Plastic Gold may not have won the V&A Jameel Prize 3, but through it, Florie Salnot, the French designer who uses her skills towards social change has gifted the forgotten Saharawi women tools to re-create their, and their community’s identity.
Western Sahara was formerly colonised by Spain and later invaded by Morocco in 1975. After a 16-year war between the latter and the Saharawi national liberation movement (Polisario Front) half of the local population (the Saharawis) was forced to flee to South-West Algeria, where they were allowed to establish the Saharawi state-in-exile in refugee camps. Western Sahara is considered non self-governing territory, and the UN has been calling on Morocco to stop its illegal occupation and to organise a referendum for self-determination to fulfill the decolonisation process. Not much has changed for the Saharawi people since.
Florie Salnot developed the Plastic Gold technique to help the displaced community express itself. She talks about the project close to her heart.
“What motivates and inspires me as a designer, is the potential of my discipline and to creativity in general to offer new alternatives. I particularly enjoy working with people and to find a way for them to express their own voice.”
In the Saharawi refugee camps, which now exist for more than 35 years, arts and culture in general are increasingly more vivid. Over the years, they have become an important means for the Saharawis’ peaceful struggle and survival .Arts and culture are now also the focus point of a few organizations working with the Saharawis such as Artifariti in Spain or Sandblast in the UK (Sandblast was the sponsor of the Plastic Gold project).These organisations aim to give the Saharawis the tools to express themselves artistically and to raise awareness about the struggle of the Saharawi people and empower their voices through the arts.
Plastic Gold is essentially a craft technique that I designed to transform discarded plastic bottles into pieces of jewellery. The aim was to find a technique that could be practiced within the barren conditions of the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. The technique uses only hot sand, simple hand tools and some paint. Plastic Gold aims to empower the Saharawis both economically and culturally by enabling them to practice craft activities despite the lack of traditional resources.
“I see the Jameel Prize as a powerful way to challenge common vision on Islamic arts. It promotes its modernity but also enables to show its diversity since it gives opportunity to lesser known communities like the Saharawi to gain more attention.”
The technique that enabled this collaboration and exchange with the Saharawi women in order to stimulate their creative potential and confidence, is to me the most important aspect of the project. More than the jewellery itself. The plastic bottle technique was designed to be an open-source tool: a technique that the Saharawis can use to make their own pieces of jewellery and express themselves. After this, I also worked together with the women on how to use the technique and the tools to create new jewellery with interesting shapes and patterns. To achieve this, we took the traditional Saharawi aesthetic as inspiration. Together we worked at translating the geometrical patterns that were traditionally drawn on leather through the plastic bottle technique.
The preservation of a culture is always of paramount importance for a people but I think this is particularly true for the Saharawis. After having been taken their land, their culture is now one of the only things left to enable them to define their identity.