Emirati works are at the heart of the crafts council Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The Emirati artisans’ works have been made accessible to an audience of more than 15,000 individuals and crafts enthusiasts who participated in Irthi’s local and internationally organised events during 2021.

UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement.

Irthi saw 11 design-led cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary crafts collaborations, 14 new collection launches and 10 programmes initiated during 2021.

Reem BinKaram, Director, NAMA, said: “Under the guidance and vision of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness [Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and] the Ruler of Sharjah, and chairperson of NAMA, Irthi has stepped up efforts in bringing Emirati crafts to the world stage to help preserve and protect our heritage crafts for future generations.”

Reem BinKaram Image Credit: Supplied

She added: “The artistic and design-led collaborative explorations led by Irthi have seen the introduction of novel materials and techniques that are today enriching the artisanal heritage of Sharjah and the UAE and taking the exceptional craft traditions of Emirati artisans in exciting new directions.”

Achievements in 2021

Irthi in 2021 had new collection launches at Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai; the unveiling of fashion and jewellery collections on the global digital portal ‘Elevenish’; collaboration with London-based fashion brand QASIMI; and partnering on a handcrafted urban installation project with Beirut-based architecture and design studio, T SAKHI, amongst others.

The ‘Irthi Series’ was launched at Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai with two curated contemporary handmade collections of uniquely designed yet functional objects and marked an important new chapter in Irthi’s efforts to safeguard the region’s crafts legacy.

The Zenobia Collection drop – in collaboration with Levantine designer Nada Debs, integrated the worlds of Talli and Marquetry while the Thaya Collection drop – created in collaboration with Bahraini and Emirati designers and a Pakistan-based artistic collective – offered a contemporary interpretation of Safeefah (weaved palm fronds).

The third cohort of 10 Emirati designers trained under ‘Azyame’, Irthi’s flagship fashion entrepreneurship programme, with the unveiling of their fashion and jewellery collections inspired by Emirati crafts on ‘Elevenish’, an international e-commerce site.

Irthi Azayme designers
Irthi Azayme designers Image Credit: Supplied

Irthis’s efforts in supporting local crafts and artisans in the MENASA region led to its selection as collaborative partner for London-based QASIMI’s SS22 collection, which featured the unique Emirati crafts of Safeefah and Faroukha (a handwoven tassel).

The ‘Sayr Yaay’ pattern of Safeefah also inspired the 2,000 scented handcrafted pouches made in recycled felt by 37 Emirati artisans for the urban installation project designed and curated by Beirut-based T SAKHI that was unveiled at the 5th edition of The European Cultural Centre that opened in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale.


Irthi teamed up with luxury Italian jewellery brand Bulgari in a panel session to discuss the significance of curating and documenting cultural heritage, while it offered a take on Safeefah and Talli for the Irthi x Cartier Ramadan 2021 Collection that featured handcrafted baskets and the Misbah (prayer beads).

Four creations celebrating indigenous craft heritage and produced by Emirati craftswomen at Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme have been acquired by the House of Artisans as part of its permanent collections housed at Abu Dhabi’s historic Qasr Al Hosn.

Expo 2020 Dubai sessions

The Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai set the stage for four discussions hosted by Irthi to sustain the craft, textile and design industries in the UAE, and formed the backdrop for the unveiling of research findings initiated by the Council.

At ‘The Art of Weaving Connections’ roundtable, Irthi highlighted the need for the creation of a collective global framework to ensure fair trade and wages for artisan communities everywhere. The session saw the participation of Reem Bin Karam, Director of NAMA (representing the UAE), Maywand Jabarkhyl, CEO and Board Member of the Fatima Bint Mohamed Initiative (FBMI), Sheikha Bibi Duaij AlJaber Al Sabah from Kuwait, and Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director of Crafts Council, UK.

‘The Cultural Power of Sustainability’ explored Irthi’s advanced palm fibre research and the development of a biodegradable palm textile prototype and launched two publications– one, which focused on Irthi’s date palm research and the second, a collaborative venture with the Alchemy of Dyeing that documents natural and sustainable recipes for dyeing palm leaves.

Highlighting the importance of documenting the UAE’s signature perfume traditions including old recipes, mixing techniques, and ingredients, Irthi launched The Future Essence at ‘Connections Through Culture’. The bi-lingual publication also outlines the ongoing multimedia and design-led projects being implemented by Irthi in collaboration with American University of Sharjah.

A discussion hosted by Ithi at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

At the session titled, ‘Crafting the Future’, Irthi launched Hiraf - an iPad game targeting the tech-savvy younger generation and is designed to master the complex weaving techniques of Talli and Safeefah. ‘Hiraf’ was developed in collaboration with Netherlands-based Opera Amsterdam, Studio Louter and Studio Shosho.

Skills exchange programmes

Irthi has broadened the creative and professional horizons of 13 young female Emirati artisans with the skills of 12 types and techniques of Jordanian and Palestinian embroidery at a 12-month artisanal training programme held in collaboration with Jordan-based Saru Fashion label. Through a series of hands-on artistic workshops led by Irthi’s Hirfati Youth Programme at the Dubai Design Week’s Making Space, young participants gained an introduction into traditional Emirati as well as modern sustainable crafts. The crafts were inspired by the cultural revitalisation projects undertaken by Irthi’s Design Labs and Crafts Dialogue initiatives.

‘Virtual Experience’

A 360-degree interactive ‘Virtual Experience’ on Irthi’s website is showcasing a curated selection of the new and yet-to-be-released collections that are modelled three-dimensionally and set against the backdrop of Sharjah’s desert landscape to reflect the landscape from which these crafts have emerged.