The Majlis Journey: At La Biennale di Venezia 17th International Architecture Exhibition

The Majlis explores, showcases, and embraces the nomadic culture. It is itself a project on the move. After the Biennale of Architecture, it continued its journey, leaving the beautiful garden at the Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore as a gift to Venice. The Majlis is going to carry its idea to many parts of the world, the first stop on its way being Doha: in 2022, The Majlis exhibition is hosted by the Qatar National Museum.


The Royal Majlis. Courtesy of the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures
The San Lazzaro ceramics. Courtesy of the monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni
Ewer (Pitcher), Uzbekistan, 17th c., bronze / casting alloy, engraving
Carpet, Iran, 1945, wool and cotton / knotting. Courtesy of the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
Leather carrying case, Syria, 1894, leather and metal. Courtesy of the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures

The exhibition contextualises the Majlis, featuring the people and materials involved in its construction. Showcasing artworks and rare artefacts from the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Qatar, the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco of Venice, the monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni in the Venetian lagoon, and private collections, the project presents a platform for transnational, transcultural, and transhistorical exchange.


The room with Jörg Gruber’s photographs and examples of Moroccan wool
M’hammad the Shepherd and his Family. Near Ain Leuh, Atlas Mountains, Morocco 2019
Carpet Trader Abdel Azziz Amraoui's Family Home. Small village near Ain Leuh, Atlas Mountains, Morocco 2019
Ain Leuh Women's Weaving Cooperative. Atlas Mountains, Morocco 2019
Foreman on the Bamboo Plantation. El Quindío, Colombia 2019
Bamboo Plantation. El Quindío, Colombia 2019

At the core of the Majlis exhibition is a film and a series of photos by Jörg Gruber that document the different forms of craftsmanship that were involved in realizing the project: the surviving practices of herding, shearing, dyeing with natural pigment, and weaving on traditional looms in Morocco, as well as the processes of selecting bamboo and putting together the resilient construction in Colombia. The artisans, their tools, and materials themselves narrate the story of the Majlis — a story that may offer a key to our main question: how will we live together?


View of the textiles from the interior of the Majlis
View of the textiles from outside the Majlis
The Majlis Banner by Irini Gounou
The word “majlis” written in square Kufic calligraphy

The pieces of textile artwork that adorn the Majlis were designed by Nina Mohammad-Galbert, the Creative Director at Artisan Project, and woven by three women from the Ain Leuh Women’s Weaving Cooperative: Khadaouj Ouchkek, Hachmia El Douiri, and Khadija El Aabdi. The collection is titled The Story of Yan, with four movements, each one representing the different songs and moods of the weaver. The bamboo installation also features the Majils banner made by Irini Gounou. It is meant to honour both the desert and the meaning of Majlis as a meeting place for discussion that gives people the chance to come together. The word “majlis” is written in square Kufic calligraphy, a particular style of script from the 8th century AD that was widely used in architecture.


The courtyard of the San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery is home to a new wildflower garden, with plants from Mediterranean and Central European regions that are going to thrive in the local climate for many years after The Majlis moves on. Cultivated under the direction of Royal Palace specialists from the United Kingdom, this garden creates a welcoming and tranquil environment. It invites the guests of The Majlis to pause and rest.

Simposium: How will we live together?

The Majlis presented a ground for communication, cohabitation, and collaboration. Its goal was to invite a vast array of possible answers to the main question of the Biennale, How will we live together? — by being an ongoing experiment in the actual practice of shared living and working. The Majlis Symposium brought together academics, architects, artists, craftspeople, policy makers, and thinkers from all over the world. They worked on tangible steps towards preserving cultural heritage, passing on the knowledge of traditional crafts and architecture, maintaining ecological balance, developing intercultural dialogue, and decolonizing the work of cultural institutions. The program has managed to produce a growing archive of research and develop a sustainable network of The Majlis that will continue carrying out collaborative projects after the Biennale is over.

Honorary Committee

Her excellency
Professor of Art History, University of Venice; Architect; Commendatore al Merito of the Italian Republic; Member of Légion d’Honneur of the French Republic; Former President of the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice; Former member of Conseil d’Administration du Musée du Louvre, Paris
The most senior member of the Ain Leuh women’s weaving cooperative, founded in Morocco in 1977. Along with twenty-three other women she hand-produced the central carpet in the Majlis
Honorary Chairman, Christie’s UK, Europe and the Middle East; Craftsman and founder, Linley
Visiting Fellow, Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge; author, Rethinking Islam & the West.
President & Founder, Le Grand Musée de Marrakech; President & Founder of Foundation Ouajid G; CEO, Heritage Tourism Research - HTS Morocco


