During an interview with Al Arabiya channel Alice Choufani discussed her work, covering several topics from preserving the art and traditions of wrought iron while integrating its uses to new designs, uses and concepts as well as bridging the gap between the old and the new.
The process of working on a project; from its design to manufacture and the delicacy of the painting method. Her inspiration from Mother Nature within the creativity process, and how the wrought iron character reflects the culture and civilization in which it is made.
The art of forged iron is an ancient art craft that is frequently used home decoration and the furniture industry. A variety of decorations and inscriptions are made in wrought iron while preserving the traditional methods.
Please tell us about it; this idea how did it come up? As I understand, you did not start working in this field only recently.
Correct. This is a family tradition that has developed with time. It began with the grandfather who passed it on to his son and now to the new generation of the family.
What are the differences between the grandfather's work and yours and what you will be handing over to the new generation?
Actually it is the same system, the same ways. It is still traditional in the way we view and work with wrought iron. What has changed are the designs, the colors, the ideas and concepts. There are more uses for wrought iron today than before. Long ago, it was not really used a lot for furniture, except for certain items like beds for example. Now we even use it for accessories inside the home, such as "cake plates", which we use to display sweets or cakes. This is how it developed; with the tastes of the new generation wanting to add to the classic uses as well. The older generations used wrought iron for doors, for staircases, gates. Now, they can use it anywhere
Usually traditional craftsmanship from generation to generation decreases with time. But in this case, as you mentioned in this profession in particular it’s the other way around.
Correct. And because of that there is a greater variety of styles
Tell us with regards to the designs and colors you work with, how do you begin to design a table or a handrail etc?
Firstly it depends on your needs and the needs of your home. What we pay attention to the most is the client's needs. For example the client would come and tell me “I want to do a partition within the house” or “I want to do a table”. And for this table you need to create the design based on the surrounding. It depends on the concept of the home, and the furnishings that are already present. If the furnishings are modern, I cannot create a classical design for it.
So the first step is based on these needs and then I build the ideas from there. But at the end of the day, the traditional designs are a fountain of inspiration for creativity. It is very important to start from there to grow the concept of the project. However, although we use the techniques from there, the new designs need less techniques. They are not heavy or loaded. Light designs may require only lines, but each of these lines have different dimensions and thicknesses that create a beautiful abstract approach.
I feel from what you are saying you have a passion for the classical more. But the new does not have the details and intricacies of the old, correct?
No I love both very much. What matters to me is that it is beautifully and creatively done. New concepts need less details, more simplicity. When you work with simplicity, you need to create a certain model using different thicknesses and twists to give it spirit. The handrail behind me here is a new way of looking at wrought iron. Everything in it changed from the old. Even the leaves changed. You can see it is simply made up of lines, crazy lines as I call it that are twisted in a way to create a concept. You can see what I was saying about the different dimensions of the iron. You can see the idea behind it. This one represents the branches and stems in nature. I simply look at nature and it inspired me to create this. The stems, branches and roses are intertwined in nature’s madness. You can see how the colors changed. They are no longer strong contrasts of black, gold, bronze and copper. We passed that phase. Here we worked on colors closer to nature.
With regards to the roses for example?
Yes, to make each rose you see in front of you, we work on it petal by petal. We position each petal together and weld them, like the Halawanji (confectioner). We use the same method for creating the metal roses.
I can see that from these examples here in front of us that you have somehow tamed the metal and gave it life.
This is the idea, to tame te metal. That is why In Arabic they call it "Al Hadid Al Mutawa3" which means we took it as it is from nature, and we twisted it into new aesthetic forms.
But today when you create a certain design, and you send it for manufacturing in the factory, how do you make sure that it will be the same design you have in your mind. With metal I feel it is harder to make sure.
With metal, to make sure the design will turn out correctly, you must be present while it is being manufactured. Sometimes I feel like I am almost living with them in the factory. When the design finishes, it goes from the design room to the factory. In the factory, we stay present with the blacksmith team to make sure it is correct. And even during that process, we keep refining the design to add more life to it. So the design is not truly complete until the very end of everything. You need to keep an eye on it till the very end. Even when the manufacture finishes and it moves to the coloring. The painting is a process alone as well because it is not a classical way of painting. It is not one color that you put. It is a mix of colors and techniques similar to the work of any artist. To give it different shades and moods, until it reaches its final state.
The Italian and French civilizations, with regards to their history in wrought iron, which one affects your work more, Alice?
All of them do. Mostly the French and the Italian. They are the founders of wrought iron. The Germans also but theirs is more heavy and stiff. In many areas of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan as well. You can tell that the wrought iron character differs accordingly in every culture as it reflects the nature of its people and their civilizations.
You showed us today also how the Arab wrought iron is different. Thank you Alice for being with us.