Medvedeva: use a cup or a scarf to see PalestineTeresa Palieri
An interview with Polina Medvedeva, 2014 Create-Shop participant
Could you briefly introduce yourself?
I am a Russian-Dutch designer graduated from the Sandberg Instituut and since then I am working with films and documentaries.Lately I have been particualrly interested in ‘informal economies’
What did triggered you to participate in the ‘Disarming Design 2014 Create shop’?
Just being there and the idea of working together with Palestinian artisans and designers in a country that we generally know little about and experiencing their daily life was very triggering to me. Doing what I do in my own country but then in a place where the context is heavily political and politicized, even when you are just doing design, very much appealed to me.
During the workshop you started investigating in all the different tools that are present in the Palestinian markets, what was fascinating about them for you?
The toolset that I started developing during the workshop came from the observation of the daily life of the people around me during the workshop. I saw many Palestinians working in different jobs, and using very different skills from time to time. What I found interesting was the unexpected combination of different works and skills. For example once I met a wedding singer who was also selling spices out of the truck of his car, or a group of car sellers that were also making very refined paintings on pottery, and a policeman that got a little extra income with a sort of ‘DJ van’ to tour with and give live performances. In order to narrate this interesting daily work routine of some people I thought about the toolsets. Normal toolsets are very specifically made for one job, like carpenter toolsets, or mechanic toolsets or toolsets for sewing. But this won’t work for the Palestinian reality, and I start wandering about how a general toolset for Palestine would look like.
During the workshop you also started researching Palestinian informal economies, do you remember in which situation during the ‘Create Shop’ you first started being interested in this topic?
The interest in informal economies started in different ways. On one side it really came from the discovery of all this different tools in the market and in the way they are used from the people. One day during the workshop we were in Nablus and we visited a fishmonger that was selling fishes, and all of a sudden we saw some stone and glass material laying around. Later we got to know that he was also a mosaicist working with marble and other natural stones. He showed us pictures on his phone of all the artworks he has realized during the years to decorate different houses. For me it was very strange and interesting to see that it was a man working in a fish shop that was doing that. And this was I think the first moment in which I start wandering about informal economies in Palestine. But also talked to the people that participated in the workshop, starting understanding the political situation in Palestine and being aware of restrictions opened my eyes on the topic. People started telling me about the Oslo agreements and how Palestine was divided in three areas, more than that people started telling me the effects that this division caused on their living conditions. I got to know about the area C, an area which falls in between governmental structures, and therefore both governments can grasp and govern but it becomes also a very ambiguous place where everything that is informal is possible and everything that is illegal becomes possible.
Could you briefly explain what did you find out about Palestinian informal economies, and what is their role?
Well there is really no other way in some areas of Palestine like ‘area C’, so it really becomes a country of entrepreneurs. Many people told me when I was there, if you are not a winner you are a looser in Palestine, no way in between. So as a Palestinian you have to try to do something. And sometimes the informal way is the only possible to overcome all the restrictions that don’t allow survival. In refugee camps people open shops in their houses, and also people from outside the camps come to those shops, not just because the products are cheaper but also because they can’t be found anywhere else, like freshly slaughtered chickens and this things.
In the context of Palestinian alternative economies, what role do you think Disarming Design can play?
It is a difficult question, because informal economy is not planned, it is there because there is no other way. But if there can be a link, I think that Disarming Design can be a “portal” of this alternatives methods and also alternative mentalities of doing business. Because I think that an interesting thing about Disarming Design is that it is working on both areas, so in the Middle East, in Palestine, and with the West. And therefore Disarming Design can communicate this type of structures to the West and almost promote them. Some sort of DIY attitude, independent from the government. In the West we think efficiency, production and growth are most important. Promoting this self-initiatives, this informal economies is also promoting in a way ‘un-specialization’ for once.
What kind of stories do you think it is important to communicate in the international context?
I think in a way it’s important to give a clearer picture to the West of what kind of reality Palestine is. Due to decades of “wrong branding” there are a lot of stereotypes and people are afraid of it for nothing. Another very important thing, is that people think that the conflict is between two equal parties, and that therefore they can and will figure it out by themselves as they can both fight it in one way or the other. But if you go to Palestine you realize that Palestinians are really looking forward to an international power to come and help them, as they feel they can’t do it by themselves. It is an occupied country therefore they are far from equal and immediately clear when you look at Palestinian daily life. This kind of narration is what Disarming Design allows, when you use a Palestinian cup, a scarf, a plate, these objects come inevitably with a story, and those stories can help in getting a clearer picture on the Palestinian situation.
What kind of role do you think the presence of Disarming Design products on the international market can play for Palestine?
It is a rise of Palestinian’s own economy. Moreover I saw that many Palestinians live with this feeling of being misunderstood. And this kind of projects can spread awareness about what is really to live there. They can bring a bit more understanding of the situation.
In your explorations you got in contact with a lot of very specific Palestinian situations, which story do you think is missing in the DDFP collection that should be introduced in the future?
I think is informality for sure and try to explain it in a way that it is not criminalised. When I presented my movie on Palestinain informal economy in Brussels, there was a woman working in Belgian Politics and she told me: “what I saw there was a little bit of a maffia right?”. But what I liked about the reaction in general to my film was that people started wandering about what is criminality and where in such a context it is possible to draw the line between legal and illegal and decide when informality becomes illegality. I think this could be an interesting thing to show in Disarming Design products in relation to Palestine, because these questions are part of the daily life of the Palestinians on so many levels. Like for instance when you have to climb over the wall to go to work, yes it is illegal but yet there is no other choice, so this kind of illegal things become part of the daily life. And examples like this are all over the place.
(Interview by Teresa Palmieri)