First International Seminar on Arabesque in Traditional Crafts of OIC Countries, under the patronage of H.E. Hafez Al-Esad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic, organised in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of Syria, Damascus, 4-11 January 1997

The First International Seminar on "Arabesque in Crafts of OIC Countries" took place under the high patronage of H.E. Hafez al-Asad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic, in Damascus, from 5 to 10 January 1997. The seminar was jointly organised by IRCICA and the Ministry of Culture of Syria, in collaboration with UNESCO and in cooperation with MASHAREQ International Establishment.

Experts of arabesque, scholars, representatives of specialized centres and councils, in total fifty-six institutions and authorities representing thirty-one countries, participated in the seminar. The participants deliberated on the methods implemented in the art of arabesque and the difficulties encountered in its development. They tried to assess the present state of this sector and discussed the steps to be taken in order to develop a strategy for global cooperation on this subject. They underlined important issues related to design, methods used, technical cooperation towards developing the skills, exchanging the techniques in use in order to improve product quality, education and training of skilled artisans, financing, economy, marketing and obstacles encountered, patronage and national policies.

The seminar's principal aims were to assess the present state of arabesque in crafts in the Islamic world and to determine the economic, social and cultural measures that need to be taken for the future development of this sector; discuss measures that can be taken to guard against the loss of Islamic values and traditions with a view towards maintaining the uniqueness of the Islamic crafts heritage; give incentive prizes to young people with the aim of encouraging them to produce new works in arabesque.

The Inaugural Ceremony and accompanying folkloric performances for the "Revival and Preservation of Islamic Traditional Heritage" took place at Al-Cham Theater in Damascus. H.E. Dr. Najah al-Attar, Minister of Culture, represented the President of the Syrian Arab Republic in inaugurating the opening ceremony. The ceremony was attended by Dr. Mohamad al-Imadi, Minister of Economics and External Relations, Mr. Waheeb Fadil, Minister of the Presidency of the Republic, Mr. Nasir Qadour, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mohamad Khalid al-Mahayni, Minister of Finance, Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, Ex-Petroleum Minister of Saudi Arabia and Patron of MASHAREQ International Establishment, Prof.Dr. E. İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA, and the Representative of the Director General of UNESCO.

Minister of Culture H.E. Dr. Najah al-Attar delivered the inaugural address on behalf of the President of Syria. She spoke of the artistic value of handicrafts and their place in the culture, the history and the future of Muslim countries. She underlined the importance of the role artisans play in ensuring the continuation of the human, cultural and aesthetic aspects of life. She commended the positive role IRCICA plays in developing the crafts sector. She underlined that President Hafez al-Asad extended high patronage to this event, as it carries a special importance in developing the relationship among Muslim people and promoting an important aspect of Islamic heritage and cultural life.

Then followed the address of IRCICA Director General Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who expressed his gratitude to H.E. President Hafez al-Asad for extending high patronage to this event, to the Ministry of Culture and H.E. Dr. Najah al-Attar, Minister of Culture, for hosting the seminar in Damascus as well as for all the support and interest shown to IRCICA's activities in general since the time of its inception. IRCICA Director General commended the contributions of MASHAREQ International Establishment through its Chairman, Architect Abdul Aziz Kamel, and the close support of Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, the Patron of MASHAREQ. He also thanked UNESCO for its continuous positive approach to cooperating with IRCICA.

Then H.E. Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani delivered an address, pointing out that MASHAREQ establishment was founded with the ambitious aim of providing training facilities for craftspeople and marketing their products. Sheikh Yamani called for the preservation of the Islamic identity through the preservation of the Islamic arts heritage, and recommended the establishment of an Islamic Crafts Center.

This was followed by the addresses of Mr. Indrasen Vencatachellum, representative of UNESCO, and Mr. Omar Amine Ben Abdallah, President of the World Crafts Council. Then, Mr. Nazih Maarouf, Head, Crafts Development Program, IRCICA, and International Coordinator of the Damascus Seminar, introduced the delegates and participants, outlined IRCICA's activities in this field, and gave statistics underlining the importance of the crafts sector in Islamic countries.

