Zagt: You can’t silence a water jarInes Marques
Mieke Zagt, Khaled Hourani and Annelys de Vet at ICCO office Utrecht, juli 2013
An interview with Mieke Zagt, human rights activist and policy maker at ICCO
Could you briefly introduce yourself?
I am a philosopher and I have worked for ICCO, a development organisation, for fifteen years. While working for ICCO, I was researching ways to speak about Palestine and it’s reality. I met Annelys and after our conversations she proposed to make a ‘Subjective Atlas of Palestine’, which became very successful.
Could you explain why and how the collaboration with Annelys started and later developed in Disarming Design?
Some years passed and every time I visited Palestine, I searched for new souvenirs. The Palestinian market is very traditional, hardly changing. At the same time, the quality of the products, embroidery, glass, ceramics is good and includes a special Palestinian identity. That’s how I asked myself, how come we don’t sell these wonderful products, like blue Christmas balls from Bethlehem, in Europe?
With this question, I went back to Annelys and immediately Annelys gained a vision on how to develop a project with Palestinian arts and crafts and set up a design label. She called Khaled Hourani, the director of the International Academy of Arts and asked him if we could develop this with him and the art Academy. This is how it started.
Disarming Design combines the knowledge of high skilled Palestinian craftsmen with the ideas and perspectives of local and international artists and designers. Why do you think this combination is valuable? What more does it bring to the development of Palestinian products and craft?
In fact it’s Annelys’ recipe to bring those two together. She developed the process and I could just agree with it. It is through this process that you empower what is already there. You make use of ideas, creativity and most of all of Palestinian identity. It is good because with this recipe you empower craftsmen that could sell more if the variety and quality of the products would be upgraded.
Moreover, we created a niche in the market, as Palestinian design is not an answer to a market-need. In fact, we created a demand by presenting something very new.
Disarming Design products are 100% locally made, why do you think this is important in the Palestinian context?
It is important because it is art, it is design and it is handcraft. Every piece is unique.
Working in this way is important, as it’s very difficult to scaling up production in Palestine due to all the restrictions. The Israeli occupation doesn’t allow mass-export; you cannot rely on your export. So the best you can do is to create a very high quality product for a niche.
In which way do you think Disarming Design can influence the international discourse about the Palestinian situation?
When our customers see the water jar, which has three lines and numbers on it, people ask about the meaning. The Disarming Design products trigger your brain and make you wonder: “Why is this water jar like it is?” Disarming Design provides an explanation: “This is the quantity for the settlers, this is the quantity recommended by the World Health Organization and this is the one that Palestinians get.”
In Palestine there is a massive presence of NGOs and action groups, in which way does Disarming Design differs from them?
I’ve seen that many international organisations try to speak on behalf of Palestinians, and even worse, to silence critics including the BDS movement. Often money speaks. But with this special collection of objects, Palestinians speak for themselves. You can’t silence a water jar.
Do you have a favourite product in the collection?
I am excited about the ‘Christmas balls from Bethlehem’. I like very much the ‘Measuring inequality’ water jar, because it is simple, beautiful and it has a really powerful story. I also love the distance plates, the t-shirt with the fingerprint with the poem of Mahmoud Darwish. I love the stress ball with the stone inside, the precious stone necklace, or the ‘Everywhere Palestine’ scarf.
In your explorations in Palestine I imagine you got in contact with a lot very specific Palestinian situations, which story do you think is missing in the DDFP collection that should be introduced in the future?
Could be a good opportunity to explore the story of the refugees. We were brainstorming to go to Lebanon and work with the refugees. Also Palestinians from Israel have their own stories. My vision is to include the nation as a whole.
During the winter season you hosted a Disarming Design pop-up shop, how was this experience?
It was lovely; people came inside and joined our table where we presented food. We invited them to talk, and most of them did. So a very interesting meeting set was created out of the presentation of the products. In the end was developed a thinking-hub about Palestine.
In the last years Disarming Design has developed from an idea to an actual non profit company that has now an office in Ramallah, what do you see in the future of Disarming Design?
I hope that the label will be able to become self-sustainable and conquer the world with its beauty and wit.
(Interview by Teresa Palmieri)