion and polygonal figures.  Start in the center of a multiple-point star pattern and follow one of the lines radiating outward until your eyes land upon a satellite star figure.  From there follow any of its lines and you’ll find yourself in the center of yet another multiple-point star pattern and on and on.  This subliminal sensation of movement is what gives the geometric designs their sense of life.  Islamic art forbids figures or likenesses, so its artisans have focused on creating stunning graphic and geometric shapes and patterns.  We watch craftsmen carefully chip away with hammers at tiles pieces, against an iron anvil and occasionally a terra cotta surface for the more delicate and detailed work.  The men working are paid by the shape and in a good day they can churn out over a hundred mosaic pieces.  Once the tiny pieces are cut and arranged into beautiful geometric patterns, they are placed face down on the ground.  The flat surface keeps the faces of fountains and the tops of tables flat as the patterns are held together with a sand-lime or cement mixture and allowed to dry upside down.

zeliig reversedZeliig pieces placed upside-down ready to be set.

The cycles of creation and destruction and re-creation of zellij are time consuming and therefore make it a relatively expensive art form.  From the elements of earth, water, and fire furmah tiles are created, only for craftsmen to slowly and skillfully destroy each one.  From here it is the zellij designers who re-create, putting the pieces together upside down in brilliant geometric patterns.  It is only when the entire process is finished –creating, destroying, re-creating –and the surface has been dried and turned over, can one appreciate the stunning work.

zeliig tiles

Original article on HandEye Magazine here

To book an artisanal tour in Fez which includes the potteries please contact