Caravan Serai is a Persian word where “caravan” means “a group of merchants” and “serai” means “a resting place.” Dotted along the ancient silk routes the Caravan Serais were a resting place for merchants and facilitated the exchange of goods, culture, and information. Caravan Serais are the solemn relics of what can be called the first globalized trading network between Asia and Europe that enabled exchange and co-habitation offering mutual benefit.
The project Caravan Serai was conceived as the culmination of a year-long study conducted to understand the effects of conflict-induced migration on traditional craftsmanship and the important role it can play in refugee integration and social cohesion. The study testifies that traditional crafts as material culture objects have the ability to carry personal and emotional feelings, facilitate interpersonal interactions and manifest both self-identity and social space for its bearers in exile. The traditional know how behind practicing crafts is a living entity and moves with its bearers in times of displacement and migration. This knowledge can be harnessed to provide a living, continuity and build bonds with the host communities. However, in order for artisans to practice, adapt and earn in exile requires a range of intermediaries to facilitate access to market knowledge and linkages, design and equipment, finance and distribution channels etc. Additionally, it poses a more significant challenge in times of migration where cultural contexts, traditional methods, and materials get drastically altered or threatened. How can one define a traditional craft and craftsmen in such changing contexts? Do the materials and equipment used for craft processes have to be traditional, natural or traditionally produced? What if these materials and equipment are not available? Given the social, cultural, and religious significance of crafts for their bearers, what is the scope of design intervention, especially by those who are not the actual bearers of the heritage? Caravan Serai was envisaged to start a conversation around these and many more emerging questions associated with craftsmanship in exile. Carvan Serai is both a metaphor and a common ground to open channels of communication, create perspectives and find alternative solutions by collaborations. The project aspires to transform urban spaces into cubicles of exchange to create a space of encounter for displaced artisans, and locals in Paris.
The first edition of Caravan Serai took place on the May 9th 2019, at L'Arche La Maison De L'Artisanat Solidaire in Paris in collaboration with Make Sense, Paris. Caravan Serai facilitated a dialogue around crafts in exile and changing contexts of craftsmanship due to migration and urbanization through a panel discussion. The panel included Alice Peinado-Design Anthropologist, Khaled Kaka-Social Entrepreneur, Mariette Chapel-Founder Afrika Tiss and Design for Peace, and Neha Lad- Textile Designer. Caravan Serai displayed hand made Mosaic products by Syrian Artisan Faten Alalai and hand woven Persian carpets by Master weaver Karim Ruhullah from Afghanistan. The evening was concluded by a traditional Oud performance by Syrian musician Yamen Mohammad.The first edition of Caravan Serai was attended by people from more than ten different nationalities including Syria, Afghanistan, India, France, Sweden, Mexico, UK, Venezuala, Germany, Netherlands, Sudan, Nigeria, USA, Italy and Korea.
Photography and Videos by Valentina Llorente and Pragya Dokania