Lights On.

14 03 2014

Week 2 of Alice Barnsdale’s Shakespeare in Fez moment featuring Fassi artisans who personify life and create drama before our eyes, possibly without them even knowing.

Because all the medina’s a stage.


Lights On. Macbeth:

Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

Macbeth. William Shakespeare.

A human etch-a-sketch. And more. But will the machine world shake him away?

10 03 2014

Christina Soto, a facilitator on Culture Vultures’ artisanal tours, is continuously surprised at the master craftspeople and their level of expertise in producing something by hand.  Here, Christina recounts a recent conversation she had with a Fassi artisan who specializes in hand etching and has more than 55 years in the trade.

Maybe you’ve seen those beautifully hand etched teapots, copper platters, lamps or other decorative pieces that come from Morocco? Until recently, I had no idea just how difficult and time consuming they are to produce.  Artisans take years to become Maalems, or Masters, of the various ancient crafts. As a program facilitator with Culture Vultures, I’ve had the good fortune to visit and become acquainted with some of these wonderful craftspeople. My appreciation for the reality of handmade products has soared from this experience. Here is a short conversation I had recently with Mohammed a master metal etcher whose talent matches his brilliant smile.

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When did you start hand etching?

I started as a young child, and now I’m 68 years old.  At first I was only allowed to handle one piece with the most basic straight line design.  It took years before I moved to something more complicated like etching in a curved line.

What is the most difficult design to etch?

Well, after so many years nothing is really difficult now. Developing the ability to place things in a balanced way in a small space took me some time. But of all the designs I’ve learned, making a circle and circular shapes took the most practice for me to do really well. It takes so much more then just hammering the piece of metal, it requires the flexibility and control to spin the metal around as it is being hammered. A round shape is important in so many parts of a larger design.

Before you begin a piece do you know which design you will use?

Are the patterns you use standard? Creating the overall design is very spontaneous. The design isn’t always the same;; it develops as I place shapes on the area being worked on. Although there are a number of basic shapes that might be combined in different ways to make the final design. If the project is something sizeable, like a large ceiling lamp for example, it is made up of numerous pieces that will be welded together at the end. The design is planned out on the first section, then I draw it out and use the stencil as many times and on as many sections as needed. This way the whole piece has a uniform look, yet each section is a little different which is the nature of something being handmade.

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What is a memorable experience you have had in your career?

Not everyone in Morocco can get their passport. Because I have been invited to show my skill at various cultural expositions in different countries, I have my passport. I’ve been to New York City, to Germany and other countries demonstrating my work. Here, in my small shop I meet many interesting people from everywhere in the world. There aren’t many jobs that include such a benefit.

Do you think there is much opportunity for young Moroccans to practice this craft today?

That’s difficult to answer. This skill takes a long time to master and, even then, it takes a lot of time and patience to do. Many young people today want to make “fast money”.  Things like the internet and television seem to give them this idea.  Then, even if a young person does take the time needed, there is the problem of competition with machine made products that cost less to produce. Still, the pride one gets from creating a beautiful piece of work is the ultimate reward.

Visit Mohammed in the old medina of Fez.  You’ll find him in his shop in the Fondoq Mshatiin near Seffarine Square.

Photos – Holger Gross

Shakespeare in Fez: All the medina’s a stage

4 03 2014
Behind the masks of their tools and crafts, the artisans of Fez personify life with all its trials and rewards. Shakespeare would have enjoyed living here, a man whose writing from over 400 years ago can still convey what our hearts want to say…
This is the first of a once weekly “Shakespeare in Fez moment” by Expose Artisanal Editor, Alice Barnsdale.
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile;
And in thy harsh world draw thy breath in pain.
To tell my story.
— Hamlet. William Shakespeare
Photo by Holger Gross
Exposé Artisanal – bringing the artisans into centre stage, sharing their stories with the world, and turning up the volume on what makes Fez the city of the artisan.
If you want to join our community, why not volunteer as a Citizen Reporter?

Connecting artist to artisan – globally and locally

25 02 2014

Culture Vultures (C.V.) is an arts and cultural initiative coming out of the Fez region in North Morocco, that now celebrates its 5 year of being. One of C.V.’s main objectives is to facilitate artists experiences and to bridge the local and the global. Culture Vultures designs and hosts  artist-in-residency  ( AiRs ) projects annually featuring rich programs, insightful social engagement and quality presentation.  Artists from all mediums are invited to take part in the residencies with given application deadlines.


Photo by Anaas Med El Ismaeli

The new residency AiR Artisan in now open for submissions. Artist from all practices are encourage to apply for this rich and insightful residency. Spend 4 weeks alongside a Fassi artisan and discover the skills and approaches involved in traditional Moroccan crafts.  Exchange thoughts and concepts on a personal, artistic, and cultural level.

For more information see

Contact –  Jess at for an application form.

What would Seffarine Square be without the Fassi artisan, Hamid?

12 02 2014


Hammid photo by Vanessa Bonnin

Hammid photo by Vanessa Bonnin

“Aysha”, a Fassia resident and Artisans of Morocco Citizen Reporter, offers her second spotlight on a renowned artisan in the Fez medina.

“Hamid used to deliver and collect all the large copper pots throughout the medina so consequently knew all the families and gossip of Fez.”

Hamid started working in Fez’s famous Seffarine Square when he was just 8 years old, running errands for the copperware maalems (master craftsmen) after school. He was ‘a son of the medina’ as are so many young boys in this communal city. The only one in his family to work in the copper trade, Hamid was eager to watch and learn, to pass through the many levels needed to become skilled in his craft. Incidentally, he ended up working with the same maalem for 41 years, from 1969-2010. When asked if his children were interested in learning his craft, Hamid responded with a proverb, “No one chooses his mother.” All is destiny, it has been written… And his children’s stories seem to lie elsewhere.

