In Conversation With: Nessma Djouhri, Ceramic Artist and Founder of Lutum.
Nessma Djouhri is a 25-year-old Algerian ceramic artist based in Dubai, she handcrafts her beautiful objects combining minimalism and tradition. After completing her arts degree in Goldsmiths University and continuing to work in London, she then returned to Dubai to create her own artistic vision called Lutum.
SU: Hello Nessma, we are glad to have you featured on Social Unseen! We love your story and would be delighted to know more about your journey until now;
Can you tell us more about your educational background? How did you gradually get involved in ceramic art?
ND: Hello! Thank you for featuring me on your platform. I look forward to seeing what Social Unseen will share of the creatives in the MENA region. I pursued a degree in Fine Arts & Art History at Goldsmiths, where developing an arts practise was parallel to learning about visual culture. In doing that, I was immediately drawn to the history of objects. A trip to Algiers in 2015 to an empty museum was a turning point for my practise as I began sculpting with clay with the intention of proposing relics that could have been in that museum – which ironically became the relic itself-. Imagining and renewing history with one of the oldest materials really excited me.
SU: Being a business owner is a huge step forward in anyone’s career. How did you come up with the concept of Lutum? Did you face any struggles along the way or was it a smooth process?
ND: I worked at an art gallery in London for a while, learning about art dealing. Upon my return to Dubai, I found myself drawn to rekindling my relationship with clay. I initially did not intend to start a business with this, however I found a gap in ceramics that were objets d’art but also quite functional, and so began Lutum.
Like with any start-up, I of course faced and continue to face some struggles; the main one being introducing people to the language of ceramics. People didn’t always understand and value this alternative status that Lutum brings to ceramic homeware. Being an artist, it can also be quite difficult to be comfortable in selling work. I do however have my sister to thank, as she handles the ‘commercial’ aspect of the business.
I always treat my pieces as bodies, serving different functions in clients’ homes. I am always so intrigued by ceramics you find in museums that outlived their people.
SU: The type of objects you design, such as tableware and stand-alone pieces represent a considerable part of people’s everyday lives. How do you feel when you see your creations at your clients’ homes?
ND: I always treat my pieces as bodies, serving different functions in clients’ homes. I am always so intrigued by ceramics you find in museums that outlived their people. Despite their fragilities, I too hope my pieces grow old with those who own them. I also feel honoured in knowing that my pieces are immersed in people’s intimate spaces and moments at home. Also, I like how fragmented the narratives in my pieces become as they part ways from me to those who wished to have them, and in turn new stories interweave to these objects.
SU: What is the purpose behind the sliced plates you created? How did you come up with this idea?
ND: It was entirely spontaneous, a combination of accident & experiment. I had made a set of plates which I felt were no good, but I also don’t like wasting my materials. On a rather playful whim, I purposely broke the plates in half and repurposed them. Because of their flatness I figured they would be of good use on a table, an epiphany I had that tableware doesn’t need to be so conventional.
SU: The original shapes you create seem to be the result of several tests while experimenting with different shapes and colours. During that process, do you put your thoughts aside and let go, or is it the result of a lot of reflection?
ND: That is a tough question. Some days I come into the studio and I’m not thinking too much and see where the clay and I go, and some days I’m thinking way too much and that paralyses my entire day. So, I cannot say it is one or the other, but I can describe my process as one that fully embraces trial and error. I don’t plan too much, but I make a lot of different things, and so in that plenitude, not so good work turns into tests and better work become final pieces.
I can describe my process as one that fully embraces trial and error. I don’t plan too much, but I make a lot of different things,
SU: We appreciate your taste in photography, you seem to truly take your time to enhance your creations in appealing ways. Do you also have a photography studio that allows you to have such seamless neutral backgrounds and nice lightings?
ND: Thank you! Photographing work for most artists is as crucial as producing, something I have learnt quite late in life. Not only are we documenting our work, our visions and ideas of the time but also trying to highlight the best moment of that work. I do not have a photography studio, which led me to get quite crafty with setting up shoots. Less is more, so large sheets of neutral fabrics, canvas & paper are quite simple, but powerful tools for creating atmosphere. As for lighting, sunlight is my best friend, and a touch of photoshop. I always try to bear in mind that shoots are great opportunities for bringing my objects to life.
SU: We are currently facing a quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Did that affect your business’ flow in any way?
ND: It did massively, I operate from a communal ceramic studio which means I do not own a kiln, which is a very important piece of equipment, without it I cannot fire my pieces, however I am still building work at home. That said, it’s given me time to realign my priorities for Lutum and has given me the space to imagine ceramics in different exciting ways.
SU: Last but not least : What is the next step for you? How are you planning the future of Lutum?
ND: I would really like to scale up the size of my work. I have intermittently experimented with larger pieces which I would love for them to have a more prominent presence in retail spaces. I’m also planning to have an independent studio for Lutum someday.
Images from @lutum.ceramics