A/D/O by MINI | Sculpting with Hemp

Journal

Product/Industrial/Furniture

Sculpting with Hemp

Artist and designer Yasmin Bawa has developed a practice that transforms industrial hemp into sculptural homewares and furniture, while sourcing materials locally.

After a stint in the fashion world working for Acne Studios in Stockholm and a label in Berlin, Yasmin Bawa was looking for a change and hoping to transition into the spheres of furniture and interior design. Although initially drawn to creating with concrete, she soon learned of the many potential hazards of working with the material. “You need to wear so much protection, like gloves and a mask, to work with it,” Bawa told The Journal, “Even after making just a few pieces, I could already feel how toxic it was for me.”

That’s when she decided to seek out a more natural alternative to concrete and stumbled upon a house built with hempcrete, which consists of a mixture of hemp shiv (the woody core of the hemp plant), clay and lime binder. Hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa species, has been used for structures like bridges since the Roman times. However, it wasn’t until recently, after the legalization of the use of marijuana for particular purposes in several states in the US, that there’s been a resurgent interest in the sustainable material as a building tool.

Not only is hemp non-toxic, but it’s also carbon-capturing, fire-proof, mold resistant and lighter than concrete. And while hemp is becoming increasingly used in building ecological homes, it still hasn’t been widely adopted as a material for smaller-scale applications, like design objects and furniture. 

“If you take an everyday material, spend time with it and look at where its strengths and weaknesses lie, you can turn it into something special,” said Bawa at her studio in Berlin. And after finding a hemp farm located just outside of Berlin and going to her local eco-friendly building supply shop for additional materials, that’s what she did. Through online research and experimentation, Bawa has developed a process that combines her own hand-building technique of working with hemp and traditional techniques for polishing that results in striking and sculptural plant pots and homewares. 

Since unveiling them to the public two years ago, Bawa’s one-of-a-kind pieces have been presented at Paris Design Week 2019, exhibited at Soho House Berlin and attracted a following on Instagram, where she receives a large portion of her orders. 

Inspired by human forms and the natural world, Bawa’s poetic works, which are typically in desert pastels, look like they belong in the serene interiors of Georgia O’Keeffe’s adobe home and studio in Abiquiú, New Mexico. “I have a lot of fun creating the body-shaped pieces and I like to give them funny shapes so that they each have their own characters,” she explained, “I have this thing where I imagine what objects would do when we’re not at home.”

Photos by Yasmin Bawa.

Bawa is also interested in exploring the interaction between the user and the object. Instead of having a static relationship with objects around the home, she encourages the user to lead a dynamic exchange with her pieces. That’s why each of her works can be turned, rotated and stacked with others to create new forms, depending on its environment and the mood of the user.

Currently, Bawa said it takes her four-to-eight weeks to produce one object since she’s typically juggling the creation of many pieces, at various stages, at a time. She usually starts by hand-building the base structure of the piece with hempcrete and forming a shape from it. After the structure is air-dried, she adds several layers of a more refined natural clay and lime mixture with hemp fibers in it and sculpts it until the desired shape takes form. “Most of the challenges come from making the initial structure and the long time it takes to dry,” she said.

Photos by Yasmin Bawa.

The pieces are then finished with either natural oils or polished in a way that is inspired by the age-old Moroccan Tadelakt technique, which involves using pure olive soap and river stone to hand polish the surface. Both finishes result in vessels that are waterproof. “It’s a lot of experimentation,” Bawa said of her process, which is still evolving. “Depending on what you want to make from hemp, it’s really about finding a process that works because there are so many different elements and combinations of mixtures for the clay and lime plaster.”

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