Insights from Interns: CraftNOW 

What is CraftNOW? 

This summer, Al-Bustan participated in an event called CraftNOW Create – Summer Camp Edition where different art organizations within the city brought crafts to summer camps and rec centers all over Philly. At Al-Bustan, we chose a craft for camps that was simple, allowed for individual imagination, and taught the kids something about the Arab culture within our organization: zellij.  

CraftNOW goers use geometrical blocks to plan out a design for their coasters.

About Zellij… 

The art form originates from Morocco and is a form of mosaics. The individual tiles are traditionally made of clay to create large slabs. Then are individually carved into shapes with tools by the artist to create all of the pieces of a consecutive pattern. Once all of these pieces are carved and cut they are set into place and grouted similarly to tiling seen in a home bathroom or kitchen. The Incredibly intricate process creates a beautiful result of large tiles or mural-esque art. We chose zellij as our craft to spread awareness for an art form that is so unique and detailed but is dying out. It was also a wonderful way to teach kids a little more about Arab culture and its connection to the religion of Islam. The reason zellij is so commonly seen in Islamic art is because it is a non-figural art form. The indefinite use of patterns can be used to represent certain aspects of the religion like the infinite presence of God. This small lesson about zellij led to the campers designing and creating their own mosaics.  

Two finished coasters that have just been glued in place with the help of a counselor.

Our Memories from CraftNOW 

At Tarken Recreation Center in Northeast Philadelphia, we noticed a girl who incorporated her own culture into her zellij mosaic. She had centered her entire piece around the green glass that resembled jade and signified her culture as an Asian American. When we asked more about what it meant she explained to me that in Asian culture jade is traditionally given as a gift meant to symbolize protection, prosperity, and longevity. It was the first project that we had seen that incorporated their own culture into the craft.  

When we think back to our experience with CraftNOW another project that stands out was one from James L. Wright Recreation Center, just 10 minutes from our office at Al Bustan. One of the counselors was intrigued with the craft and asked to create one along with his campers. In the end, he designed a zellij mosaic that would be given to his sword-fighting teacher as a gift for their birthday. This stood out to us because he not only was interested in participating in the craft but he also wanted to share his new knowledge of this art form and its culture with someone else in his life. We loved how much he enjoyed the craft and the lesson before it.  

A plethora of finished coasters all of which have a different color scheme / design.

Moving Forward 

In the future, Al Bustan hopes to continue to spread awareness about Arab culture through crafts like zellij. Not only is it an educational craft, but it was a creative way to allow campers to express themselves! 

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