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?)
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.
As a designer and researcher Rebekka Fries monitors and frames, disconnected world views produced by mass and social media. Recently graduated with a Master in Design: Visual Strategies at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam and currently based in Rotterdam.
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.
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.
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.
Nour Nshweiat is the founder and designer of N Products, with 10 years of experience in home furnishing and product design. N Products are recycling abandoned items into home furniture and useful products. ‘Products with stories’ is the slogan of N products.