Donna Verheijden is a Dutch designer based in Amsterdam who studied at the Sandberg Instituut. Her work is undeniably iconic - her videos feature mashups of vintage hollywood end-credits, moments of incredible cinematographic choreography, universally recognizable found footage and self-shot images of everyday life. An interesting intersection of banality and politics, between universal imagery and absolute specificity. In collaboration with Martina Petrelli she filmed a documentary, The House of the Eyes, in the West Bank during the fist Palestinian Art biennale which also coincided with the latest attacks in Gaza.
As a half Palestinian half Czech designer, I always saw my point of view in design of taking the traditional Palestinian heritage and presenting it in a new “European” way. My aesthetic has always driven me to plunge into designs incorporating symbols typical of Palestine or calligraphy. When I was invited to take part on this project I had no idea what I was going to do, and I enjoyed brainstorming and hanging out with the various designers; seeing my native city Bethlehem through their eyes. My biggest realization was that as much as I looked through my European part upon my Palestinian heritage and surrounding I would never be able to see what they saw —despite the fact that I lived abroad for more than 10 years. This realization drove me to design what I call the “identity collection” or series, which start from a finger print telling the story of each Palestinian carrying a hawwyieh (Palestinian ID card) having to pass the checkpoint, to olive wood heel platform sandals decorated with the Palestinian kuffiyeh, and beautiful colorful happy mosaic and clay map of Palestine rings. All in referral to how this journey helped me realize that I will always see Palestine, and always refer to it in my work, through my Palestinian eyes, because that is who I am, that is my identity.
I am very grateful for all the people whom I met throughout this journey, many have been so helpful and patient with me and taught me new things, which helped my ideas and work come to life. Some of the artisans were a revelation to me, as I stumbled upon them like upon a treasure chest in a desert. I was so inspired by the many personalities and stories I have encountered in those short two weeks, and I loved every bit of it. The workshop has inspired me to do so much more and work with new materials, as well as taken me to far away cities in Palestine like Qalqilya and Tulkarem —which are hard for me to reach otherwise.
I hope this project will bring a lot of opportunities to the local artisans we worked with, as they work hard every day and are undervalued. I am stunned at their craftsmanship and modesty and hope that this is only the beginning of a great revolution on the local handmade goods market!
When a European design student wants to experience authentic night out in Ramallah or in Bethlehem, there are two basic options: one can ask a local to recommend a Palestinian restaurant, order hummus, falafels, shawarma, turkish salad and other local dishes and drink freshly squeezed juice or local Taybeh beer. Or, one can go to one of the restaurants serving non-Palestinian food, drink a Carlsberg or a Coke while a mix of local and western pop-music is playing in the background.
While the former option might offer an opportunity to taste the traditional cuisine, it doesn’t mean that the latter would be anyhow less genuine or ‘real’. Nor that one or the other would authentic for all for the same reasons. Or that authenticity would be anyhow objective. So, to be able to conscious about what’s behind this decision, I believe it’s important —at least for me— to examine and open up the notion of authenticity a little bit. On Saturday morning, while one part of the group went to Northern parts of Palestine to see the Qalandiya zoo, I decided to spend the morning walking in the old part of Bethlehem. I came across this arabic market not far from the main square; just a narrow alley and stairs left from the main/oldest street of the city. Narrow alleys with tarps hanging above to provide a bit of shade were crowded already in the morning. Fruit and vegetable stalls, spices, first- and second hand clothing, household stuff, electronics and plastic, basically everything is sold here. Already from far away you could see that most of the things were made in China. The fruits and vegetables however, without labels, rather ripe and unperfect, were certainly cultivated not too far away from here.
If one thinks authenticity as something geographical, something related to soil and the place, the fruits and vegetables in this market had a stronger aura of authenticity than the almost universal made-in-China stuff (it’s more authentic to eat hummus in the middle east than it is in Europe). But at the same time it’s at least as authentic to see Chinese products in the Middle East as it is in Europe.
Later in Ramallah, when the European design student decides to go for a drink to a clean and trendy Mexican restaurant or to hyped Octoberfest in newly opened five star Mövenpick Hotel (or both!), the authenticity is rather cultural. And cultures change. It’s an experience about a moment, people and the global cultural environment. And floating in the Dead sea in lotus position the day after, the experience is again all about the exceptional environment: full-body mud masks and the sea and western pop-music and Nestle ice cream.
"As a designer, social and political subjects are my main interest. In my design process, I look at current situations and I speculate how that situation could have been different. It is not so much a working method as an attitude and a critical perspective. In every subject I search for a way to confront the public with a dilemma. In this confrontation I hope to challenge the public to think in a different way about the subject. I want them to question whether or not the scenario is real and serious or fictitious and ironic. A speculative attitude helps me in constructing a narrative about this possible present or future situation." (From ARNHEMSE NIEUWE 20x20 talk 2015)
Ayed Arafah was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp. Nowadays, he works and lives in Ramallah. He has a BA degree in contemporary visual art from The International Academy of Art and a BA in social work from Al Quds Open University. Combining classic and contemporary media, he explores the conceptual image that aims to motivate a better understanding about the self (my self and others) in relation with society’s issues related to politics, culture and economics. His aim is to engage with different levels of society.
Designer Nadira Alaraj and the Kattan family silversmiths do incredible work in Bethlehem. The silver zaytouna jewelry features handcrafted olive leaves from sterling silver. Designers pick the olive leaves and cast them to create unique molds. Every single silver leaf is individually formed from a mold that is only used once, rendering unique, one-of-a-kind leaves.