Berber pottery on display at Tunisia’s first ceramics fest

The festival featured competitions for artisans as well as a music programme with instruments made from clay.
Saturday 21/09/2019
Intricate designs. Ceramic kitchen utensils on display. (Carthage Days for Ceramic Art)
Intricate designs. Ceramic kitchen utensils on display. (Carthage Days for Ceramic Art)

TUNIS - Colourful pottery, vases adorned with intricate ornaments, Berber art and clay masks filled the main hall of Tunis’s City of Culture for the first Carthage Days for Ceramic Art. Ceramic art is one of Tunisia’s oldest artistic traditions and is practised today.

To celebrate the historical and cultural value of ceramic art, the National Centre of Ceramic Art of Sidi Kacem Jelizi and Tunis’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs organised the event. The festival, which ended September 8, also marked the reopening of the Museum of Ceramic Art.

“This is the first of its kind,” said festival Director Mohamed Hachicha. “The committee worked on devising a programme that accommodates all different types of ceramic art to include as many artisans as possible. It was first conceived during the eighth international conference of ceramic art in August 2018.”

“This festival was bigger than just an exhibition of ceramic art. It was a meeting platform for artisans from Italy, Spain and Egypt. It featured work from regions like Nabeul, Djerba, Makthar, Sejnane and elsewhere, showcasing each region’s heritage and unique aspects as well as serving as competition for artisans.”

The festival took place in various venues across Tunis, including the City of Culture and the Bardo National Museum. Training sessions and workshops also were organised, inviting artisans and participants to learn from techniques of each country represented.

Hosting 60 participants from more than 20 countries, the festival shed light on the cultural and economic aspects of the ceramic industry.

Salah Amamou, president of the National Chamber for Artisan Arts who helped organise the festival, said the event was an important way to promote ceramic art.

“For me, exchanging expertise is important,” said Amamou. “This edition gives value to Berber pottery, which does not get enough exposure. Berber pottery exists in all 24 governorates but only a few are popular. We chose the theme of one competition to be the Kallaline period, which aims to shed light on a specific heritage of a historic period of our country.”

“One of our goals is to introduce chapters of the history of ceramic art and of our country.  This will help bring more exposure to artisan products, which will help the country’s economy,” he said.

The festival was also designed to bring different generations together to promote a more modern style of ceramics. One competition tasked designers with collaborating with artisans to produce a new vision.

“Over the long term, we seek to establish a partnership between these artisans and designers and young artisans,” Amamou said. “Ten designers are working with ten artisans on new products. This alone was an amazing addition. We need to bridge the gap between graduates of schools and artisans to create more job opportunities.”

The festival featured competitions for artisans as well as a music programme with instruments made from clay. One of the highlights was a fashion show featuring pieces made of pottery.

“Pottery in Tunisia is still used daily in families,” said Hachicha. “It is one of the first arts to be developed as Carthage was the source of clay in ancient times in addition to Djerba, which had a pivotal role in pottery.”

The festival hosted a conference featuring academics from different countries who shared their views on the history of ceramic art.

Daouda Sow, director of research and international cooperation at the Agency for Heritage Revival and Cultural Development, congratulated the festival’s organisers for their efforts.

“We hope that this festival and also the synergy of this cooperation will help shed light on the heritage and promote ceramic art of Tunisia,” Sow said. “It will be great to have it in museums, in shops and in markets to showcase the beauty and spirit of Tunisian pottery art.”

Algerian artisan Mokran Sayes said he has been working in ceramics for generations as part of his family business.

“This is an amazing opportunity and it is a successful edition of the festival,” he said. “We met many artisans and had interesting talks.”

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More than just a festival. Artworks on display at the main hall of Tunis’s City of Culture.(Carthage Days for Ceramic Art)
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Ceramic art on display at the main hall of Tunis’s City of Culture. (Carthage Days for Ceramic Art)
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Unique talents. People attend a competition between pottery artisans. (Carthage Days for Ceramic Art)
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