Moulding Tradition by Formafantasma

It sounds like the beginning of an off-color joke: Did you hear the one about the Moor and the Sicilian? But for Moulding Tradition, Formafantasma’s Design Academy Eindhoven thesis project, the Italian-born, Eindhoven-based duo did in fact look to a centuries-old conflict between Sicily and the North Africans who once conquered the tiny island and who now arrive there in droves, seeking refuge.

It all started on a trip to Sicily, the island 26-year-old Andrea Trimarchi calls home (Simone Farresin, 29, grew up in a town close to Venice, and the two met during an earlier design education in Florence.) They were visiting Caltagirone, a small city known for its majolica ceramics. The two became fascinated by the local culture’s blithe attitude toward teste di moro, a ceramic vase depicting the face of an Arab wearing turbans and crowns, its lips exaggerated and its face mustachioed. Despite its implications, the vase is cherished as a souvenir and artifact in many Sicilian households.

For their thesis, Trimarchi and Farresin set out to rethink the teste di moro and other traditional ceramic vessels. To give the pieces a more modern context, they centered the narrative around illegal immigration; after all, they point out, “the same people who once occupied Sicily, bringing their culture and the material majolica, are returning not as conquerors, but as immigrants.” Each item in the collection speaks to some aspect of the immigrant experience — wine bottles, for example, to recall the fruit in Sicily harvested by migrants, and bowls to represent the boats conveying refugees across the Mediterranean.

The result is a collection of five smooth ceramic pieces decorated with photographs, tools, tags, and ribbons and tile printed with immigration data. Formafantasma initially meant for the collection to address the role craft plays in perpetuating tradition, and the way it makes us forget to question the origin of things. But by the end of the project, they’d begun to wonder if their collection could help create new traditions. They returned to Sicily, where they asked a folk group — of which Trimarchi was once a part — to use their flask as a wind instrument and prop in a performance of “Arabs in Palermo,” a traditional folk song referring to the 10th-century African invasion. Click here to view the eerie video they produced, and keep reading to learn more about the making of Moulding Tradition.