RIYADH: An award-winning Saudi ceramics artist is proving to be a real trail-glazer in reviving the ancient craft in the Kingdom.
Enterprising business owner Morouj Ahmed Alshatri has gone from strength to strength since setting up her Keramos studio in Jeddah three years ago.
Her venture, the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia dedicated to teaching pottery and ceramics, is quickly gaining an international reputation for its quality products.
Alshatri developed her passion for arts at a young age, honed her skills at school, and eventually majored in Islamic arts at King Abdul Aziz University.
While studying, she took part in numerous exhibitions to gain industry experience, and after graduating worked for a Jeddah company in its art department. Alshatri said working in a professional environment taught her “how to turn a piece of art into something productive.”
She added: “It taught me to deal with clients and helped me to combine art and business aspects together. I decided to concentrate on the art of pottery and ceramics because it brings together many different crafts such as sculpting, drawing, formation and painting.
“Pottery is something our ancestors practiced, so I was alarmed to discover that there were no centers dedicated to teaching it (in Saudi). This is when I took the step of establishing something to bring pottery back into our lives.”
In March 2016, with the help of Torathuna, an organization that supports local entrepreneurs and craft businesses, Alshatri set up her Keramos enterprise.
Alshatri places an emphasis on quality in all aspects of her studio to ensure items are produced to the highest standards and imports all her raw materials and equipment from countries such as Italy and the US.
Inspired by Islamic art and miniature art, Alshatri said the main aim of Keramos was to highlight Islamic and Saudi cultural heritage, with many of her pieces showcasing unique regional identities.
“I’ve had many delegations from abroad visit the studio, including the consul general of the US. They were all very interested to see our culture and civilization represented in the pieces,” she added.
A recurring theme in Alshatri’s designs is Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, an ancient art form practiced in the region of Asir, which is now on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Her works mix modern, traditional and Islamic elements together, and she finds Arabesque to be significant, which is the use of Islamic geometric patterns in a rhythmic form. “I also like to add Arabic calligraphy as well as Qur’an verses to my work, because I feel that it holds a story; it will make people stop to ask about the meaning instead of just passing it by.”
Alshatri runs workshops at her studio for adults and children, partly aimed at fostering an understanding of how basic household products are made. “The kids get such a thrill when they eat and drink out of items they have created. It really gives them a sense of joy.”
According to Alshatri there are therapeutic advantages in being a potter. “Some psychologists and doctors suggest that to reduce stress one should go outdoors and walk barefoot on sand or soil. This process of ‘grounding’ allows the natural surfaces to absorb the negative charges from your body. Working with clay allows for the absorption of these charges too,” Alshatri said.
She pointed out that pottery had helped her to control her own energy and stress levels and noted that it can teach adults and children to be patient and stay focused.
Alshatri said that research had shown clay to exude high levels of positive energy and its use for making natural items such as water jugs can have major health benefits. “I’ve watched people who have come into my studio, and they have told me it has a calming and relaxing atmosphere.”
Since its creation, Keramos studio has won several awards in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
Alshatri said one of her biggest challenges has been sourcing good-quality clay, and she has approached Saudi Aramco with the idea of using special extraction techniques to produce it in the Kingdom. She said: “We live in a desert and we have an abundance of sand and mud. I know we have the potential to develop clay to the same standards as the imported products.”
Looking ahead, Alshatri hopes to grow her company to be the leading Saudi brand for developing ceramic art pieces.
She said interest in pottery was increasing all the time and feedback from people attending her workshops was positive.
“Some students continue to produce pottery pieces after completing the workshops, either for their own use or for commercial use. It’s always nice to know that I managed to get people interested in pottery,” she added.