Bahrain’s pottery collective
A participatory design project is safeguarding a traditional craft and reintroducing it into contemporary lives. The Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities participated in the recently concluded Dubai Design Week, through an investigative collaboration with designers Maitham Al-Mubarak and Othman Khunji. Mubarak is a Bahraini architect graduate from Savannah College of Art and Design and currently works at Studio Anne Holtrop while Khunji is a Bahraini interdisciplinary designer who graduated from VCU with an MFA degree in Design Studies. His work ranges between the fields of interactive installation/product, fashion and interior design.
Their aim was the renewal of the dormant craft of pottery making and it was presented through a customisation process and interactive exhibition where the audience was invited to partake in the use of clay by selecting from basic and necessary shapes put forward by the experts at Delmon Factory in Bahrain whose craftsmen still produce by hand. The result was the production of an exciting new meaning for pre-defined forms. “The authority wishes to assist Bahraini artisans in protecting and safeguarding their crafts, find recognition and new markets where their products will be sold, and transmit the specific knowledge people have gained during a lifetime of working with their crafts to the younger generation”, said a spokesperson for the project.
The ancient craft of pottery arose in Bahrain during the Dilmun civilization in fifth and fourth millennium BC. A vast quantity of artifacts were unearthed in archaeological sites throughout the island. Present day A’ali serves as the center of pottery-making in the kingdom, with mud from nearby area of Riffa being used. Pottery workshops developed organically in the vicinity of burial found in A’ali and these allow the artisans to incorporate their installations around the tombs. Some even use burial chambers as kilns. The potters fire their pieces using traditional methods that have been handed down generation after generation. Though factories have emerged here and standardization of products was introduced, the process of shaping each pot by hand is still undertaken by artisans. Bahrain’s location ensured raw materials were locally sourced and traditional skills developed here as a result. 
The ‘Unearthing’ project showcased at Dubai Design Week hopes to “enable the craft to evolve into a series of contemporary fluid shapes; a lamp or a kettle or any other utilitarian products that can be used and reintroduced into our daily lives.”  Though clay has made way for more durable materials of the industrial age, the pottery project also proposed that the material itself “must undergo a transformation in its accessibility”.
In a world where crowd-sourced ideas are commonly being used as the basis for creating newer designs, the interactive collection of shapes through the pottery collective’s portal benefit the existing production system and the artisans that are at the heart of it. “Our aim is to generate and design a system that preserves a rich, albeit undermined local craft. This system strikes a balance between preserving the bespoke genuine nature of the craft and allowing it to evolve with the ever-changing world of today”, say the designers behind the collaboration. 
Each design entry submitted through the portal has been included in an open source databank accessed by the commissioners of the project. Any sale of products will go back to sponsoring the artisans. 
Find out more at http://unearthing.bh/


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