After exhibiting handcrafted works of art that reflect the Emirati heritage in London, the works of the “Heritage” exhibition moved to Sharjah to be displayed at the Al Bait Hotel. At the opening ceremony, Her Excellency Reem bin Karam, Director of the Nama Foundation for the Advancement of Women, stated her deep belief in a heritage council that inspires women to revive the UAE’s cultural heritage, preserving it and transferring it to future generations as part of sustainable development projects.
The project was part of a clear vision and continuous support from Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, President of the Nama Foundation and Honorary President of the Heritage Council.
Reem bin Karam, Director of the Nama Foundation for the Advancement of Women plays an important role in the project. Here she shares more on her vision and her aspirations for the future of Emirati crafts in the coming years.
What can you tell us about the Heritage Exhibition and its launch in the UAE?
The products in the exhibition consist of 78 pieces that combine modern techniques with Emirati traditions. Each piece translates the Council’s vision of providing global platforms for cultural and artistic exchange with a view to empowering women professionally and socially, as well as reflecting the highly professional skills of Emirati women. The products include jewellery, furniture, bags, incense burners, ornaments and other creative and artistic crafts. Around forty women and trainees from the Council’s Bidwa Social Development Program participated in the implementation of the products, in cooperation with professional designers and women from the UAE, Palestine, Pakistan, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, and Italy.
What is the role of the Nama Women Advancement Establishment in supporting such initiatives and programs of the Council?
Nama Women Advancement Establishment was created as part of a development vision for Emirati women, formed by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. The establishment is chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah. Nama seeks to promote equal opportunities for men and women and the achievement of comprehensive economic and social integration.
Nama works through its three institutions; the Sharjah Business Women Council, the Heritage Council for Contemporary Crafts, and the Badri Knowledge and Capacity Building Academy to adopt
and activate supportive and stimulating programs and initiatives for women in various fields, according to an integrated approach that guarantees them and the society the activation of all their capabilities. In this sense, the Heritage Council of Contemporary Crafts works to achieve the professional and social empowerment of women through crafts.
The products were previously launched at the London Design Gallery, what are the global and local echoes towards this participation, and how did the visitors in London react to the exhibition?
We launched the Majlis product range for the first time at the London Design Exhibition in September 2019, as the amalgamation of cultures, artistic techniques and innovative craftsmanship was the reason for the selection of the Majlis ‘Guest of Honor’ exhibition for 2019, representing the UAE. Locally, the council launched the products for the first time at the Al-Bayt Hotel, Sharjah. We have participated with pride and we are con dent that Emirati women are able to provide world-class business. While we were at the London Design Gallery, we saw positive reactions, especially in regards to the ways of combining crafts and arts between Emirati and international cultures. Attendees were surprised that all the designs are handmade, as the quality of the work is very high.
What is the vision behind the collaboration between Emirati craftsmen and international designers?
These creative collaborations are part of the social empowerment that we want to offer to Emirati women to support their development in all professional, social and personal fields. We also seek to expand the horizon of craftsmen and work to develop skills in communicating with other creators from different countries around the world.
How are traditional Emirati crafts such as “tali” and “Safifah” mixed with contemporary techniques?
Some of the works employ traditional crafts in their original form and others are inspired by them and use new contemporary ways to interpret them. The work is also affected by developments in the craft, such as the introduction of new materials and the use of seasonal colours.
Why did you choose the Al Bait Hotel in Sharjah to display artwork and products in it?
We chose Al Bait Hotel because it was built on a restored 19th- century archaeological site and the design combines heritage and modern architecture. The Library is dominated by the home character, which gives visitors an idea of how to display products at home if they were to buy them.
What is the message that the Heritage Board of Contemporary Crafts wants to portray through the exhibition?
Our main message is to achieve the effective social and economic empowerment of Emirati women through crafts and work to develop new generations of craftsmen. In every design, the impression of Emirati women is visible. The proceeds from the Bidwa Center are used to support vocational and social training programs for Emirati women.
Can you tell us about the “Bidwa” program? What is its meaning and what is the goal?
