Lebanon’s Artisans in the Spotlight

by Maria Frangieh
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Recognizing the importance of preserving Lebanon’s precious crafts, Zeina Raphael and Pascale Habis, founders of The Ready Hand, have thrown their efforts into supporting the country’s shrinking community of artisans.

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Photo – Tarek Moukadem

1. What can you tell us about The Ready Hand?

The Ready Hand is a platform that was created to help safeguard our artisanship, as a form of cultural heritage, and ensure that the knowledge and skills associated with traditional artisanship are passed onto future generations. It aims to create bridges between artisans, trigger and strengthen connections to the world of design and inspire new initiatives and possibilities.

In so doing, The Ready Hand will publish a comprehensive book as well as an online database of artisans that’s accessible to individuals inside and outside of Lebanon.

The third part of The Ready Hand is a documentary relating to the continuously deteriorating conditions and difficulties relevant to artisans today.

In the interim, we have launched an Instagram account that presents an artisan a day. The posts include contact details for each craftsperson.

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Photo – Tarek Moukadem

2. How and why did you start the project?

After the Beirut Port explosion and the damage caused to our homes, we decided to work on the project. Our ideas evolved from a book to a database, a documentary, the Instagram platform and more.

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Photo – Tarek Moukadem

3. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in trying to piece together all the crafts that exist in Lebanon?

One of the biggest challenges is the complete absence of any reliable or updated government sources.

The extreme conditions on site have also been difficult: workshops and ateliers without electricity, artisans with no work, artisans who were forced to shut down due to the crisis and those whose workshops were destroyed and could not be rebuilt after the explosion. Some artisans are distrustful and suspicious due to negative experiences. Summer 2021 was particularly hard due to fuel and electricity shortages.

Other challenges include locating and finding artisans. The reality of seeing once prosperous workshops that are now desolate is really devastating, as is witnessing the despair of some artisans who are unwilling to transmit their knowledge to their sons and daughters in the hope of a better future for them.

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4. Which artisan left a lasting impression on you and why?

For obvious reasons, elder generations of artisans, who lived through decades of difficulties such as war, constant political instability, crises and the complete lethargy of the public institutions without the least amount of assistance or appreciation, have left a mark on us. On the other hand, we have also been inspired by an adventurous, courageous younger generation; they are determined to carry on the legacy regardless of the current situation.

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Photo – Tarek Moukadem

5. What was the greatest lesson you learned about artisanship in Lebanon as a result of the project?

The range and variety of crafts on Lebanese soil is impressive. The willingness and ability to find solutions no matter what, the skills, process and know-how they require and the heritage and the values that the individual creators represent and carry with them are remarkable. The blend of culture, heritage, patience, excellence, mastery of skill and creativity coupled with the modesty of such talented people, who are capable of creating unique pieces that require years and years of practice and experience, is what truly defines artisanship in Lebanon.

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Photo – Tarek Moukadem

6. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Well, we have an amazing team working with us:  Amine Semaan, research and database; Danielle Rizkallah, documentary filmmaker; Johanne Issa, artistic and studio photography; Malek Hosni, director of photography; Maria Bashshur Abunasr, Ph.D, copywriter; Mezyed Azrai, gaffer, 2nd camera, sound and light; Sana Asseh, visual identity and dummy; Tarek Moukadem, artist and field photographer. We would also like to thank our benefactors — Philippe Jabre Foundation and Robert Matta Foundation.

The Ready Hand (@thereadyhand) • Instagram photos and videos

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