The seminar was accompanied by Special Programmes comprising folkloric performances for the "Revival and Preservation of the Traditional Heritage", and various exhibitions on arts, crafts and cultural heritage, among them exhibitions of arabesque works; stucco glass, wood, mother-of-pearl, silver and leather works, miniatures, qishany, batik, carpets and kilims, ornamented plates, drawings on silk and textiles. The program included site visits to see the artisans-at-work showing their skills and practices in design, form and applied styles. A number of craft authorities and institutions from different countries participated in the exhibitions together with participants from Syria.

Delegations from the following countries participated in the seminar: Algeria, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Denmark, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Tatarstan (RF), Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, U.S.A, Uzbekstan, Yemen Republic, Venezuela. Various exhibitions and folklore shows accompanied the seminar.

There were sixteen working sessions over the four-day seminar period. Among the numerous topics dealt with, there were

Arabesque in the crafts of OIC countries: past, present and future
Economic and financial aspects in the development of ornamental arts
Revival and re-use of traditional designs
Traditions in decorative appearance for interiors of medieval and modern architecture of Uzbekistan
The geometric dimension of the decorative arts, familiar geometrical patterns
Creativity in decorative botanical patterns used in crafts;
Decorative designs and patterns in calligraphy
The vehicle for the Islamic image
The concept in decorating styles on metallic crafts
Creativity in wooden decorations
Perfection of wood carving
Decorative wall panels in coloured ceramics
Variety in the decorative patterns of carpets and kilims
Arabesque in Islamic ceramics
Education and training, a necessity for qualified skillful craftsmen
Economic and financial aspects in the development of ornamental arts
Patronage and government: their crucial role for developing arabesque in crafts
Art of ornamentation and decoration
The influence of the Islamic decorative art on European art
An analysis of the meaning of arabesque in its relation with unity, its development through ages and places and its effect on the contemporary European art
Exploring new marketing opportunities for Islamic crafts in the world

The sessions also comprised brief presentations on specific topics by craft specialists, as well as country cases, followed by general discussions.

At the closing ceremony of the seminar, Mr. Nazih Maarouf, Head, Crafts Development Program, IRCICA, as Raporter of the Seminar, presented the report and the recommendations and the Damascus International Declaration. Addresses were given by Mrs. Noorjehan Bilgrami (Pakistan, Honorary Head of Fine Arts Dept., Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture) on behalf of the Asian delegates, Mr. Moh'd Touri, Director of UNIDO, Geneva Office, on behalf of the African group, Mr. Nabil Safwat (professor of calligraphy and Islamic art, University of London) for the Arab group, Mrs. Alexandra Soteriou (founder, president and owner of the World Paper Firm, USA) for the international organisations, Dr. Sami Angawi (founder and Director General of the Amar Center for Architectural Heritage, Saudi Arabia) on behalf of the participants, and Mr. Hikmet Barutçugil (Turkey, leading figure of marbled paper art) on behalf of the artisans. There were also speeches by Architect Abdul Aziz Kamel, Owner and Chairman of MASHAREQ International Establishment, Mr. Indrasen Vencatachellum, representative of UNESCO, Prof.Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA, and Mr. Ali al-Kayem, Deputy Minister of Culture of Syria on behalf of the Ministry.

During the seminar period, H.E. Mr. Mahmoud al-Zubi, Prime Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic, received a delegation representing the seminar organisers and participants. During the meeting, the Prime Minister stressed the concern of the host country for one of the most important recommendations, which calls for the establishment of an international training center in Damascus on arabesque in the crafts of the Muslim world, and his country's readiness to provide all the necessary moral and material facilities to implement this project.

Recommendations of the seminar include the following

1-Creation of Awareness and Educating the Society: Our aim is to call attention, to arouse interest and to encourage the need to cherish handicrafts, to do all we can to preserve and to foster them, for they have occupied such a major role in our civilization. They bear an exquisite art form, they occupy a sublime role, and represent a precious and rare aesthetic value.

