Latifa Sayadi was born to a German mother and a Tunisian father in the ancient city of Carthage.
Her childhood spans from Africa to Europe, back and forth, leading to a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. Her first encounters with art took place on archaeological sites, assisting her father, a historian when he was digging out Roman mosaics.
An artist blacksmith by formation, when asked why she chose to work with steel, Latifa Sayadi’s answer comes with a smile: “It is as hard as life, and to be able to soften and transform it, seemed like a magical challenge.“
Using ancient forging techniques, she envisages personal, contemporary mythology, a magical mix of northern snow, and Mediterranean salt. A nonconformist way of transforming white ingredients into a monochrome, black sculpture.
Growing up in a world of contrasts led her to a love of the unknown, the unexplored and the obscure.
Carrying traces of fire, sweat, and noise, her work can make a first-time visitor feel like “leaving the exhibition punch-drunk/ knocked unconscious, followed by a sensation of ease, oxygenating and flattering like after a massage with silk gloves.“ S.C. La Presse, 06.01.13
Her work is born out of the fire, an abstraction of the title. She stretches it ironically until it reaches the final expression, purged by the fire.
With a native German educational background, Latifa Sayadi also masters several languages: French, English, Italian, and Portuguese. This traveling between languages also nourished her taste for words of play and her ironical spirit, visible in the titles of her works.
Her conceptional work is inspired by the fashion of war based on invisible mass manipulation.
Instead of wasting time with debates about women doing “a men’s work”, in 2013 she published the first coffee-table book about women blacksmiths (her work included). Before this she also produced a short documentary about four of her female colleagues.
Recently, 2019, she was invited by the World Craft Council to exhibit in Kuwait.
She received her first award by the German Handwerkskammer of Berlin.
As part of her second award she was commissioned to create a public sculpture in Vittorio Veneto, Italy, based on her prizewinning-design.
The National Collection of the Tunisian Ministry of Culture also holds some of her works.
She currently lives and works in between a small village in the mountains of central Portugal and Tunis.
When did you begin creating art and how did you get started?
Latifa: My first encounters with art go back to digging out mosaics during my childhood years. I did my baccalaureate in the Design Department, where I focused on print. I started my apprenticeship in Berlin, Germany and later on went to the Hereford College of Art to do another 8 months of training. From there on, it was only a question of time before starting to do sculpture.
What is the message you are trying to give with your art?
Latifa: It is a bit like storytelling, the title gives a hint, but everyone is free to bring their own association to it. It is like a silent post: when you finally hear the story it has already changed as many times as it was told. The message, if there is one, is to use your own brain instead of jumping on bandwagons.
What is the process from start to final artwork, do you envision it from the beginning or is it a different process?
Latifa: That depends, but for sure I envisage the sculpture and its title before starting the actual blacksmithing work. I do a lot of scribbles just for my memory. And from there I go into the technical possibilities. Then, after buying the material I need, I start working in the smithy.
For the sculpture “Danser Devant le buffet” in Vittorio Veneto, Italy it was a bit different. After winning the competition with my idea, I had to work with a group of people to realize my sculpture. But first a 3D design was needed to get the approval of the city council. Then I went on-site and we produced the sculpture, each person doing a part of it. It was wonderful to work with well-trained artist blacksmiths from Italy.
And with special commissions, it is again different, as they are mainly for private clients. To give an example: a client contacted me for a well cover, he wanted to maintain the inner technical parts of the well and also have something where his kids could climb on. After knowing his budget I did some sketches and we decided on the final design together.
How has traveling across the Mediterranean, and moving from one place to another influenced your art?
Latifa: Growing up with a German mother and a Tunisian father in times before the Internet has taught me to look deeper at things since what was wrong in one place might turn right in the other. This means that I am not thinking in a digital way, zero or one, right or wrong. My way is analog, where you have all the beautiful greys, turning life in a colorful monochrome.
Can you tell us a bit more about ancient techniques you’ve mastered and used in your art?
Latifa: I am a trained artist blacksmith, which means that I use the four elements – fire, earth, air, and water – to transform one piece of metal, opposed to a metal worker, who cuts and welds material. My pieces carry the spirit of raising through the fire, like the phoenix.
For example, using a 2 cm quarter to forge a spoon out of it. That makes blacksmithing a resource-efficient craft, a metalworker puts it into the trash.
Do you have a real-life situation that inspired your artwork?
Latifa: In 2012 I was about to set up my first solo show in Tunis. In that year Islamists entered a Tunisian art fair, destroyed pieces of art, and sent death threats to some of the artists. This made me reconsider my view on art, but also on Germany, where I lived at that moment. A third of the death threats were sent from Germany.
Thus I came up with the idea to do etchings. These works I could then take in my luggage into Tunisia.
But in the end there was no problem with bringing the sculptures into the country and exhibiting them alongside my new etchings.
What artists influenced you the most and why?
Latifa: Mainly artists doing their own work, instead of becoming managers for their art.
I saw too many artists ordering stuff in metal workshops, not having the technical skills to do their own pieces, quite ridiculous posers. I am influenced by people who challenge me,… And they are not necessarily artists, although some are.
Yes, there are artist blacksmiths whose work I love, but all this goes back to the times following WWII when there was a handful of blacksmiths in Germany trying out new techniques, and styles. Without them, the craft would have died or stayed limited to scrolls.
Can you tell us more about coffee-table book about women blacksmiths that you’ve released in 2013?
Latifa: When I released “Striking Women – mild as steel” with the Blue Moon Press I was really annoyed when asked if it wasn’t special for a woman to be an artist blacksmith, and by the suggestion that something had to be done. My idea was to show the brilliant work of many female blacksmiths from around the world. I divided the book into sections, such as architecture, sculpture, furniture, Damascus steel, etc. I find it a good inspiration for anyone who wants to see and purchase work done by a blacksmith.
I am not into this modern feminism, demanding special treats, asking for equal rights, and ignoring equal responsibilities. I preferred to publish a book instead of getting stuck in endless discussions.
If you want to acquire a signed copy of the book, please get in touch with me with a private message on Instagram or through my website.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Latifa: There are lots of different ways: to participate in competitions, exhibitions, symposiums, to have open days in the studio, print, internet,…
Are there any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about (or canceled due to the Covid-19 situation)?
Latifa: I was invited to Tomsk, in Siberia, to do public work for a park this summer, which I would have loved to do, but unfortunately now it got canceled. This year I was also going to set up a permanent sculpture outside a Tunisian art gallery; we had agreed on the design already, and I still hope it will happen, just later…
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Latifa: We seem to be so busy labeling things the right way: design, craft, art, etc. This reminds me of divide et impera. On the other hand, I also sense a certain egalitarian going on. It would be better to let diversity be, instead of producing it artificially. Here in Portugal, for example, there are 68 different sorts of accommodations, and if you just look for a bed for the night It can turn into a nightmare.
What are your plans for the future?
Latifa: I plan to move my atelier, as this winter it started to rain inside and the owner doesn’t do anything about it. To do so with heavy-duty machines,…
I also hope that I will be able to offer some basic blacksmithing courses again this summer.
And I want to create! I noticed that during the last years I’ve been doing a lot of sitting furniture. Which also fits the present restrictions, where home turns into waiting rooms.
To find out more about Latifa and her art please check: