Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Saharawi arts and culture at the V&A

Last Saturday 23rd June Sandblast, with the support of the V&A Museum and in an event linked to Refugee Week, put together 'Out of the Sand - We are Saharawi', a sensational Saharawi arts and culture day at the Sackler's Centre of the museum. The event run from midday until approximately 4.30pm, and involved music, film, talk and a jewellery making workshop.


El Andaluz at the V&A Sackler's Centre
Fantastic Algerian music group El Andaluz Band, made up of Yazid Fentazi (oud), Karim Dellali (darboucka) and special guest Redha Boudbagh (voice and Algerian and oud), kicked off the afternoon with some incredible music. Having collaborated with Saharawi musicians in several occasions in the past (they performed in the jam session at Sahara Nights and Karim has travelled to the Saharawi refugee camps), these musicians offered the audience the perfect musical set up for the day. We were all soon tapping our feet and clapping to the intricate melodies and uplifting rhythms of the classic Arabic and Andalusian music they were performing.


Umm Deleila, Saharawi singer
featured in Beat of Distant Hearts
Danielle Smith, filmmaker, photographer, anthropologist and Sandblast Founding Director, travelled to the Saharawi refugee camps for the first time in 1991. From the very beginning her imagination was captured by the inspiring Saharawi culture and the powerful role the arts, especially the music and poetry, but also the newly developed painting style, had played during the revolution and the 16 years of war (1975-1991). She decided to film a documentary showcasing this part of the story and Beats of Distant Hearts, the Art of the Revolution in Western Sahara was born. Although filmed in 1996, it was not released until 2000. Twelve years later, the film is still relevant today as it shows how the Saharawi arts and culture continue to be the best way of reaching international audiences and raise awareness about the Saharawi situation. After the screening, there was a Q&A with the filmmaker.

In 2007, French Florie Salnot, a design student from the London Metropolitan Art Media & Design was challenged by her professor to develop a design project that could benefit both a community and the environment. Inspired by a talk by Danielle Smith, she developed a unique craft technique using hot sand and plastic bottles, both available in the refugee camps, and taught it to twenty-one Saharawi women to re-discover an ancient tradition of creative expression of their cultural identity.

Danielle shows us the thin strip of plastic
she's cutting off a bottle. At the back,
Florie supervises another workshop attendant

The technique is the following: the plastic bottle is first painted and then cut into thin strips. After that, any type of pattern can be made by positioning nails into the holes of a nail board: the plastic strip is placed around the nails and the whole board is submerged into hot sand. The plastic strip reacts to the heat by shrinking to fit the nail drawing, and keeps its shape when removed. The piece of jewellery then requires a few last steps and fittings to become finished.

On Saturday, Florie gave a workshop at the V&A for the attendants of 'Out of the Sand'. In a couple of hours each of us created a small ring out of thin strips of golden plastic using small copper sticks to shape the pieces of jewellery; it was fascinating to see how an everyday plastic bottle can become something so pretty and decorative!

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