Artisans as designers

Two months, The Anou, Morocco

Here a few pictures of the past two months spent in Morocco with Anou artisans. Following design workshops, artisans have been able to explore their creative mind and capabilities.

The Anou is an online platform that allows artisans in Morocco to sell their products online. This platform is led by artisans and allows to empower them through realtime education and access to the market place.

Heres an extract of the beautiful post by Dan Driscoll founder of The Anou, commenting on design and the misjudgment made by the major- ity that artisans are not designers: “Most businesses design products and then have artisans make the product. Rarely, if ever, are artisans truly consulted on design work. Generally, a Moroccan artisan’s input goes only as far as a designer gaining inspiration from the artisan’s culture and traditions. Outside designers then drive innovation and change by refreshing, revitalizing or incorporating a western twist on artisan traditions. The language of innovation and change is often used to describe the outside designer, but rarely the Moroccan artisan. This is because if artisans were to drive change, the traditions they represent might be lost forever. Instead of change and progress, the language that surrounds artisans focuses more on preservation and tradition.

The artisan sector as a whole seems to have accepted all of this as a natural symbiosis between a designer and artisan. Yet this relationship is structurally awed. The reason is that the artisan and designer are not equal in today’s economy. The designer, who normally controls market access, has full control over the design and can dip into an artisan’s tradition as much or as little as she/he wants.”

“The less obvious reasons can be uncovered by asking what traditions are artisans expected to preserve? As Ashley Miller, a PhD candidate of art history at the University of Michigan writes in Negotiating Design, “We commonly imagine tradition as a xed, unchanging set of practices or beliefs; it is something that can be contained, something already complete.” But the reality is many traditions, as Ashley goes on to write, may appear to be timeless but in fact can be dated to a speci c time not that long ago.(…)

In fact, it is not di cult to argue that most traditional Moroccan designs that many gain their inspiration from aren’t even rmly rooted in the history and culture of Mo- roccan artisans. In 1914, the French Protectorate initiated a massive campaign via what was called the Native Arts Service to revitalize Morocco’s craft industries. Through their e orts, Moroccan artisans produced work that largely embodied a French colonial notion of traditional Moroccan craft. Even to this day, revered publications on Moroccan design follow the language and structure that the French Protectorate created to preserve what was ul- timately their perspective of Moroccan craft and tradition.

If we continue to believe that the purpose of the artisan community of Morocco exists to preserve tradition, then we have to ask if what they are expected to preserve is truly theirs. And if we continue with the belief that arti- sans can’t design, how will artisans ever be able to drive the progress of their own traditions and craft? If we accept that artisans can’t design then we must accept the incor- rect museumi cation of artisan craft through the sale of vintage products, which omits today’s artisans from the economy completely. (…)”

We are an Amsterdam-based design enterprise that partners with cooperatives in traditional societies around the world. The intention of our work is to promote time-honoured craft through a contemporary process. Ode to Artisans was founded in London and currently based in Amsterdam, by Sabrina Kraus López and Noëlle Maxine Tierie.

We believe that cultural exchange and collaboration form the quest to safeguard traditional skills and craftsmanship. We achieve this by providing design tools to remote communities in order for local artisans to innovate and become aware of global trends and markets.

ODE – is an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual.

ARTISANS – are skilled craft workers who make or create things by hand.