The Clay Ladies of Sejnan : interview with Romdhana a Tunisian female artisan
Sejnan is a small rural village situated in the north of Tunisia. This rural town is not only famous for its vast green forests but also for its skilled clay ladies, who practice their crafts for thousands of years using the same ancient techniques.
To begin with, the ancestral techniques of molding, heating and decorating the clay are primitive. Indeed, the women use a traditional underground oven and the cows waste for heating the clay. In addition, they decorate their handicrafts with lines, dots, triangle, crosses and other different patterns that are inspired of the Amazigh style, women artisans of Sejnan color their patterns with red and black ocher. In addition, their work is 100% made manual which gives a human stamp to the artwork.
We interviewed “Romdhana”, who is a female local artisan from Sejnan to answer questions involving her experience with artistic handicrafts from clay.
Interviewer: What are the characteristics of Sejnan?
Romdhana: Sejnan is famous for her vast forests, beaches and traditional handicrafts such as artisanal products made of clay and weaving traditional rugs (Margoum).
Interviewer: Would you describe briefly the process of making these clay handicrafts?
Romdhana: The process of making these handicrafts takes a lot of time, we extract the clay from the mountain. We modelate the clay with our hands to different shapes such as horses, jars and bowls. Then we let it dry in the sun. Afterwards, we polish it with seashells. Later, we heat it in a traditional oven. Once the pieces harden, we decorate it using natural colors such as red ocher that is extracted from red clay and black color extracted from mastic tree.
Interviewer: How many pieces you make in a day?
Romdhana: I just modelate ten small pieces in a day, the shapes vary from fish, cat, turtle…
Interviewer: Do you know the meaning of these symbols you draw in the clay handicrafts?
Romdhana: The patterns are all inherited from the passing generations.
Interviewer: How long have you been in the clay world ?
Romdhana: I have been making these products for the last thirty years. In fact, there are over sixty women, who are working in the handicrafts..
Interviewer: What are the most demanded Sejnan pottery products ?
Romdhana: Most demanded traditional handmade items are jars to store pickled olives, statues of cats, turtles, fish, dolls…
Interviewer: Do you find difficulties in promoting your products in local markets?
Romdhana: Before the revolution, the tourists used to visit Sejnan to buy these traditional handicrafts; however, they rarely visit the village in post-revolution Tunisia. Due to this issue, women find a trouble in selling the products for the lack of marketing in local or international markets. In fact, we only have the chance occasionally to sell our products in decoration stand expo of Kram in Tunis.
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