From city to city, a travelling yellow sketchbook invites artists to interact and create an interesting collection of artworks within its pages.

 

Founders Sarah Hatahet, Nahla Tabbaa and Lena Kassicieh, each living in a different city, decided to build a collective project called Daftar Asfar that invites artists to collaborate with other artists on the pages of a sketchbook. We interviewed Hatahet, Tabbaa and Kassicieh to learn more about this fun project and how it came into fruition.

 

  1. To start with, tell us more about Daftar Asfar. How did you start the initiative? What were your aims to start such a project? When did it start?

The initiative started after a brief Facebook conversation the three of us had after finding an inspiring sketchbook library based in the US. We felt that this is something that could be implemented in our region and decided to be the ones to begin the movement.

We started having back and forth discussions until we came up with the simple yet impactful idea of having different artists create spreads and interact with each other. The first Daftar Asfar sketch was made in July 2017 by Nahla and soon after, it began to spread amongst our contacts and beyond.

Zain Mahjoub
  1. Tell us about yourselves

Nahla: I am an artist, experience curator and a museum educator. I was born and raised in Amman, Jordan but am currently based in Dubai. I undertook two art degrees in the UK where sketching and journaling was not just a large part of our education but also part of how we formed bonds as fellow artists. I conceived a socially engaged project as part of my thesis called ‘An Urban Reflection’, led the community programme of Sharjah Art Foundation and Sharjah Biennial 13 and have delivered numerous workshops in experimental sculpture, storytelling, installation art and mapping. These experiences have taught me that the spirit of collaboration is magical and being playful is an important part of an artist’s practice and growth – Daftar Asfar has also given me a chance to feel closer to Amman, despite no longer being based back there.

 

Sarah: I am a printmaker by education and currently work as a full time art curator for an art consultancy firm based in North Carolina in the US. I co-founded ‘the studio’ with three of my printmaking friends in Amman, which is a platform for artists and printmakers to produce and exhibit their work. From there I became very involved not only in the process of making art, but also in the art scene in Jordan specifically and the MENA region generally.

Lena: Creation and art have always been such a big part of who I am. Although I did not formally study art in university, I have always been working to connect with artist communities both in Amman and in other cities I have lived in. I completed my master’s in anthropology in Amsterdam, and it was during that time I was so inspired by the community there and how much it nurtures the creative economy and artists/designers/creators in general and I began to think, ‘why don’t we work to develop a scene like that in Jordan, too?’.

Tulip Hazbar intersection with Zain Mahjoub
  1. Why did you start Daftar Asfar? Was is it introduced only to the local art scene?

Daftar Asfar began as an excited conversation between the three of us wanting to start a sketchbook that travels from one artist to another. The eventual idea was to create an exhibition and/or publication and to ultimately invite this surprising and exciting spirit of collaboration into our local art scene with a playful, open ended platform.

 

  1. Where did the name ‘Daftar Asfar’ come from?

While we were in the process of figuring details out about our project, Nahla shared that she had been gifted a yellow sketchbook and we could use that to start the project. From there we played around with name ideas and decided on Daftar Asfar -Yellow Notebook. We also liked that yellow is also often associated with new beginnings and bright ideas.

Muthanna Hussein with Yazan Setabouha intersecting
  1. How many artists have participated so far in this project?

Over 50 artists have participated in Daftar Asfar by artists based in or from the Arab World, but this has also been limited to where the three of us are based. We have featured the works of artists who are based in the Jordan, UAE, UK, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Daftar has also far travelled between London, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi, and Amman.

 

  1. How are the artists chosen? How is the sketchbook passed on to other artists?

Many people ask how the process is done or on what basis the artists are given the sketchbook. One thing leads to the other; one artist passes the sketchbook to another, until the initiative expands and reaches artists living in different continents.

A lot of it has been a snowballing process –– one artist is a friend of one of ours, then they suggest someone else after them and so on. Now that we have been doing this for almost a year, we are also getting people messaging us on Instagram asking to be included, which is really great and exciting to know that we are also getting to know and build a whole network of new artists and followers that even expands into Europe and the US.

Hadil Moufti with myneandyours intersecting
  1. How did artists welcome the idea?

The artists who took part in the project so far have been captivated by the idea – which is an indication of a great start, since the sketchbook is one year old now. There’s such a lively synergy to the experience, knowing you’re part of a project that will travel to different artists who are most likely strangers, and being involved in a network of artists who have such different styles, backgrounds and approaches to creation.

 

  1. Are there categories for the sketches or artists?

The only instruction we leave artists with is that they have one full spread, then two half spreads. So they are collaborating with two individual artists on two pages, then they have two pages to create on their own. We try to ask artists to avoid doing anything that might compromise another artists’ work, but so far, have not had any issues. We don’t want to limit or bound the artists by asking for any particular theme, method, approach or even medium and in fact we have welcomed embroidery, collage, cut outs, prints and more.

Nader Hammouqa with Hashem El Kelesh intersecting
  1. What is Daftar Asfar’s aim?

Nahla: “Daftar Asfar has reminded me of the intrinsic value of art, the necessity to just liberate yourself from audience, context and methodologies and [to] just ‘do’. In a way I want artists to remember that the opportunities are endless, that collaborations are surprising, and to just simply be playful sometimes.”

Sarah: “I want Daftar Asfar to reach artists who deserve publicity but don’t have the platform or lack the confidence to speak about or show their own work. When we post a spread on our platform, we always aim to write a little narrative about the artwork and tag the artist to allow people to interact with the artpiece or sketch.”

Lena: “I would like this project to make art less of a luxury. I want people who didn’t necessarily study in the finest universities or schools of art, who don’t necessarily have a fine arts degree, but nonetheless, gain something from the act of creating and making art, and enjoy pursuing it either professionally or personally.”

  1. What are the future plans of Daftar Asfar?

We have some very exciting plans brewing! Stay tuned!

Wid Al Bayaty with Mehru Khan intersecting
All images courtesy of Daftar Asfar