UT Geography doctoral candidate Joomi Lee has been awarded the Mark Tessler Graduate Student Prize from the American Institute for Maghrib Studies for her paper, The End of Local Craftsmanship: A Case Study of Sale’s Disappearing Artisans. The award includes a cash prize, and the paper will be submitted for publication in The Journal of North African Studies. Congratulations to Joomi! Abstract below.
Invocation of tradition’ is a popular discourse and practice in the on-going urban renewal of Islamic cities of the Arab world. Much effort is being put into the rehabilitation of the visual and tangible forms of cultural heritage over the course of the renewal. The rehabilitated architectural forms have become an important ingredient in the urban ‘mis-en-scene’, befitting the image of a modern Islamic city. With a case study of the Bouregreg project in Morocco, this paper criticizes this contemporary Arab urban renewal’s obsession with creating an urban spectacle underlying the role of tangible forms of tradition. We argues that certain categories of tradition are actually privileged in the Project’s stated strategic agenda of “revival of the glorious past” of the Bouregreg River, consequently resulting in structural negligence of others, particularly intangible ones such as local artisanship. In this inquiry, we are particularly attentive to the historical dynamics of the neighboring cities of Rabat and Salé in the River Valley. Salé, once described as ‘a city of high Islamic civilization’ comparable to Fez during the medieval age, has since French colonial rule descended to the status of a mere ‘cite-dortoir’ for Rabat. We argue that though the narrative of ‘revitalization of Salé’ is inscribed in the Project’s agenda of cultural revival, Salé’s artisans – both individuals and communities – are still caught up in a multifaceted trap of structural negligence, leaving many the city’s traditional craftsmanship out of the proposed urban renewal which is now on the verge of extinction.