Biotech artist Jalila Essaïdi: “Creativity is like breathing to me”

Biotech artist Jalila Essaïdi tirelessly searches for crossovers of innovation with nature. That is why she is happy that the Creativity World Forum is coming to North Brabant this year. Especially because the seventeen United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be in the spotlights. “This is something we miss a little in Brabant. Every little bit contributes to education and awareness of the general public. It’s great that the municipality is doing something with this.”

Not that there’s a particular SDG that stands out for her; they’re all important. “Ultimately, it’s all about making the world more beautiful, better and healthier. Following an industrial period, we are now switching to new systems, in which economic traffic is of less importance and social and ecological values play a more important part. This is also incorporated into my own work.”

Essaïdi knows as no other how to combine art with entrepreneurship and science

Bulletproof skin

That work drew interest from around the world. Essaïdi knows as no other how to combine art with entrepreneurship and science. She made the international press with her design for a bulletproof skin. She discovered that synthetic spinning silk from modified goats is able to stop a bullet that is fired from a .22 long rifle at half speed. Currently, research is being carried out to see if this can be used as skin material for humans.

And what about Mestic, the idea of fabricating clothing from cow dung. This earned her the Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation in 2017, which was worth €150,000. For some time now, Essaïdi has had plans to set up a factory for this as her contribution to the restriction of the manure surplus. “It is an example of sustainability and a different way to use resources. Our own group of talented people is also brainstorming about concepts and proposing solutions to help deal with specific problems.”

Next generation

She is referring to the Talent Pressure Cooker: a group that currently consists of 13 international young researchers who are pioneering from their operating base: her BioArt Village in Eindhoven. “These are often designers, artists and biologists who have recently graduated. Here, they take their first steps, develop new work and learn how to present and communicate it. And all of this on the cutting edge of biotechnology and creative industry, with nature as the starting point.” Essaïdi is essentially training her successors here: “Yes, we guide and facilitate the next generation of world enhancers.”

One of them is Moomal Shekhawat, a recently graduated designer from India. She lives in Kashmir, where fresh water is being plagued by an invasive introduced species, the water hyacinth, which is threatening to suffocate other water plants. “Moomal is developing new materials at the BioArt Village, which will enable the water hyacinth to be used as a raw material”, says Essaïdi. “When she gets back to India, she will be able to start her own community with this, provide employment and, on top of this, do something about the fresh water issue.”

Candles made of sewer fat

Essaïdi herself graduated from the Academy for Visual Arts in Tilburg in 2009. She then taught the subject bioart for nine years, until her BioArt Laboratories foundation and companies started to demand all her attention. Soon, she will be launching yet another new project. Together with water board De Dommel, she will tackle the problems surrounding sewer fat, which candles will be made from. This initiative will be presented during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, of which she is the ambassador this year.

“We are educated to think in boxes in such a way that creativity is actually forced out of us from a young age.”

Essaïdi is pleased that the CWF 2019 is being held in the same week: “This gives it a great platform.” On Wednesday 23 October, she will hold a challenge, which is expected to be centred around Mestic. “Creativity is also a common thread in my own work; the freedom to do research and experiment. In my opinion, nothing can exist without creativity. It’s something that comes naturally to me, like breathing.” Essaïdi is convinced that everyone has it in them. “But we are educated to think in boxes in such a way that creativity is actually forced out of us from a young age. This should be approached differently. You should be encouraged to think outside the box.”

Besides the Global Change Award, Jalila Essaïdi has received numerous recognitions, such as:

  • Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award (2010)
  • Winner Clim@-competition (2018)
  • Chivas Venture Award (2018)
  • Finalist EU Prize for Women Innovators 2019 by the European Commission
  • Is one of the Inspiring Fifty, the top 50 inspiring tech women in the Netherlands (2019)

Meet Jalila Essaïdi at day 3 in Eindhoven >

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