Monday, November 23, 2020

A Mosaic of influences moulds together into a distinct Palestinian craft

By Eli Lillis - September 27, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [culture] [Nablus]

Sitting innocuously in downtown Nablus, a dusty workshop caked with layers upon layers of dried cement from countless tiles houses a few peculiar looking archaic presses with French markings.

This is the last remaining producer of the almost extinct craft of traditional Palestinian tiles.
Opening in 1916, the Aslan Tile Factory has now been operated by five generations of the Aslan family.
Metal casts, called formats, are traditional patterns that are left unchanged. However different formats and colour schemes are chosen by the customer to make a unique product.
It’s influence can be found throughout Palestine, Israel and beyond.

The craft, which originated in 19th century France and was distributed through its many colonies, found its way to Nablus when it was a trade partner with French occupied Syria.
However, since then, all productions there have stopped and according to Anan Aslan, who took over management from his father, this is the only operation left in the Middle East.
Presses imported from France decades ago are still in use today.
This once popular and mainstream product was in its heyday during the 1930s, but has since seen a decline after cheaper, mass produced tiles became an option in the late 1980’s.
The operation is now run as a bespoke business, and customers choose which colours and patterns to order.
Coloured pigments, imported from Germany, are poured into the casts to produce the patterns.
The tiles are known for their longevity and durability, due to the patterns being made with coloured cement throughout the tile rather than a simple glaze on pattern on top.
This leads to a unique aging and aesthetic, something else the tiles are renowned for.
Distinctly French floral motiffs evolved over the ages, infused with Moroccan geometric patterns to create a new style.
The French craft eventually became distinctly Palestinian.
Patterns and colours changed over time, borrowing from Moroccan and Syrian designs and amalgamating them into something original.
As did the process.
Anan hand sifts a layer of fine cement onto the design. After a layer of more dense cement, the tile is pressed down to about half its original thickness, making the tiles durable and heavy.
Aslan has modified the machines from their original design. The presses used to be completely manual, operated by spinning an arm with a large iron ball on the end which would rotate and compress the tile.
This design was both dangerous and inefficient in its use of space.
Anan Aslan considers the craft to now be distinctly Palestinian and an important cultural heritage.
Anan Aslan now runs Aslan Tiles, shoulder to shoulder with his son and his father.
Business is good, as people turn back to this craft for its cultural heritage. What was once a necessary building component has transformed into a prestigious traditional indicator.
Tiles randomly decorate almost every available space, creating a mosaic of the entire factory.
With business constant, Aslan is confident with the future of this Palestinian craft. He’s certain a 6th generation of Aslan will continue this tradition.

Lead image: Anan's father poses near a wall lined with different tiles. Due to the method of production, the tiles are known to become more beautiful with age, with scuffs, chips and time becoming part of the design.


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