Sharjah24: Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, has hailed the perfume making traditions of the UAE and called for the preservation of this valuable knowledge to drive forward contemporary innovations in this field and introduce future generations to the narratives and heritage of perfumery in the UAE.
At a panel discussion titled, Connections Through Culture, held at the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 recently, Irthi launched its new publication, The Future Essence, and discussed how Emirati signature scents mark the identity of the UAE in the perfume markets worldwide. The session also explored how the documentation of the signature perfume traditions including old recipes, mixing techniques, and ingredients, will define Emirati narratives and lead to the economic sustainability of the perfume market in the UAE.
The panel session, Connections Through Culture, was held in a hybrid format, and comprised of a team of four panel members: Anijo Mathew, former Head of the Department of Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah, and currently serving as the Director of the DesigNext Academy and an Associate Professor at the Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, USA; and Kiran Sajwani, a senior design strategist and researcher and an Adjunct Professor at the College of Architecture٬ Art and Design, AUS.
Representing the student community at AUS were Meznah Khalid, a 22-year-old Emirati, and Hamda Hareb Al Falahi, a Design Management student who was part of a capstone project managed by Irthi to explore the perfume industry in the UAE.
Irthi has worked in close collaboration with AUS to document the craft of perfume making through two courses introduced at its Department of Art and Design at the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD). Each course was divided into several groups, and through a series of thematic projects aimed at documenting and presenting the craft in a wholistic manner, Irthi is engaging the students with the cultural, social, technical, and economic aspects of the craft of perfumery in the region.
Launch of The Future Essence
Irthi, which is committed to archiving the cultural traditions of the UAE to inspire future creative output, launched The Future Essence, a bi-lingual publication at the event, which outlines the ongoing multimedia and design-led projects being implemented in collaboration with AUS under four different themes.
The English-Arabic book documents the craft and trade of perfume as well as the underlying memories, identities, and rituals associated with perfume making in the UAE. The extensive research gone into the book also opened the door to new discoveries of the artistry behind UAE’s traditional perfume making process that relied on a range of imported, sustainable raw materials and which paved the way for the UAE’s emergence as a hub for perfumers from various backgrounds.
The projects being led by Irthi and AUS have explored, amongst many others, the link between the craft of perfume and the Emirati identity, the diversity of ingredients used, and the handmaking traditions of creating perfumes. The teams also investigated the meaning and value of perfume in daily rituals in Emirati society, the variety of shapes of incense burners as well as the origins of the exotic ingredients.
The research is enabling the various teams of students to highlight current gaps and develop design concepts to address ways to preserve culture and identity. Five AUS design students of the TEEB team, for instance, who focused on the art of crafting Dukhoon have completed a six-month internship at Irthi to further develop the product to ensure that it is a right fit in the contemporary perfume market. The final product will soon be launched in the market with the support of Irthi.
Commenting on the significance of the courses and projects, Anijo Mathew said that the varied topics and design thinking methodology are enabling students to better understand real-world challenges and opportunities. He said: “The projects introduce the Emirati heritage to students in a beautiful and elegant way, with a refined and creative touch. For instance, the students were successful in transforming traditional recipes used in Emirati society into vibrant, modern products which still evoke the legacy and heritage of the art form.”
Perfumery holds a special place in Emirati society, he said, adding that while it was important to uphold the latest trends and olfactory preferences of the new generation when creating a fragrance, it was equally essential to maintain and protect the traditions associated with the craft to promote such products and make them more competitive.
Hamda Hareb Al Falahi, who was involved in a design-led process to develop a strategy for preserving perfume craft in the UAE, said: “The varied aspects of our research also involved an exploration into the main ingredients that are crucial to the Emirati perfume making process. We learnt that musk, which has an addictive aroma and is known for its lasting power, is a preferred favourite in Emirati society. Though not a luxury item, musk is a prized and must-have ingredient in the Emirati perfume culture.”
AUS student Meznah Khalid said that as an artistic creation, handmade Emirati perfumes exude significant memories in each household. “We are exploring how to adapt these traditional Emirati perfumes into a more contemporary context in terms of ingredients and design to meet the preferences of the new generation while continuing to maintain its link with the past.”
She added that although the path to creating the final product is challenging, it offers great scope for innovation. The main purpose of the project is to introduce the unique Emirati identity in a contemporary manner, she added.
Discussing the impact of the perfume industry on the economy, Kiran Sajwani highlighted the important role of educational entities in enhancing the development of traditional industries to ensure its sustainability and futureproof the perfume craft in the UAE.
She added: “Academic studies help youth acquire the knowledge and skills of the future. Advanced technologies play a key role in facilitating the development of traditional crafts within a modern context to meet the needs of the contemporary markets.”
The themes explored under the two Irthi-led courses include ‘The craft of perfume’, which explored the hard work involved in creating signature Emirati scents and the range of ingredients used; and ‘The trade of perfume’, which investigates how Emiratis connected with other cultures by trading perfumes and perfume ingredients and explores the importance of perfume in the trade sector.
‘Identity and Perfume: Memories’, offers an insight into the importance of defining Emirati narratives around perfumes and nostalgia; while ‘Identity and Perfume: Rituals’ focused on the lifestyle of Emiratis and the use of perfume on varied celebratory and daily occasions.
November 10, 2021 / 12:54 PM
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