a photograph of a wooden bas-relief on a wall of an old Cuban woman with a cigar in her mouth, wearing a head scarf and a colourful collared shirt.

Craft and education

An interview with Maïté Mazel

Maria Teresa Natale (opens in new window) (Michael Culture Association / Museu)

In Cetona, a pretty Tuscan village in the province of Siena in Italy, we met Maïté Mazel, director of Citema, which stands for Cité européenne des métiers d'art (= European city of Crafts). Citema is a network of art professionals who work to imagine, redesign, and reinvent models of thinking, living and doing together. With her, we tried to understand how art craftsmanship can contribute to social transformation in the current era.

Maïté, what is the path that led you to the creation of Citema?

I was born in Canada, raised in France, and studied theatre in Paris. I wanted to become an actress. I graduated in history of theatre at Sorbonne University and then I had the opportunity to go to work as a volunteer in Senegal, where I organized cultural activities in schools. It's there that I first came in contact with art craftsmanship. In looking for solutions to develop activities for children, I met local artists and artisans. With them, we redesigned, completely with recycled material, the children's library. It was a wonderful experience.

After that, I went to Namibia to work in the civil service for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I dealt with cultural planning and I organized a residency on artistic craftsmanship, mainly focused on ceramics. I involved Senegalese, French, South African, and Namibian artisans. Everyone spoke a different language, so we had to communicate using signs and body language. This experience inspired me to open a residence centre for artistic craftsmanship in Italy, the country I have always loved. This is how Citema, Cité européenne des métiers d'art, came into existence.

Citema is a European centre for where different art professions can meet and exchange experiences. What do you mean by art professions?

Citema was born as a centre for European artisans. We created a network of artisans, with whom we organised meetings, exhibitions, and workshops. After three years of working with artisans, we realised we wanted to broaden our scope and bring in designers, architects, performance artists and more into the network. Culture is an ecosystem: the definition of artisanship is much broader than 'someone who works with their hands'. This is why we opened up our centre to those who create art with their bodies and minds. To me, this is how I define the art professions: those that create art with their hands, bodies and minds.

Citema is defined as a research project on the theme of social transformation and personal fulfilment. How exactly does this project materialize?

It is not a simple question, and we have been reflecting on it from the beginning. Thinking that an art craftsperson can transform society seemed a purely theoretical assumption at first. In fact, we quickly realized that every time we use our body, we put it back at the centre of society. Therefore an art craftsperson is absolutely involved in social transformation: they use natural or chemical resources in their work, and they must transmit their skills to others in order not to lose their memories and be able to allow transformation.

In concrete terms, art craftspeople participate in social transformation when their hands and body are used. Let's take the example of the potter: how can a potter participate in social transformation? By asking themselves and their environment questions. Let's talk about transforming the environment, for instance. By no longer using lead glazes that pollute the environment or are bad for our health, by limiting the production of waste, and by learning to recycle, we can transform our environment for the better. Then we also need to transmit all these lessons learnt to the new generation. Through Citema we can have potters collaborate with the world of digital designers, academics, and farmers, in order to find concrete solutions for real social transformation together.

How does Citema involve local populations?

At first, we thought it was enough to prepare some regular events and invite everyone to get involvement from our local community. When we participated in a project called "Trans-making", a project on social transformation, we took this a step forward: we wanted to proactively get in touch with people, so we could learn what their sensitivities were and have them influence our work.

We had to merge with them, not let them come to us. We started working together with local farmers, for example. In 2014 we created a collective called “Corriente Compartida”, which includes Spanish, Cuban, French and Italian people. Corriente Compartida means the current that is transmitted because we share the same sensitivities as if we're sharing an electrical current. We started organising meetings, hosted in the houses of the participants, with a focus on highlighting how local communities lived: by producing and consuming local products, by sharing their resources.

Our meetings were held in Spain, France and Italy, always in places where locals would gather, far away from the neighbourhoods where tourists roamed. Improvised activities would spring up, we would start a pottery workshop together or would cook a meal together. This allowed us to experience the local culture much deeper than a tourist would be able to, by conversing with locals and learning about their recipes, traditions and festivals. We take the time to experience these places, in the hope that it will inspire us to create new art and crafts.

How do the creation and visibility of art crafts interact with public spaces, in your opinion?

We would like Citema to be a nomadic space, not bound to local identity, but rather an ethereal space that adapts to the local customs wherever it goes.

We've called this new nomadic space “BicyCommon”. The word Bicy is related to the idea of movement, and Common shows that this is a common good. The idea is to no longer think of an identity necessarily linked to a territory, but of a collective identity.

Public space allows us to detach ourselves from any identity, to leave closed spaces, and propose a sharing of emotions, beauties, actions, and experiences.

This blog was written as part of the CRAFTED project, which aimed to enrich and promote traditional and contemporary crafts.