Saharan refugees learn how to spin old plastic bottles into gold

plastic-gold-florie-salnotLondon’s Victoria & Albert Museum just wrapped a stunning show of Arab-influenced artwork from ten contemporary artists selected as finalists for year’s Jameel Prize – 3. The work of French designer Florie Salnot is a standout as it quite literally creates something spectacular from near nothing.

Salnot works in social, service and “user experience” (or UX) design; she uses art as a medium to improve lives, strengthen individual and cultural confidence, and foster independent living. Her Project Gold ticks all three boxes, with direct benefit to Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees.

Florie Salnot Plastic GoldSahrawi refugees in Tindouf, Algeria, represent one of the most protracted refugee crises in the world. They live in a collection of camps established as far back as 1975 when they first fled Moroccan forces during the Western Sahara War.

Limited economic opportunities in the harsh desert environment have forced their reliance on international humanitarian aid for survival, but camp life is so mature (many residents were camp-born) that refugees self-manage their communities with little outside interference.

Cognizant of the spartan camp resources, Salnot devised a craft the women could practice using the simplest tools, hot sand and spray paint – transforming old plastic bottles into spectacular jewelry based on their own designs.

Plastic GoldTraditionally, Sahrawi craft was the realm of the malemin (artisans) who traveled with nomads to cure animal skins. They made leather bags, cushions, and saddles decorated with border fringe and geometric decorations primarily rendered in green, red and yellow pigment.

Saharawi traditional style inspired the aesthetic of Project Gold.

Salnot made two treks to the camp: first to teach basic production techniques and, second, to collaborate with three Sahrawi women with superior craft abilities to design a collection of more complicated pieces that could be exported for sale.

project gold workshop group
Aiming to empower the Sahrawis economically and culturally, the plan now is to set up production with the community to enable them to generate an income stream. See the works in progress in the video below:

The Jameel Prize is a biennial award for contemporary design where entrants must demonstrate direct inspiration by sources rooted in Islamic traditions.

Dame Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most innovative architects, is its primary patron.

All images from Florie Salnot 

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