Dr Thierry Morel
Born in France, Thierry is an author, curator, director, producer, critic and art historian. He has worked on projects ranging from exhibitions, books, film, television and museum collaborations across the world. A Rhodes Scholar, he was educated at the University of Oxford in art history. He served as the director of the Hermitage Museum Foundation UK, and curated the award winning exhibition Houghton Revisited, which featured a unique collection of Catherine the Great. Thierry is a Trustee of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.
Simón Vélez
Majlis Architect
Born in Manizales, Colombia in 1949, Simón Vélez is the son and grandson of architects. Almost 40 years ago, Simón discovered a simple construction technique that revolutionised the way we can build with bamboo. Since then, he has carried out over 300 such projects around the globe. His notable works include the bamboo pavilion in Expo Hannover (2000) and Contemplation (Arles, France 2018).
Stefana Simić
Co-Architect of The Majlis
Stefana was born in New York, and after receiving her undergrad and masters in architecture at Columbia, she travelled to Central Europe to research vernacular architecture. Since 2014, she has been working with Simon in Bogota. Together they have designed projects such as the prefabricated traveling bamboo pavilion, Contemplation Project, and an exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia.
Ahmed Chmiti
Exterior Fabric Design & Production
Growing up in a nomadic family in Boujad, Morocco, Ahmed Chmiti lived in Berber tents, herded sheep and sewed roof panels in his spare time. Now he runs a workshop with 20 craftspeople who weave and knot each tent by hand. He represents a small group of skilled artists who take ancient craft techniques and adapt them for today’s use.
Fahad bin Mohammed Al Attiyah
Managing director of Caravane Earth
Fahad Al-Attiyah is a recognized supporter of global environmental issues and resource sustainability. Driven by true passion for service Mr. Al-Attiyah has gained his expertise through positions as the Executive Chairman to the Qatar National Food Security Programme, delivering a National Food Security Plan for Qatar; a Board Member of the World Water Council and a Legal Counsellor in the Amiri Diwan (official office of the Amir of the State of Qatar). Mr. Al-Attiyah is considered a leading expert on food security in dry lands and has shared his views at multiple events and forums around the globe – UN General Assembly, World Future Energy Summit, Global Green Growth Forum, to name a few. From 2016 to 2020 he served as the Ambassador of Qatar to Russia, working tirelessly to develop partnership and strengthen relations between the two countries.
Rajae El Mouhandiz
Deputy Managing Director of Caravane Earth
Rajae El Mouhandiz is a dutch - Moroccan/Algerian interdisciplinary artist, producer, curator, art consultant and policy advisor, with extensive experience in the arts/culture sector in The Netherlands and abroad. In 2005 she started her own label; Truthseeker records, in 2015 she transformed it into Kahina Productions and in 2019 she launched Ellae Foundation, to counter the gender and culture gap in the arts/cultural sector. Over the years she was an MLT and WISE member and currently she is an Ariane de Rothschild Legacy Fellow. In the last 12 years in a row, she was listed in the arts and culture section of the annual list of the 500 most influential Muslims in the World. More info: |
Nina Mohammad-Galbert
Sourcing Partner Africa
Born in Palestine, and raised in California, Nina Mohammad-Galbert is Creative Director at Artisan Project, a pioneer sustainable sourcing and ethical craft production company founded in Fes in 2011 and now based in Tangier, Morocco. Nina works to improve the lives of craftspeople, their families and villages, while ensuring that hand-weaving tradition and skills passed down through generations remain alive. Artisan Project aims to preserve and protect the once nomadic people of Morocco known to most as Berbers. Their true name is ‘Amazigh’ meaning ‘free humans’, and their culture comes with a rich textile history deeply rooted in the landscape.
Prerna Saraff
Textiles and Interiors
Born in Calcutta, Prerna is a graduate of the International Relations program at Sussex University. As a senior buyer for top London fashion retailers, Prerna learned international business strategy, creative direction, project management and product development. In 2015 she left the corporate sector and put her skills to work as a design consultant specializing in sustainability. Eventually, Prerna launched a financial investment firm in the Dubai International Financial Centre.
Galya Bott
Born to a family of engineers in St. Petersburg, Russia, Galina has lived several professional lives. She has taught Russian poetry in Tennessee; produced a decade-in-the-making experimental film, DAU, on the largest film set in history; and she opened the restaurant Moscow-Dehli which connects organic farmers of India to hungry people in Russia. In 2018, Galya visited the majestic desert of Qatar, a trip which gave birth to a vision of Caravane.
Igor Garin
Art Director
Born in Sokolinaya Gora, Russia, Igor is a clothing, pattern, graphic designer. He has designed clothing for film, fashion, circus, theatre and dance performances since finishing his Masters in Art Clothing Design at Moscow Textile University. He is an art-therapy practitioner and passionate participant in the ethical, slow-and-custom clothing design movement. Igor began working with Galina and Johann as an interior and graphic designer for Moscow-Delhi, painstakingly working out details and textures to turn a 16th-century printing house into a majestic dining experience.
Johnny Cornwell
Partnerships and Symposia
Born in London, Johnny has a background in academic publishing and the arts. His work in partnerships enables companies, individuals and cultural institutions to become patrons and supporters of art exhibitions and academic projects. As Executive Director of the Science and Human Dimension Project, he runs a program for public understanding of science, technology and ethics based at Jesus College in the University of Cambridge. He was director of partnerships for Apollo's Exhibition of the Year 2013, Houghton Revisited. He studied at UCL, Cambridge University, and Imperial College London.
Johnann Bott
Infrastructure and Sustainability
Born in Germany, Johann grew up in a family of French anthroposophists learning craft and farming techniques from a young age. He studied art in Paris, theatre in St. Petersburg, and he founded the theatrical company T. Lab. After meeting Galina on the set of Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s DAU, he committed himself to Moscow-Delhi, an experimental open kitchen in Moscow, transforming a 16th-century Archive for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs into a multicultural and vibrant restaurant.
Irini Gonou
Born in Athens, Irini Gonou graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs of Paris, where she lived for eleven years. She studied Paleography at the NGB Historical and Paleographical Archive of Athens. She has shown her art work in thirty solo exhibitions in Greece, Cyprus, France, Germany, UK, Belgium, USA, Norway and Egypt.
Leif-Erik Hannikainen
Project Manager
Leif-Erik Hannikainen was born in Merano, Italy in 1979. Grew up in a diplomatic environment and lived in several places around the Globe. He read Modern History at Oriel College, Oxford and graduated in 2003 with a Masters in Byzantine Studies. With UNESCO in the West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley, he worked on Cultural Heritage Management projects. Whilst there he also worked on the coordination of the EU Presidency. Erik spent several years in the Philippines in the luxury goods sector. Since returning to Italy in 2013 he has worked on cultural heritage projects in Rome and the Marche.