Collaboration between Sharjah-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council and T Sakhi design studio aims to restore heart-to-hear
t dialogue on the reconstruction of Lebanon’s future
In partnership with UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA), Beirut-based T SAKHI, a multidisciplinary architecture and design studio, has designed and curated an urban installation project aimed at restoring genuine dialogue on the reconstruction of Lebanon’s future.
Titled ‘Letters from Beirut’, this interactive installation is a handcrafted poetic project in honour of the Lebanese community and aims to forge deep connections and unexpected, multisensory experiences through the power of words in the form of 2,000 letters bearing the ‘voices’ of citizens impacted by the August 4 blasts.
Incorporating elements inspired by the UAE’s rich crafts heritage, ‘Letters from Beirut’ was unveiled at the 5th edition of The European Cultural Centre, opening in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale, to address the Biennale’s 2021 theme, “How will we live together?” from May 22 until November 21, 2021.
Irthi offered its support for the installation by handcrafting the scented pouches containing the letters by Lebanese citizens. 37 Emirati craftswomen from Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme in Sharjah have handcrafted these pouches made from recycled and sustainable felt, inspired by the ‘Sayr Yaay’ pattern of Safeefah, a traditional Emirati palm frond weaving craft.
Under its Bidwa Programme, Irthi offers vocational training and upskilling opportunities to Emirati artisans practicing indigenous crafts to support them economically and socially, and to preserve the skills and rich cultural heritage of the UAE and the wider MENASEA regions.
The project was made possible through the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Chairperson of NAMA.
Voices of 2,000 Lebanese citizens resonates in interactive handcrafted project
The ‘Letters from Beirut’ installation, set on a six-metre linear wall, will feature 2,000 handcrafted pouches. The interactive and multisensory experience of the installation stems from the personal messages inside these pouches, written on handmade paper by 2,000 Beiruti survivors of the August 4 explosion that ripped through the capital last year. The public are encouraged to respond to these personal letters that have been hand-transcribed on handmade recycled papers crafted by university students.
The contemporary patterned pouch – that has replaced palm fronds with recycled felt – is lined in linen and stitched in silver Zari thread. Every pouch also contains a seed—a universal symbol of rebirth—to plant and grow. The seeds inside the pouches are that of coriander, zucchini, and green beans – all edible plants used in Lebanese cuisine.
Each pouch is also scented with a stimulating natural fragrance evocative of Lebanon’s flora: cedar, pine, thyme, genet, or jasmine.
Craft heritage offers message of hope
According to Reem BinKaram, Director, NAMA Women Advancement Establishment: “Through the ‘Letters from Beirut’ project, Irthi’s collaboration with T SAKHI aims to instil hope amongst the people of Lebanon and support artisans and sustainable design processes while also reinforcing our commitment to the preservation of cultural and craft heritage of the region.”
BinKaram added: “The site-specific urban installation will foster dialogue and enable Irthi to raise charitable contributions for the reconstruction of Beirut through our partnership with UAE-based non-profit, The Big Heart Foundation’s ‘Salam Beirut’ campaign. This collaboration thus sets the tone for Irthi’s vision on the future of urbanism and its role as a gateway for crafts preservation across the MENASEA region.”
Forging deep connections
Tara and Tessa, Lebanese-Polish sisters who co-founded T SAKHI, said in a statement: “Feeling like we live in an era where authentic connections are replaced with constant virtual connectivity, we are gathering a collection of 2,000 heartfelt letters from Lebanese citizens sharing their thoughts and feelings with strangers during these peculiar times. We aim to continue the dialogue on the reconstruction of Lebanon’s future and the restoration of our collective memory.”
Extend your support for a worthy cause
Designed both to inspire and raise charitable funds to support lives impacted by the August 4 blast through varied sectors such as healthcare, infrastructure, education, and livelihoods, the installation enables visitors to donate to four Beirut-based and international NGOs through a QR code.
These include: Bank to School Initiative by Arcenciel, supporting children’s education; Beirut Heritage Initiative, an independent inclusive collective striving to restore and preserve Beirut’s architectural and cultural heritage; Beb w Shebbek, an NGO rebuilding doors and windows of more than 80,000 homes destroyed in the explosion; and ‘Salam Beirut’ initiative by The Big Heart Foundation, a UAE-based non-profit raising funds for various sectors including healthcare, safety and protection, livelihoods, and education.