Designer Hend Krichen works with the rural artisans of Tunisia across an ‘authentic craft manufacturing platform’ for her collection of hand crafted luxury homeware products, Tunisia Made.
In 2012 Tunisian-born designer Hend Krichen graduated from Kingston University with an MA in Design: Product and Space. Krichen’s final brief centred on the ‘rediscovery of homeland’,1 a potent subject studied by Krichen during a turbulent period in Tunisian history. She went on to set up Hend Krichen Design, a studio based in London. The studio’s first collection, ‘Tunisia Made’, was launched in 2012. The collection, which includes a series of vessels and crafted objects, uses the traditional skills of Tunisian artisans with the aim of invigorating the market.
Tunisia’s craft heritage is centuries old and has remained one of the most important industries of the country. In 1959 the National Office for Tunisian Handicraft (ONAT) was established in order to implement the Ministry of Trade & Craft’s mission to safeguard and develop the Tunisian handicraft sector. In August 2013 O.N.A.T released a report that discusses the craft sector as “enjoying special care by public authorities, craft occupies 11% of the entire (Tunisian) workforce. 85% of Tunisian craftspeople are women. The craft industry generates about 300 thousand jobs and represents to this day, 4% of GDP.”2 However, “on 10th April 2012 Amamou Salah, Head of the National Handicrafts League in Tunisia, sent a timely letter to the country’s newly elected post revolution prime minister, Hamadi Jabali, detailing how twenty three years of pre-revolution corruption had sent the craft industries into wholesale decline. Up until 1996 these industries were still the country’s largest employer. It also detailed proposals to revive this situation, including a call for greater involvement from graduate artists and designers in determining a new future. With greater freedom of speech and expression, the time is ripe for exploring a new cultural identity.”1
Hend Krichen is part of the community exploring a new cultural identity for Tunisia that she feels is particularly linked to, and optimised by the political uprising: “I remember being glued to the TV the entire time the protests were taking place. The feeling of patriotism that was expressed during that period was just unbelievable. I decided to come up with a design brief that would allow me to go back to Tunisia post the revolution and experience the day to day life as well set myself a task to study the history of Tunisian craft and heritage and how it has been influenced and changed through out history. I thought it was the perfect time to do this, because history was actually being made at that moment and time. As soon as I landed in Tunisia, it was so apparent there was change, the county’s national security was all over the place, the people were happy but felt unease and the economy was unstable.”3
Whilst celebrating Tunisia’s craft heritage and history, the designer aims to bring it into the 21st century by contemporising traditional products and making them appealing to a modern consumer of design. “Throughout my research of exploring Tunisian traditional crafts and their history and to what stage they have got to today, I was astonished to find out that a lot of the traditional techniques were becoming practically extinct. The craftsman are becoming fewer and fewer, simply down to the fact that there was no conservation or care for ‘the local craftsman’ and most importantly no regeneration of the crafts techniques through the application to modern products in order to keep them alive!”4 The materials used are kept in a raw and natural form, described by Krichen as revealing the country’s identity and showcasing Tunisia’s natural resources.
The terracotta vases and pots are reflective of a material used for centuries and the copper is a rich resource in Tunisia. The patterns and designs used to decorate the products are sourced from Tunisian art history and reapplied in this modern context. The products described as timeless by the designer are produced using traditional hand skills – the earthenware is produced using a mould; the copper is turned on a lathe with the etching applied using a hammer and nail; throws are hand-woven and naturally dyed; and intricate Tunisian patterns are applied by hand to ceramic coasters.5
Text by Elena Kate Gifford. Images courtesy of Hend Krichen.