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The Mahjouba Initiative featured in The Journal of Modern Craft – volume 13 (2020)

Special Issue on Middle East Craft

Guest Editor: Mariam Rosser-Owen

« The essays assembled here represent a selection of the papers presented at the international conference, “Middle Eastern Crafts: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London in October 2018. This grew out of a research and collecting project, funded by one of Art Fund’s New Collecting Awards, to investigate North African contemporary craft and to develop strategies for ways in which the V&A’s world-class collection of applied arts from the broad region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could be brought up-to-date. There was no ready-made body of research on this field to tap into. While contemporary visual arts from the Middle East have been a burgeoning field of interest among collectors, public and private, over the last two decades, the perception of the plastic/decorative/applied arts – what we could simply call “crafts” but feel uncomfortable doing in this context – has been very different. When applied to Middle Eastern and North African geographies, as with many non-Western societies, the word “craft” equates to “folk art”. This is defined by the Folk Art Alliance as an “expression of the world’s traditional cultures; rooted in traditions that come from community and culture; made by individuals whose creative skills convey their community’s authentic cultural identity, rather than an individual or idiosyncratic artistic identity”. The key notions here, that distinguish “art” from “craft”, are those of “tradition” and “authenticity”, issues that arise repeatedly in all the essays in this issue. The matter of authenticity and the question of who determines this dubious and contested quality is one that will not go away. The Western curatorial eye still expects, indeed demands, regional references in non-Western art and design. » (…)