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.



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