Jordan Women’s Guild in Safi has Sustainable Art in the Bag

Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanA tiny collective of rural women at the southern tip of the Dead Sea in Safi is creating art that’s omni-sustainable. Since 1999, with catalytic infusions from a remarkable Canadian painter, this Jordanian sisterhood has been crafting unusual “eco” fabric items bespoke to their salty seaside village.

safi woman's society, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanBack in 1991, a young artist found herself working as an archeological illustrator on a dig near Lot’s Cave in an area known as Ghour al Safi, in southern Jordan.

The locals had already established a sort of women’s group, but they lacked formal arts training.  When they sought out assistance in marketing some of their handicrafts, she jumped in to help with design and promotion. It was a natural match: the start of a relationship that continues today.

Painter Jean Bradbury initially conducted classes in drawing and painting. She stressed the environmental aspects of every project, with particular emphasis on natural dye-making. Subject matter draws primarily from the extraordinary local setting and the women’s own lives.

mud dyeing by Safi Crafts, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanSimple cotton fabrics colored with traditional dyes are crafted into wall hangings, handbags and placemats.  Others may be painted and embroidered, then pieced into quilts.

Safi Nature Painting, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanProduct designs are developed by individual crafters and often show scenes from village life. Resultant income covers production costs and supplements their farming-based subsistence.

Safi Village PaintingsA class instructing how to paint self-portraits eventually morphs into a production line, with some assuming designer roles, cutting up the paintings and reassembling the pieces into the oversized and strangely wonderful market bags.

Safi face bags, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordan“The results are bold! And we love them,” their website declares, “Each one is unique and from our hearts.”
Safi painted bag with mud dyed lining, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanThe vibrantly colored bags are fully lined with hand-dyed cotton, stained with dyes made from pomegranate rinds, tea, rust-hued mud from Petra or yellow mud collected near Wadi Mujib where it flows into the Dead Sea.

Safi women artists, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordan

The women add iron from the local hospital to darken or “sadden” the natural dyes: it reacts with the tannin in tea and pomegranate to create a variety of warm grays and greens.

mud from PetraTheir gorgeously unique bags are sold through their Women’s Society store, at occasional arts and crafts exhibits, and in a new gift shop at The Lowest Museum of Earth.

mud dyed lining in Safi painted bag, Jean Bradbury in Safi, Dead Sea jordanLooking for a day trip off the beaten path? Take a run south to Safi to tour both the museum and the village, it’s about 90 minutes from central Amman, and less than 30 from the Dead Sea resorts.

An exhibit of the self-portraits is planned for late September at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea.  Contact them directly for details at +962 535 61111 or via email [email protected]

Alternatively, contact Green Prophet and we can put you in touch with the Safi women.

All images by Jean Bradbury

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15 thoughts on “Jordan Women’s Guild in Safi has Sustainable Art in the Bag”

  1. Elaine says:

    That’s very funny. I’m in Placitas, NM.

  2. Laurie Balbo says:

    This is BRILLIANT – thank you Youssef for linking these wonderful women to a larger audience!

    “Authentic” Jordan people and art – located on the kingdoms’ Touristic Tri-fecta route (Dead Sea, Red Sea, Petra) – with help from people just like you this group seems perched on the brink of commercial expansion.

    With some specialist support, it could be a marvelous success.

  3. Youssef HILO says:

    Thank you for all the great artistic achievements. You give me a very good reason to promote your accomplishment in the next time I visit the lowest point on Earth Museum with my group and any other group. Well done, and all the best.
    P.S. I’ve already posted your website on the official website of the Jordanian Tour Guides Association where some 1000 colleagues now can have the chance to support your wonderful work. All the best

  4. Teresa Toole says:

    The bags are quite beautiful, reflecting the the obvious beauty of these women. They have a hit on their hands! Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and any other place one could imagine, they would sell out instantly. Authenticity is rare in this world. Congratulations to you all. There is a famous museum here, that brings folk artists from around the world for a week of an amazing fair to sell their work. It is a big celebration. If you would like more information, I would be glad to pass it on.

    1. Hi Teresa. What a wonderful suggestion. I have never seen the Folk Art Museum but have wanted to for years. I’ll check on line and see what it is all about. Thanks so much.

    2. Mina Bouregreg says:

      I wish to have the information about the Museum in Santa Fé, if you dont mind? Thank you.

      1. jean bradbury says:

        Mina here is the museum.
        The folk art festival is here
        They have an active Facebook page also.

  5. Hi Elaine,
    I’m sorry to say that we don’t sell our bags in the US or on the internet. Internet access is still rare and expensive in the town of Safi. I’ll be back in Jordan in the fall and can bring some bags back with me if you would like a very special one. I’m not sure of the price – it’s not much – something like $25 or $30. I leave pricing up to the women’s co-op. If you are patient and don’t mind exchanging a few emails I can get you one or two bags. Please write to me at [email protected] Otherwise why not come to Jordan and visit us!

    Eventually, we may find a distributor who could take care of this for us. Thanks for reminding me to take a look at that. And thanks for you kind comments.

    1. Sell them through Etsy. It is easy to set up an account and to sell your stuff through them.

      1. Etsy would be great but the women in Safi need to learn how to use computers first. Thanks for the suggestion. Give us a few years. It’s on the agenda.

      2. Elaine says:

        actually. . . yes. I’d love that. I forget that mounting a commercial business in a underdeveloped, remote area is impossible. My apologies. If you can provide pricing and images of the bags to choose from when you return that would be great. Keep me on your list and send me an email with the SUBJECT: Safi Bag Images You Requested. Thanks in advance! (I absolutely adore the bag being held by the woman in the red scarf. Just wonderful. Please tell her, if you can.)

        1. Can you send your email to [email protected]?

  6. Laurie Balbo says:

    Hi Elaine – I’ll ask Jean Bradbury to get in touch with you (I bought 3 of them and could use another dozen!)

    Thanks for your interest!

    1. Elaine says:

      Thanks! I simply love them. These women are quite talented. Love the one the woman in the red scarf is holding. It’s too cool!

  7. Elaine says:

    I love these bags with faces on them! So beautiful, soft and real–just love them. My background is in art history. I appreciate unique art work, especially by women. I’d love to purchase one of the bags for a friend who lives here in the US. How can I do it? I seem to be going in circles on the internet. I’ve been to the Museum site, but didn’t see how to purchase a bag. Any help? thanks.

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