Playing with Traditions in Clay

Introducing Noora Al Melhim, a Qatari interdisciplinary artist who has collaborated with FROMM. to create cultural experiences through interventions in clay.

Noora Al Melhim loves clay: “Clay is my material, clay is limitless, and it has powerful elasticity”.

Noora Al Melhim is a Qatari interdisciplinary designer who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUarts Qatar) School of Arts with a master’s degree in design studies and a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. Al Melhim works as a three-dimensional graphics specialist at Qatar University and a clay lab consultant at the Liwan design programme. But most importantly, she is now a designer collaborating with FROMM., taking part in a comprehensive design journey, starting from a sketch to a real‑life product.

She was selected along with three other MFA design graduates from VCUarts Qatar to be a part of the prestigious FROMM. design team.

“After a rigorous process of coming up with ideas then presenting and prototyping them, my design was selected to be completed with FROMM.,” says Al Melhim about her initiation into FROMM.

Working with clay is a work of joy for Al Melhami.

SCALE meets her to know about her design journey before and with FROMM.

SCALE: Tell us about your career as an artist/designer in Qatar?

Al Melhim: Going back in time, art came naturally to me from a young age and I was good at it. When I was a child, I used to make my own dolls and play with clay. When I entered VCUarts Qatar, I gravitated towards creating 3D objects. To create these 3D objects, I explored different materials, and when I stumbled on clay, I knew it was special. It was special in a way that it is personal and connected to whoever is shaping it. Clay is my material, clay is limitless, and it has powerful elasticity. Clay has a rich cultural value and its applications have been adapted through cultures. It has provided our society with endless fascinating applications that will endure beyond our lifetime.

My design process is simultaneously rooted in learning from the past whilst exploring contemporary and novel materials, fabrication methods, and other related media defined by tradition and sustainability.

My research involves making and prototyping using analog and digital media. My work explores regional crafts and cultural experiences that are applied using a multidisciplinary approach for creating innovative and sustainable interventions. I have taken workshops in pottery at Liwan, VCUarts Qatar, and Heenat Salma and participated in many international design workshops in Italy, South Korea, England, and Kuwait.

My work has been showcased at the Emerging Talents from Qatar, MAISON&OBJET Tradeshow, Paris, France (2020), Anderson Gallery, Richmond, USA (2019), Contemporary Art Qatar Exhibition: The Moving Postcards, Berlin (2018), Ceramic Incense Burners, Tiles, Design Days, Dubai, UAE (2017).

The process of making; with FROMM in factories in Turkey.

SCALE: Tell us about your design process with FROMM. And how was the overall experience?

Al Melhim: I was blessed to be a part of such a dynamic and progressive environment. FROMM. gave me the opportunity to bring my design concept to reality. The FROMM. team was involved in the entire development process; designing, prototyping, and production. I gained a broader understanding of how design can turn into an actual project. I’d like to acknowledge this design company for their continuous efforts in supporting local talent and trying to establish an organic connection between local design and global communities. FROMM. is an opportunity to be in a surrounded with great designers.

Following the process of clay firing.

Their support is in the form of first-hand involvement with the design. They took me on a trip to supervise the production of the collection with them. We went to Turkey and I was thrilled with the work there and how the production process was in organised dynamic environments. They let me critique and give recommendations to modify the first produced pieces.

The Wanas Collection by FROMM.

SCALE: How did the Wanas collection come to be? And what is the story behind it?

Al Melhim: The story started with the idea of Majlis. I wanted something that embodies the rich culture of Qatari Majlis while being modern and contemporary. Majlis is an integral part of the Qatari heritage and identity. It has a primary role in educating and raising generations to face life. The Majlis is the human school that contributes to building generations and produces mature and conscious minds who serve their countries and societies. As Majlis spaces are open to all age groups, knowledge is mostly transmitted informally as children accompany community members on their visits. Through observing elders in the Majlis, young people learn the ethics of community through dialogue, and listening skills, and respect for the opinions of others. Majlis has its own rituals that are transmitted from generation to generation. Hospitality is considered a big part of Islamic and Arabic culture. Houses are always open to friends, family, and neighbours. Rituals begin by welcoming the guest with oud, drinking Arabic coffee, and serving all types of traditional sweets. Those actions are characterised by a special ritual of drinking coffee, the guest shakes the cup in a certain way, and tea is served in the session as well as dates, oud, coffee, and dates.

The collection is inspired by the local heritage keeping in mind sustainable material selection and production methods. A mélange between heritage and contemporary through using timeless design combined with Arabic quotes that characteristically convey a harmonious quality. The design has Arabic kuffi calligraphy embossed on the surface reflects the essence of the Arabic culture.

.إن غبت لم ألق إنساناً يؤنسني وإن حضرت فكل الناس قد حضروا.. – ابن زيدون

“When you are absent, I cannot be consoled, but when you appear, all my troubles fly away, as if I have the whole humanity by my side.”  – Ibin Zidon

This Arabic quote is embossed on the surface of the designed pieces using Kufic because of its beauty and uniqueness that reflects the essence of our culture.

SCALE: How satisfied are you as a Doha-based designer?

Al Melhim: Qatar is all about innovation and education, and I certainly want to contribute to research and advancement in the fields of art and design in Qatar. There are some design opportunities in Doha such as M7, Studio7, Liwan and I hope that they will continue to contribute to the design community. There are some challenges as the design is still new and unexplored. However, I feel this provides the perfect opportunity to stand out as a designer.

SCALE: What else would you like to see for Doha’s design sector in the future?

Al Melhim: I would like to see more designers, more concepts, and outstanding ideas that makes us admire the beautiful works of designers from Qatar. I want to see more innovative design concepts that are clever and backed by research related to human perception. I want to see solutions through design. I also would like to see meaningful designs that are connected to our culture and identity. Moreover, I would like to be connected to more artists and designers, to be inspired and motivated to move forward and share ideas and thoughts for improvement. I am looking forward to collaborative projects to gather ideas and concepts that eventually will turn into reality. I want to see competition and I want to see great ideas from talented designers and I want it all to come together in Doha so that we are inspired by it.