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New Year’s Gifts from Samrawit

When looking for gifts to loved ones, Samrawit and her peers have options for you.

Annually, under the umbrella of the National Union of Eritrean Women, a group of female artisans display their works under the shade of the Ministry of Education building at Harenet Avenue. Whether you buy something or not, the street fair is open for onlookers. Adding glam to the overall New Year’s atmosphere in town this specific fair is there to liven the festive season. Meet Samrawit Anday, 26, and a professional artisan who’s been presenting her works there, undoubtedly elsewhere as well, for the past five years and more. Q&A focuses on her journey as an artisan to give our readers an insight into what it is like to be a young female craftsperson in Eritrea.

  • Thank you! How long have you been into artistry?

For as long as I can remember; however, I hadn’t come out of my shell until 2013 when I joined the antipollution campaign.

  • Anti-pollution campaign? What was that?

In 2013 young Eritrean artists came together to paint the world’s longest painting protesting pollution and hoping for a batter space for the young to live in. The painting was more seven kilometers long and the theme was “pollution free world”. It set a new Guiness Record.

  • That is, indeed, interesting. How exactly did that put you “out of your shell”?

I felt encouraged to put my paintings out for the public to see. Moreover, working with young people of my age specifically for that project made me realize that I wasn’t alone out there, so I had nothing to feel shy about. After that I worked on enhancing my knowledge by taking courses not only for painting but also for poetry and clay art crafts. Soon after, I took part in a joint exhibition with other artists, and the results I had there were definite motivations for me to be who I am today as an artist.

  • Speaking about education, you did widen your exposure by taking courses in India as well, didn’t you?

I did. In Eritrea when you join either the youth union or the women’s union, it is a lot easier in terms of exposure, legal matters and support of different kinds. The artist you become is something that you’ll have to work for; but there do exist different schemes planned at assisting talents. That being said, I am a member of a group of women artists that work under the umbrella of the National Union of Eritrean Women. I have done quite a lot along that group organizing exhibitions on different occasions and attending training courses and other platforms where we exchange ideas. My scholarship was part and parcel of the group’s mission to encourage us, women artists. The irony is that I went to India to learn about artistry related to bamboo. However, I was mesmerized by the hundreds of other crafts particular to India. Arts, colors, linens and more make India so beautiful when talking about the artistic culture people have. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized so much so I took note of a big part of what I saw, one of which was paper quelling. Once I came back home I didn’t do much with bamboo but practised paper quelling. Luckily, one of my favorite colleagues in the team, and also the team leader, Nigsti Ghebremeskel, was aquatinted with an artist from Norway and was lucky enough to have learned some skills from him. Later on, with a little bit of imagination and a touch of art, I developed that into something I can call my own.

  • In fact, I wanted to come to this point; to the exact point that makes you different from a big part of the local artists. You dropped painting and now you are mainly known for handcrafts that are branded by your palate. Tell us a bit more please.

I can’t say I completely dropped painting but it is, indeed, true that I haven’t been as active as I used to be. Nowadays I am vigorously working on handcrafts of different kinds and purposes. I make key chains, jewelries, fridge magnets and other handcrafts. I dedicate my time to it and it is a very demanding job but also very rewarding when I see the final products being loved by people of all ages.

  • Who are your customers?

I can say people of all ages but normally young ones as they fancy accessories a lot.

  • And your inspirations would be…

Trends. I am inspired by trends. I look at people: what they wear and what they carry and then I think of accentuating their look. I love to accessorize typical and trendy looks. So my works are a representation of our tradition and our society in present day. During exhibitions and fairs people approach me with their own designs and ideas as well. That is also something I get inspiration from.

  • You say handcraft is not easy and, rightfully so, it does take time and needs ample intuition. Does the public appreciate your efforts?

Some do some don’t. People enjoy widow shopping handcrafts. Like the good art people are captivated by the details that are poured to our works. But generally speaking people tend to buy industrial goods. They come in plastic and they are a lot cheaper. Therefore, I’d like to ask the public to give credit to our handcrafts. They are unique and of good quality. You won’t see hundreds of the same key chains or whatever product. Uniqueness has a beauty of its own. Moreover, the raw material we normally use is recycled. That by itself is more than a good reason to acquire homemade handcrafts rather than buying imported goods.

  • What are the challenges you face besides being occasionally out-marketed by imported goods?

The issue of patent law is quite hindering. It is hard to label your own product and keep it intact for long. You’ll see imitations being produced in no time. Still, that is not a threat to me personally as those who copy can’t keep producing the product for long. That being said, if I were to put myself in the shoes of a customer I would hate to see the same handcraft in different shops. The feeling of redundancy is rather exasperating, especially when talking about handcrafts. If they are recurrent they are not unique anymore and have the industrial appearance and that is absolutely not good. This is the biggest challenge I face regularly.

  • Do you have any idea about how to tackle this challenge?

I wish I did but I don’t. This is something that needs to be regulated by legal instruments and on top of that I wish people could abide by values and refrain from stealing other’s ideas.

  • Care to share your future plans?

Yes. The plan is to hold a solo exhibition and if things go well I’d like to open a shop so that people can reach me easily.

  • Anything you’d like to say at the end?

Happy New Year to us all!

  • Thank you!

YOU CAN REACH SAMRAWIT ANDAY at , facebook/samriAcraft , instagram/samriAcraft

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