2-Tradition and Modernity: To find one's roots is a national and a cultural necessity. In order to protect our cultural identity, in this era of international opening up of countries to technology and urbanism on all levels and in all fields, we should not be mere imitators of Western art. The differentiating features between the various civilizations in all their aspects tend to disappear in front of this incursion. The time element and the striving toward rapid world development has made us lose some traditional values for some imported ones that are threatening our heritage. The seriousness of the situation should lead us to the re-evaluation of our distinctive features and cultural identity in all the fields, to reject all that which is foreign to our culture and all that clashes with our religion and traditions. We must work as hard as possible to protect our traditional heritage, transmitted from one generation to the next in order, and its development, to rediscover the traditions and customs that differentiate us from other cultures and countries.

3-Government and Patronage: Our duty is to help the artists safeguard the craftsmanship and expertise inherited by the craftsmen in order to put forth beautiful works of art. The help of the government should be comprehensive, support the artists in their creativity, in their artistic expertise and in the transmission of their knowledge from one generation to the next in order to realize this artistic continuity between past and present. A national training centre should be established in Damascus for decorative arts. The centre would also patronize and help the artists in this field by providing them the necessary techniques, the required raw material, and offering them opportunities for the exhibition of their works.

4-Design and Islamic Ornaments: Revival and Re-use of Traditional Designs; Call for encouraging and reviving the continuity of the contribution of Arabesque in Crafts through ages in order to preserve its traditional forms, in a way of providing a rich reference for the resources to be used by contemporary craftspeople.

To define the technical fields that reflect the spirit of Islamic heritage and attempt to benefit from Islamic art, and at the same time, to emphasize the necessity for setting up programs and taking measures which aim to ensure creativity, research and organizing a system of crafts qualification.

5-Education and Training: To reactivate the role of Arabesque artisans who are the proper tool for the contemporary original product through: Research, authentication of the sciences of Islamic ornamentation and education by distributing efforts among Colleges, Universities, Research Centers and the projects of the students who have specialized studies. Design, promotion and innovation aiming to tie the crafted product with its actual intended function, in a framework of cost economics for different products in a way to introduce a developed product in which the factors of quality and variety are satisfied, hence, achieving a range that can meet all levels of purchasing abilities. Inviting consultant offices to educate and train its staff and utilize the computer to help craftsman and artist to save time, perfect their crafts and control their quality.

6-Marketing, Future Prospects: Emphasize the increase of the components of hand-crafted products in a way to satisfy the different needs of price choices that appeals to different purchasing powers. It is worth noting here that the development of the production stage must be accompanied by efficient systems of quality and cost control. It may require professional training. Well formulated promotional standards to be set-up by educating the society about the importance and the beauty of Arabesque craft of the Muslim world. Identifying the market, the intended client, his purchasing-power, determining the specifications of the required product, its price range, desired quality and ways of suitable displays. Studying the financers' market aiming at gathering resources for production through preparation of convincing financial and marketing studies for potential financing bodies. Studying the competitive market aiming at stimulating different buying powers, nature of the competitive products, their strengths and weaknesses, their prices, cost of their components, production cost, possible alternatives, etc., where artisans and artists could be educated to learn to use what suits them and maintain the quality and authenticity of their products, while trying to decrease the cost of production, and increase the value-added of their products. Studying the legal, customs and taxation systems with the aim at maintaining the product's price range by eliminating possible financial obstacles as traditional crafts today enjoy special tax and customs exemption in some countries, as this could be utilized to introduce and exchange these crafts between Muslim nations.

7-Research and Documentation: Call for encouraging research in the field of Arabesque crafts, and for its documenting and indexing through the establishment of a data bank about the information and designs available in Islamic Arabesque and then having it available for the services of an international training center for Arabesque as an important reference for craftspeople, researchers and trainees in this field.

8-Directory of Arabesque Artisans of the Muslim World: This list has not been compiled yet. It should include hundreds of names in all fields of creativity in Arabesque in a way that will serve researchers, architects, craftspeople and artists as well as enabling them to learn about the different aspects of these arts in various countries.

9-Inter-Regional Program for Craft Development: Appreciating the efforts of IRCICA, UNESCO and UNIDO in the field of crafts development, the seminar called the three bodies to cooperate among themselves along with the concerned authorities in OIC countries for launching an inter-regional program for the development of decorative Islamic Crafts. Papers of the seminar were published under the title Arabesque in the Crafts of the Muslim World: Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Prospects of Development of Traditional Crafts in the Muslim World [Arabesque].