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Q&A: The Artist

The classic area rug becomes modern artwork in the hands of Spanish designer Nani Marquina. Editor-in-chief Anicka Quin chats with the iconic designer about fair trade, modern design and her newfound love for the West Coast.

When you started your company in 1987, you were working with a highly mechanized process. But you later transitioned to using more traditional techniques from India and Pakistan for making your modern designs. Why?

Nani Marquina  The machines in Spain were really limited with technique and fabric. The only option to create what I had in mind—the design, the colours and textures—was to find another way. The different shapes we design, the different innovations: it’s impossible to innovate with a machine.

 

Your weavers are often based in India, and you have programs in India for school and education. Can you tell me more about the Kala project?

NM  Since the beginning, we’ve collaborated with the Care and Fair organization, which specializes in helping children in India by giving them a percentage of our profits—for building schools and managing schools and financing them. India is part of our company. After many years working there, I thought I had to do something more for the Indian people and the children. That’s why I decided to start the Kala project. I decided to build a school—every trip I was meeting children who were not going to school.

Through Care and Fair, we picked a school and organized a contest with the children, asking them to draw their own rug. One drawing was chosen as the winning one, and we did a rug from it. That’s the Kala project. From every single Kala rug sold, 150 euros go to finance a school. There was one school that was closed because of the financial crisis—it was a school for 450 children. [Care and Fair] chose that school to reopen.

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You recently unveiled a designer collaboration at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) with Milton Glaser.

NM  Milton Glaser was a reference for me as a designer in the ’80s, so it was a big surprise for me that such a famous designer would come to me to do rugs. It was an interesting collaboration because Milton opened all his artwork to me to choose what I liked. The selection was easy, but the production and the conversion from artwork into rugs was challenging. I chose Shakespeare in Africa, the most iconic work from this collection—it’s a beautiful and interesting drawing, but to translate it into a rug is really difficult, because you have to make Shakespeare’s face appear in the rug, playing with a few colours and using different hand-milled techniques. Depending on the colours and the plates, the face of Shakespeare was really primitive. In one prototype, it wasn’t possible to see the face, and in another, it was too strong. The idea was to try to find the right balance.

 

What’s important to you as a designer? What inspires you?

NM  The most important thing is that I observe—it’s my most important source of inspiration. My inspiration is to learn from different cultures and what they are doing. Beauty you can find in nature and travel. Inspiration is a kind of experience you get when you add all of that together. And when you need to design and create, you get back to the big experience, you combine all of these things.

 

This is your first time in Western Canada. What have you observed from your travels here?

NM  It’s all very different from where I live. I was really surprised by the nature here, the trees and the colours, especially in the winter. I was really surprised by the water—we came by train this morning, and the water, the colour, is so different than what we have in Barcelona. I was also surprised by the old trees, the dead trees that lay on the beach—they’re old, but they almost seem to be alive. The great colour of the trees, the sand, it’s so different for me—it’s a totally beautiful palette.

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