Dubai’s fashion industry may be booming, but locally designed items are nothing new to the UAE. For many years, local women have been creating arts and crafts for themselves, their friends and family, using traditional Emirati crafts and weaving techniques. Unfortunately, the women who can create these trades are a dying breed, many of them from the older generations. But all is not lost – local groups and government agencies are working hard to revive and preserve the ancient techniques that are part of Emirati culture. They strive to promote them to the younger generation and to a much more diverse audience of tourists and expatriates so that this ancient culture does not die out.
For decades, Emirati women have practiced a number of types of crafts to produce items for clothing, home, and as gifts. The art of each of these trades is generally passed down from generation to generation by women from Emirati families. Many of these families are from small towns and villages and could not afford or did not have access to luxury items owned by the wealthy. So, many years ago, they decided to create handmade crafts with materials found in the home or garden to replicate items and decorations that were usually only worn or owned by families. rich or royal. There is even today a real sense of community between these women who like to pass on their techniques to their friends and family members, by selling and sharing the handicrafts they make at home. While the cities of the UAE are all devoted to big designer brands and shopping malls, if you head to the smaller communities, it is clear that these traditional creations live a lot in the small communities where these women live.
However, there is a problem. With the influx of tourists to the UAE in recent decades, as well as the growing number of Emiratis leaving their homes to study abroad or travel, these occupations are much less common than a few decades ago. As older women continue to create handmade items, they will soon be relying on the younger generations to keep the techniques alive. “The women who make these crafts are generally retired and, in many cases, grandmothers. They have been creating crafts for many generations, ”says Shareefa Hasan Al Dhuhoori, director of the Bidwa Social Development Program Center in Dibba, which strives to retain the art of“ Talli ”(a form of woven braid by hand that is added to clothes), alive. The center, which reports to the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, strives to preserve crafts such as “Talli” and make them relevant in today’s world. Irthi Contemporary Crafts was developed as part of the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, a Sharjah-based organization that aims to empower and support women in the region.
While we believe that anyone can learn how to make Emirati crafts, patience is the key to mastering the skills.
– Sumaya Khalfan Al Mehrezi, head of the Bidwa Social Development Program Center in Dibba
The center has already been very successful since it opened in 2016, with more than 30 retired women who come to work and create these professions. Last year, the center was fortunate enough to be chosen to partner with international luxury accessories brand Asprey to create a range of limited edition bags. The collection has been aptly named “One Stitch at a Time”. The center also created ‘Talli’ designs for Emirati-inspired runway looks for the Accademia Italiana, during the prestigious Alta Roma Fashion Week in Rome. As the center continues to grow, there are big plans for these women with future collaborations already underway. The “Tallis” that these ladies make are quite remarkable. The technique looks very complicated, but they end with impeccable designs, so it’s no wonder they’ve already been picked up internationally.
Shareefa Hasan Al Dhuhoori says: “A lot of modern people in UAE don’t care about this type of crafts. They want to go to the mall and get the latest handbag or designer item. For this reason, we are targeting the European market. For them, it is something different and exotic. We would however like to sell “Tallis” to brands in UAE, we just need to find the right partnership. Although you cannot buy the ‘Tallis’ themselves directly from the center, the women sell their handicrafts in the markets throughout the year, explains Shelifa:’ We have the women at events that show this. that they do. We regularly go to markets and events in Sharjah to present “Tallis”. The feedback is incredible. Everyone asks about them, what they are and how women do it.
The center is not the only place in the UAE working to keep traditions alive. The Al Ain Palace Museum offers free weekly interactive workshops that explore the heritage of a number of crafts and teach visitors how to create them. Local women teach crafts such as ‘Talli’, ‘Sadu’ (an ancient tribal loom made from woolen and cotton yarns) and ‘Khoos’ (another type of palm leaf weaving). “The mandate of the Al Ain Palace Museum is to preserve and revive the heritage and traditions that were integral to Al Ain and the early days of Emirati life. We believe in safeguarding our tradition and celebrating our culture as a way of life and allowing everyone to learn from it, ”says Sumaya Khalfan Al Mehrezi, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Palace Museum from Al Ain. The classes, which are taught by elderly Emirati women, have aroused particular interest from tourists, expatriates and also schoolchildren who are curious to learn more about the history of the place where they grow up. our national identity, while teaching the younger Emirati generation the crafts that their ancestors used to make and trade with. Sumaya said. “Although we believe that anyone can learn how to make Emirati crafts, patience is the key to mastering the skills,” she continues.
In addition to classes, it is now possible to find Emirati crafts at events and shows across the country, helping to raise awareness and attract the attention of a new audience. The Liwa Dates festival is held annually and celebrates the palm tree and all of its uses. The event includes a traditional Emirati market where you can find local women making crafts from palm leaves. A group of women will sit and weave together throughout the week, selling some of their creations to visitors and giving tourists a glimpse of desert life for them growing up. Likewise, the Al Dhafra Camel Festival in Abu Dhabi features colorful traditional handicrafts used as bridles for camels. Visitors to the event can purchase them. Sharjah Heritage Week, which takes place in April each year, has a host of events throughout the week, which celebrate local crafts. You’ll find everything from hand-woven UAE flags to stylish ‘Tallis’ that can be purchased and applied to clothing. The events tend to attract visitors from all over the UAE.
When you look around today, it is undeniable that the UAE is now a very modern country, with the tallest and brightest buildings, the latest technology and, of course, the stunning five-star hotels, which constantly arise. . However, it is quite reassuring to know that the country continues to bring these fascinating professions to life. Thanks to organizations such as the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, local crafts are starting to gain international recognition and be noticed by those outside the small Emirati community. History is still alive and well.