Seffarine – taken from the Arabic word seffar – yellow, reflective of all the yellow (and red) copperware in the square, has always been the place in Fez to rent large copper pots (tangeras) for cooking at wedding feasts and other ceremonies. Seffarine tangeras can take up to 50 chickens at a time! Hamid used to deliver and collect all the pots throughout the medina so consequently knew all the families and gossip of Fez. When he returned the pots, he would wash them in the old fountain in the square – but were they clean of the stories his eyes and ears has been witness to…

For your own eyes and ears, take a listen to this catchy “2012 copper beat re-mix” direct from the artisans of Seffarine Square. (Hamid is the man wearing the white and light green patterned cap in the video.) You’ll be nodding your head in no time.

Amanda Staltham, travel editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, recently commented that Seffarine Square was her greatest discovery when visiting Fez: “I got more adventurous on my second day, branching off and discovering some amazing spots, the best of which was Seffarine Square. Beneath the shade of an enormous tree, coppersmiths bang away at enormous kettles and cauldrons, earnest students head for the Kairaouine Library (closed to tourists) or opposite to the Medersa Seffarine, which dates back to 1285 making it one of the oldest colleges in the world. I lucked out as one of the handful of chairs outside Café Seffarine in a corner of the square was free, so I sat in the sunshine and people-watched with a mint tea.”

Hamid and his felllow copperware neighbours continue to captivate people from across the world with an art that is not only functional but evokes both a visual and aural charm. No wonder Hamid has been doing this for 44 years.

written by Aysha

Exposé Artisanal :

Exposé Artisanal’s give back pitch

9 02 2014
Exposé Artisanal-Community meeting last monday .Photo : Omar Chenafi

Exposé Artisanal-Community meeting last monday .Photo : Omar Chenafi

An important element to Exposé Artisanal project is the Give Back to the artisan feature.  Even though not spot lit in our proposal it is a factor that is important to our ethos.  This project is principally about celebrating and showing a wave of appreciation to the artisanal community in Fez.  Of course, there being over 30,000 craft makers in this ancient city we do not expect to shake every hand;  but by cultivating a community of citizen reporters, documenting many of the craftspeople, exhibiting the material and eventually publishing a book we aim at recognizing that what goes on and who are behind the doors.  The crafts people, their knowledge, tales and skills are legacy not to be dismissed and are of great value to Fez, Morocco and afar.

It was reconfirmed at our recent project presentation that many an artisan, especially on the tourist route or main streets in Fez medina, are regularly documented and talked about ( not to..) without any benefit to them or their business.  Often they do not even see the material that is printed or screened far from their eyes.  Expose Artisanal and Culture Vultures aims at giving back to the ‘muse’ and show gratitude to him or her by carrying out the following ®

  1. Presenting a copy to all who sat for a portrait in the art book by US photographer Hollis Bennett.
  2. Involve the artisans in our project’s progress.  A round table of craftspeople is planned and will be documented for all to listen to.
  3. A copy of the book Exposé Artisanal is planned to be given to all who are inside its covers.
  4. 10% of profit from the sale on the book Exposé Artisanal** will go into a sustainable creativity exchange program where artisans and artists can exchange ideas and approaches.
  5. Of course, the planned celebration for reaching our funding target ( inchalah) will have its arms wide open and the virtual red carpet laid out for the artisans involved in this project.
Maâlem Mohammed

Maâlem Mohammed

As you may read Exposé Artisanal is an arts and development program in many ways.  The inspiration and approach is fired by our admiration and respect for the people who have thus far opened their workshop doors to Culture Vultures and many an accompanying visitor. To you, we salute.

Jess  Stephens

Expose Artisanal and Culture Vultures Director

  • ®  As always, this is predominantly dependant on us reaching our crowdfunding target;  though seeds are being planted that if not we can pursue other avenues to reach our goal.  Help us realize this project and fund HERE
  • **working title.

Mohammed Saili :the last of the comb makers in Fez

26 01 2014

Mohammed Saili

Mohammed Saili is the last of the comb makers on Derb Mechatin.
He began working in agriculture as a child, selling fruits and vegetables harvested from the orchards that surrounded the medina back in the early 60s. Then in 1965 it was Allah who decided, god willing, to make a change in his life and he started working in the medina carving combs. This was a skill he learnt from many people who used to make traditional square shaped combs from cow and sheep horn which they bought from Dar Dbagh Chauara, the oldest tanneries in Fez.

But hamdullillah, Allah gave him a gift of imagination and he started creating combs in the shapes of animals and fish and other inspirations.
His children know how to do this craft but find the work too hard so therefore have other jobs.

Mohammed continues to make combs, spoons, buttons, pendants and other Koranic talismans each day. He is proud that he can earn money from creating products from his imagination, his gift. He makes more than he sells so is creating boxes of his craft than can be sold long after he stops producing.

His work is mostly appreciated by foreigners because they give value to the handicraft. Often they will buy it as an acknowledgement of his skills knowing that they might not even be able to bring it back to their country if there are strict border controls on animal products.

He says that seemingly Moroccans aren’t very interested in such tradition anymore, they are seeking new modern goods. He laments that people are living too fast now, zerba zerba, and not taking the time they used to for tradition. ‘Even women in a Hamam will do a quick shampoo and finish with their hair rather than spending hours treating it with henna…’ he shakes his head with a hint of sadness.
We ask him what sort of things he enjoys making most and he replies with a laugh ‘ whatever makes money’. That is the reality. He has to support himself and his family.
Mohammed is a living treasure with a beautiful smile, a gifted imagination and nearly fifty years of  skill in producing his craft. These are the artisans of the Fez medina.

Article by Aysha and Fatima Zahra

January 2014