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Lél is a Peshawar-based artistic collective dedicated to preserving and re-interpreting the 16th-century Italian and Mughal art of Pietra dura also known as a stone inlay. Lélʼs work may very well represent the grey space between fine art, design and craft. The art of Pietra dura ‒ also referred to as Parchin Kari in South Asia ‒ originated out of the ancient Roman opus sectile technique, later finding not only its revival but also reaching its highest pinnacle of development in the hands of the Florentines during the Italian Renaissance of the 16th century. To them, this act of the meticulous cutting and fitting of stones into intricate and exquisite forms was synonymous with the act of painting ‒ ‘painting in stone’. Within the century, Pietra dura would find its spread extending to Russia, Iran and across the South Asian region, into Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, under the patronage of the Mughals.

Lélʼs founder, Farhana Asad, became fascinated by the technique of inlaid stonework when she came across an exquisite box in a bazaar in northern Pakistan 30 years ago. She eventually tracked down its maker, an Afghan craftsman who agreed to give her lessons in the technique in her garage at home.

Ever since the Lél artist collective that Asad founded has opened its doors to both local craftsmen and those escaping the war and worked to preserve the craft’s knowledge and skills for future generations. At the Lél workshop, the creative possibilities of the art form are explored further by incorporating other techniques such as the French Verre églomisé (glass gilding), the Chinese cloisonné (enamelling) and epoxy resins. Its master craftsmen work alongside metal and woodworkers for its artworks and designer objects.

Lél represented Pakistan at the London Design Biennale 2021 and has exhibited at international shows Design Miami, London Design Fair, Sharjah Art Week and Salone del Mobile. It has been featured in publications such as the Financial Times, Vogue, Elle Decoration, Guardian, Asia Society, Harperʼs Bazaar Interiors, Forbes and others.

The studio is currently spearheaded by Meherunnisa Asad, a Peshawar-born architect and artist. Asad is a graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore and Pratt Institute, New York City. On her return to Pakistan from the United States, Asad worked as lead conservation architect at the Aga Khan Historic Cities Program on the Conservation of the Lahore Walled City Project. Asad has an innate passion to promote traditional craft from Pakistan and re-interpret it for the global audience. She has carried Lél from its humble origins to an internationally acclaimed studio that has exhibited at major design shows. In 2019, she was awarded a grant from Karandaaz Pakistan (funded by the Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development DFID) for research and training.