Ibrahim Muhtadi is a Palestinian architect living in Gaza. Being an architect has given him the opportunity to both observe and practice the principles of art and design, and leading naturally to the pursuit of design work outside architecture. He has many interests in the home accessories design, Arabic calligraphy design, graphic design and jewelry design. Muhtadi inspired by the authenticity and the beauty of the Arabic Calligraphy. His talent and passion for creative expression has led him to shift his design skills from the sketches on the paper to the unique and original pieces of jewellery and arts.
Annelys de Vet (1974, NL) is a Brussels based designer, initiator and curator, founder of a bureau for graphic research and cultural design DEVET. Since 2009 she heads the master in design ‘Think tank for visual strategies’ at the Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam (Masters Rietveld Academie) — where she earned an MDes herself in 1999. She is the co-founder and director of the inclusive design label ‘Disarming Design from Palestine’ that develops, presents and sells useful products from Palestine. The goods are designed during yearly workshops in Palestine with local and international designers that research existing production methods to produce new products that narrate about Palestine’s current reality. Since 2003 De Vet initiated a series of subjective atlases that map countries from a human perspective; including Subjective atlas of Palestine (2007), Subjective atlas of Mexico (2011), Subjective atlas of Fryslân (2013) and Subjective atlas of Colombia (2015) – the next edition will map Pakistan (2016). De Vet co-organized the Masterclass Mediafonds@Sandberg (2009–2015) which is a laboratory for new forms of digital storytelling for media makers, journalists, artists and designers. From 2003 to 2007 she initiated, designed and organized the ’Temporary Museum Amsterdam’, which was the side program of the art fair Art Amsterdam. She co-curated the exhibition ‘UNMAPPING THE WORLD’ on critical contemporary mapping practices, for the ExperimentaDesign biennale 2014 in Lisbon and for the international Graphic Design Festival in Chaumont (2015).
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!
Mohammad Saleh is currently a Jerusalem based ecological space designer and green activist. He has a degree in Psychology, and another in Musicology. He has been engaged in the cultural and art sector of Palestine for several years, working at the Palestinian Art Court, followed by works in visual production related to Palestinian life. In recent years Mohammed has been leading an ecological and sustainable life and since 2015 he has been professionally designing sustainable and green spaces.
"Since the very first moment of us working together, I have been learning about my country in a totally different, positive and hopeful way. Living and working in Palestine is constantly being confronted with a harsh reality and a negative context. DDFP brings something positive out of a negative thing. The problems, the occupation and the constant present violent atmosphere are used as sources for inspiration. Now we can spread our stories using creative, productive and positive thinking.
The market is indeed flooded with products from China and Israel, and because easy consumerism is more appealing, most people don’t think that they can actually do what they want themselves. Our artisans are also caught up in this pattern of consumerism and tend to only produce what the market wants, over and over again.
To me the beauty of DDFP lies in the fact that in a very perceptive way they managed to harvest the resources that were already here in my country. They looked at the existing networks; they looked for people who already had their own ideas and for artisans with amazing abilities. This meant that they didn’t have to train people, neither to educate designers or to make design. They only needed to say that collaborating was important and that it was possible. They did make all of the participating local designers look totally different at these crafts studios. Before, when we past by an artisans’ shop, we perceived it as exotic and on rare occasions we would take a photo of it. But the idea never came to our mind to show any interest in what that man was doing. Let alone that we could imagine a possible collaboration.
There is indeed the potential for DDFP to become an important economical factor, but this is not the case yet. We will definitely need a couple of more years before we will be able to start investing in local productions from the profits that we can make from the sales. For the moment this is our Achilles heel. We often lack the funds to pay for new productions, so we need to look for investment money in different ways, which can be quite challenging.
Our identity is not defined in a positive way. We are getting constantly accused and we are seen as a bad nation. By joining DDFP, I found a unique opportunity to tell my own story and to make an object that performs that story. So when people are buying it, they indicate that they believe in your story. This empowers the feeling that I, that we can. That it is possible."(From Kurt Vanbelleghem interview, Can one really benefit from a social design project, or is it just another spin at the wheel?)
Majd Abdel Hamid is a Palestinian visual artist based in Ramallah. He hopes Disarming Design’s collaborations will give Palestinian visual heritage a tool to reflect its deeper current realities. ‘It’s something we don’t have within the Palestinian community, design as a discourse. People mainly develop things on their own here. We’re kind of in a static limbo, we’re stuck with symbols, we’re stuck with the Palestinian map, we’re stuck with Handala… This is an opportunity to actually recreate something and have our own form of deconstructionism, not for the sake of deconstruction itself, but rather to rethink our national symbols and our visual narrative." Majd was the coordinator of Disarming Design in 2012 and 2013.
Report of one day during the create-shop 2013: RUMBLING MACHINES
Rumbling machines, steady hands, and hospitality would summarize todays Wonderland. After half an hour drive we arrived in Hebron were we would spend most of our day. When entering the city a warning sign welcomed us ‘No entry for Israelis, entry illegal by israeli law’, as if it was Area 51. In Hebron, the biggest city in Palestine considering the 170.000 inhabitants of H1 and H2, our first stop would be the ceramic and glass workshop. After a quick tour we wandered around the place, admiring the craftsmen that were blowing glass and gracefully decorating pottery. The ease with which they made their glass products was fascinating to see. With the options in mind some of us started painting or collecting ideas for possible products. Several tourists and interested people entered the workshop on and off and were shown around, for a while making it look like an artisan showroom. Our next stop was The Hirbawi Keffiyeh Factory “Raise your keffiyeh, Raise it” as Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf sings in “Ali Keffiyeh”. The rumbling sounds of weaving machines slowly came towards us when entering the factory. In the entrance hall a big bedouin tent was implemented as a business meeting point. Two man were keeping a close eye on the keffiyeh during the manufacturing process, removing the threads that were superfluous. The factory, operational since 1961, annually produced 150.000 scarfs until the early 1990s. “Today, due to the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the opening of trade with the outside world, only four machines remain in operation producing a mere 10,000 scarves a year. Not one of these scarves are exported, as overseas suppliers produce mass quantities at a fraction of the price, and the shrinking Palestinian economy and Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks create further hindrances to production and trade for small businesses like Mr. Hirbawi’s. In Mr. Hirbawi’s own words: My machines are in good shape. They can start working tomorrow. I just need a market.”
In the office factory several keffiyehs were bought either for personal use or for artistic purposes. After we filled our bags with the Palestinian symbol of all symbols, Maher Shaheen — one of the participants — invited us to his house for a tea and a sweet arabic coffee. It was a perfect closure of the day being invited into the intimacy of a palestinian family.
Hein van Duppen is a Dutch designer currently enrolled in the Studio for Immediate space master program at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. His work explores the intersections of design, architecture and urban planning.