From Artist to Artisan

29 04 2014

Over the 4 years Culture Vultures (CV) has been fortunate enough to encounter and befriend a range of Fez based artisans who are masters in their trade either working independently or from guilds and cooperatives. Culture Vultures’ mission is to facilitate accessibility to the arts sector in Morocco and therefore promotes fostering relationships and understanding between Fassi art practitioners with those visiting from around the globe especially via its Artisanal Affairs program.  As founder of CV, the opportunity for Artisanal Affairs and Exposé Artisanal, to connect traditional creator with contemporary artist has personally been one of my favorite outcomes out of this copious adventure.

expose-artisanal-abbas     Grandfather's jade tool72

Local photographers Anaas Med El Issmae ( above), Vanessa Bonnin ( above) and Omar Chennafi are playing a part in the tool box. Their predecessors, Holger Gross and and Hollis Bennett, kick-started the bravura portfolio. In addition, a current Fullbright researcher Betsy Bolton is ploughing through a harvest of artisans’ stories shot on film on International Storytelling Day in March 2014.

Mirjam Linschooten, a Dutch graphic and collage artist, was an artist in residence at Cafe Tissardmine in the Sahara this March 2014. Mirjam visited Fez at the end of her residency and launched into the heart of the medina with long time Fez resident Alice Barnsdale to meet the jeweller Said Akessbi.  Mirjam created a few initial collages in response to her meeting with Said and although now back in New York is further developing how Said’s life as a third generation artisan can be represented or reborn within a contemporary art framework. Mirjam says of her experience in Fez:

“The different artisanal practices I saw in Fez greatly impressed me. By borrowing from these existing traditions, such as the timeless patterns, I hope to both continue and transform them into contemporary versions, bringing the past and present together. Likewise, Moroccan history provides a very interesting platform for rethinking ways of recording history and the way meaning is constructed through narrative.”

This April 2014 Minah Khalil, a UK design teacher, currently resident in Dubai, spent two weeks as an apprentice of Hassan the woodcarver. Her Fez residency proved that she could combine technical appreciation with spiritual augmentation. In just two weeks, Minahdeveloped an endearing appreciation and respect for Mallum Hassan, the Sufi Festival and Fez old medina; in addition, some incredible creations from the workshop bench.

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Minah Khalil and Hassan. April 2014.

More opportunities for artists to spend time in the strong and dexterous hands of an artisan are nigh. Kim Simon from Australia will reside in Sefrou and work alongside tailors, tanners and weavers throughout May 2014; the fruitions of which will be presented at this year’s festival pOp Up venue during the Fez sacred music festival in June. An open call for artists wishing to immerse themselves in Fez and its region and work alongside a traditional artisan should be guided to the call-out and details of Artist in residency AiR Artisan.  Indeed, this September 2014 Sefrou will bring host a group of contemporary artists from Fez, Cairo and beyond and facilitate encounters between artists and traditional craftspersons.

AiR Artisan poster sml

Let’s not forget the open minds, souls and flowing pens of the Exposé Artisanal citizen reporters;  Sue Bail and Alice Barnsdale especially, who have presented to the electronic audience warm personalities, insights and descriptive portraits.  CV will continue to make deeper connections recording the personalities behind the Fez crafts. Both new and current citizen reporters are encouraged to drink tea with a crafts person, document interesting moments and submit material in the format of choice. See a new side to Fez, come a little closer.

zakiSaidAliceZaki ‘The investigator’, Said and Alice Barnsdale.

This art-tickle comes with chokrane, baralakaoufik and ‘liber’fikum bezeef for all artisans and artists involved in this project thus far.

Keep connected for more news on crowdfunding developments, events and activities around the artisanship of Fez and Expose Artisanal.


Jess Stephens

Director of Culture Vultures and Exposé Artisanal.



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

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