The Council launched the Bidwa Social Development Program with the aim of preserving the rich cultural heritage of Emirati traditional crafts, reviving them and ensuring their continuity over the coming generations, through updating and merging them with contemporary designs and costumes, and presenting them to a wider audience at the local and international levels. The “Bidwa Center” was established in the city of Dibba Al-Hisn in the Emirate of Sharjah to be the base for the program. It functions as a training and production center, and we intend to open other centres that serve the various regions of the UAE.
What kinds of women does the program attract?
We welcome women of all ages whether they are beginners or professionals. We seek to attract new generations of young women, whom we invite to think seriously about the practice of traditional crafts and pursue them as a passion and lifestyle. Year after year, the centre is becoming more popular and today it employs more than 60 women ranging in age from 22 to 65, who are learning new types of crafts and working in cooperation with the Majlis team to develop their craft and personal skills and learn new patterns and technologies in the crafts.
What are the challenges you faced when you started this development project to empower women?
As with any major project or initiative, we faced challenges, but we overcame them. At the beginning of the Bidwa program,
we got acquainted with many of the women who created these crafts at home and were interested in joining the program. There were some members of the families who were hesitant about the women joining the program. We overcame this challenge by communicating with the families themselves, and we explained to them that women’s accession to the program is not an ordinary job and that the goal is to develop their craft, personal and communication skills, maintain the continuity of trades, and enhance their experiences through exchange with other artisans and create a community of craftsmen who work with each other and support each other.
Tell us more about the “Design Labs” and “Crafts Dialogue” projects, what are their goals and have the results been so far?
The “Design Labs” project, launched and supervised by the Heritage Council, brings together international designers, craftsmen and trainees from the Bidwa Center for Social Development, to provide opportunities to exchange experiences and knowledge in the eld of crafts and design. The creators introduce “Bedouin” women to new technical techniques and crafts. In turn, the centre provides spaces for training and work, and the professional hands produced from the centre’s affiliates, to enhance cooperation and joint production prospects. The project produced eight groups through these partnerships, and each group covered different technologies, trades and themes.
As for the “Dialogue of Crafts”, it focuses on mixing traditional Emirati and international crafts with modern design. The project succeeded in providing an opportunity for an exchange of ideas between eight designers from the UAE and Europe; They collaborated to produce four exclusive groups that combine light arts and pottery from the UAE, Murano glass from Italy, and leather from Spain. The project comes in cooperation with the Creative Diogo Foundation in Barcelona. The aim of the two projects is to create a literal, artistic cultural exchange, which brings together our craftsmen and trainees with local and international designers. The result is the products in the exhibition which represent different parts of the Emirati heritage.
What are the next steps after the success of this exhibition?
Firstly continuing to empower women by working to launch other groups and new projects through which we bring together artists and designers from all countries of the world with Emirati craftsmen in creative partnerships.
We seek to focus more on attracting younger generations of craftsmen and designers, to ensure the continuity and empowerment of crafts through them, in addition to working to strengthen the links between the council’s projects and programs themselves, so that the success of one project leads to the success of the other.
Where would you like to see the women five years from now?
We aspire to see Emirati artisan women with an international resonance for their accomplishments, and for projects that highlight the true value of Emirati artisan women, and to see them representing the Council and the UAE in global forums, introducing the world to efforts to preserve and develop the crafts.
What is your advice to Emirati women who want to start their own business?
I advise Emirati women to continue to improve, progress and develop, whatever their goal. They are the only ones who can transform the impossible into reality. I want to assure them that support exists, initiatives are in place, and entrepreneurial support projects are available, thanks to our programmes.
What is your positive motivation?
My family is one of the most important sources of positive motivation, then my passion for work. Of course community service, I have learned this value since I was young and yet it is my motivational source every day. In addition to my volunteer work in many community-based initiatives, such as the Pink Caravan, the Quarter- Century Foundation for Leaders and Innovators, and the Emirates Girl Guides Association.
What wisdom do you follow in your career?
For me, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, President of the Nama Foundation for the Advancement of Women, is one of the most important people to me. Her Highness taught me that there is nothing more important than human relations, and also taught me to employ my position and my capabilities in serving the community.
What is your favourite book?
I do not have one favourite book, I love reading to learn and to gain new information, nourish my mind and enhance my knowledge and because I love to move to another world of fiction, and because reading sometimes gives me answers to the questions that concern me.
Words by Ruba Nesly