Story

Story

From inquisitive beginnings to building bridges between past and present; cultures and design sensibilities.

“You need a heart of stone to work stone” (“Da Karin kar ta da Karin zre pakar de”), said one of Lél’s artisans to its creative director, Meherunnisa Asad. The power and beauty of these words remain with Meherunnisa, who in that moment grasped the connection between the artisan’s words and his craft.

Pietra dura is a craft that requires not only the nimble, cajoling touch of the artisan, but also endless patience and perseverance (the unrelenting heart, consistent as stone).

The art of pietra dura, or stone inlay – also referred to as parchin kari in South Asia – originated out of the ancient Roman opus sectile technique, later finding its revival and development in the hands of the Florentines during the Italian Renaissance of the 16th century. To them, this act of meticulously cutting and fitting stones into intricate and exquisite forms was synonymous with painting – ‘painting in stone’. Within that century, pietra dura spread to Russia, Iran and across the South Asian region, into Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, under the patronage of the Mughals.

In the early 1980s, Farhana Asad found herself mesmerized by a small box that she found in the antique bazaar in the city of Peshawar. It was this box that would lead her to a master artisan, from whom she would learn the skill of pietra dura, and develop her passion for its preservation, simultaneously viewing it as a bridge between the past and the present, both through the exploration of traditional and modern design, as well as through the artisans from Afghanistan and Peshawar that she would subsequently train.

Themselves originating from Peshawar, the mother and daughter duo Farhana and Meherunnisa also see the preservation of this ancient cultural tradition as a healing mechanism, a way to sustain belief in that which is older than (and beyond) the devastation of the region’s sustained conflict, war and migration.

To the Afghan refugees that Lél works with, the job provides more than the simple security of a salary – it is a craft rooted in that which they call home, that which is familiar. Where so much is lost in movement and migration, there is yet something of history, of culture, and of home to which they are able to hold on.

From conception to creation, every Lél piece is a labor of love – meticulously handcrafted by master artisans.

In keeping with Lél’s mission to ensure the ancient art of pietra dura is carried through the passage of time, Lél marries traditional craft techniques with contemporary design and innovative application.

Reidi centre piece
Pietra Dura and Scaglioli with silver cloisonné

Reidi modular tables
Pietra Dura and Scaglioli with silver cloisonné

Under the creative direction of Meherunnisa, a graduate of the Pratt Institute Graduate School of Digital Arts and conservation architect by profession, its designs straddle both past and present and are the result of a wide range of diverse and thoroughly researched influences: from exquisite floral patterns that evoke Mughal miniatures to the ornamental in Islamic architecture. Lél expertly contemporizes pietra dura with other decorative techniques such as silver cloisonné, the ancient French decorative technique that uses metal thin strips to separate stone or enamel inlay, and the Italian centuries-old scaglioli, a composite now commonly known as ‘resin’. These artworks are then often placed on contemporary furniture forms such as the new hexagonal Reidi modular tables and the roughhewn Champa nesting tables.

THE ART OF STONE INLAY AND DESIGN PROCESS

Lél is simultaneously dedicated to the preservation and progression of stone inlay, ensuring the art form is not forgotten, but also pushing forward its contemporary evolution.

Lél’s palette includes a wide range of semi-precious stones (Onyx, Jasper, Ammozonite, Agate, Jade, Serpentine, Sandstone), and colored marble (Mardan pink and Ziarat white) sourced from the mountains of Pakistan. From further afield, Lapis Lazuli comes from the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan, Malachite from South Africa, and Turquoise from Iran.

From conception to creation, every Lél piece is a labor of love – gradually and meticulously handcrafted by master artisans, as they bring their subtle touches to reveal the essence of each stone which is then cut, carved and placed as part of an intricate design on top of furniture.

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