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

http://www.zoomaal.com/projects/exposeartisanal/1478

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 €

Includes.

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.

Insurance.

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 culture.vulture1@rocketmail.com

All images courtesy of The Art of Islamic Pattern 

culture vultures

cultrevulturesfez.org





Fez Tanneries

3 09 2013

Within Moroccos’ artisanal economy leather is the country’s largrest export to partners like Spain, France and India.and exports up to 100 million slippers annually. Much of the leather production is carried out in factories to keep up with export standards however Moroccos ancient tanneries are still very much in working execution. Fez, is the heart of where it all began centuries ago.

The city of Fez was founded in the 9th century and is now home to over one million people. . In 1981 the Old Medina was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Old Medina is specifically home to three ancient leather tanneries, the largest being the Chouara Tannery, which has been washing, treating, smoothing, and coloring animal skins into soft, leather goods for over a thousand years.

Image      Ground level at the liming process – Chouara Tanneries, Fez. 2012

The start of the tanning process begins with the collection and sorting of the raw animal skins. The types of animal skins used are sheep skin, goat skin, camel skin, and cow skin with the best quality leather coming from goat and camel skins.  These skins are soaked for two to three days in large specialty vats that contain a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt. This mixture will loosen excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on the skins. Once the soaking duration is done, tanners then scrap away excess hair fibers and fat in order to prepare the skins for dyeing.

Once the skins have been cleaned, they are laid out to dry on the surrounding rooftop terraces. Dried, the skins are taken to a different set of vats where they are washed and soaked in a mixture of water and pigeon poop in order to make the skins supple and soft. Pigeon poop contains ammonia that acts as softening agents that allows for the skins to become so malleable and to some exten the animal hair loosens. The tanner then uses his bare feet to knead the skins for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.

At this point, once the leather has reached its desired softness, the skins are moved to a select set of vats for the tanning (or dyeing) process. Within the Old Medina, the tanneries continue to use natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Other materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the skins to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny. However it is not stated by tanners or tannery shop workers but one suspects that chemical products are also used today for a better quality and longer lasting color, along with a less pungent odor.

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Tanners softening tools.

When fully dried, the edges of the finished skins are cut and used as fillers for other products. The leather is then sold to other craftsmen who make the famous Moroccan slippers, known as babouches, as well as wallets, handbags, furniture and other leather accessories. Many of these products are making their way into the European markets are suddenly becoming a sought after commodity.

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The life of a tanner is not an easy one. Not only is it considered to be one of the hardest and dirtiest professions within  Fez, it is also incredible labor intensive. The art of tanning is run and carried out by men. Many of the families and workers live around the tanneries and their skills are passed down from generation to generation through the male lineage though a tradition less and less evident as schooling becomes obligatory and horizons broaden. In response to this and to keep traditional skills alive a new artisanal school has been set up on the edge of Fez medina to see traditional handicrafts through to the future via Morocco s youth.

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Since the tanneries are one of the main perpetrators contributing to river pollution, Aziza Chaouni and LA-based urban planner Takako Tajima, are proposing to move the tanneries that exist in the Old Medina closer to the newer ones in the industrial parts of Fez. The goal of rehabilitated the tanning facilities are to create a green space within the Medina. Aziza Chaouni proposes that the vats be transformed into botanical gardens, workshops and studios, community center, education center, and other communal facilities shared by leather workers and visitors to the leather district.

However there is quite a bit of backlash in regards to removing the tanneries to a different location and installing a botanical garden. Many feel as though that is Western “beautification” concept would be imposed on Fez and wouldn’t speak true to the organic nature of the Medina. Many are concerned with the replacement of an economic infrastructure with one that may not be as economically viable.  When speaking to workers at the tanneries there is much skepticism as to how much of the tanneries will actually be moves. Watch this space.

Many thanks to Chouara Tannery and http://www.ouche.org for much of the insights for this article.

Images by Jess Stephens

To visit the tanneries at ground level and meet the tanners book at tour with Culture Vultures at http://culturevulturesfez.org/artisanal-affairs/

For more information see http://culturevulturesfez.org/artsianalaffairs/