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Design in Context :: Party in the Cave (Shirt by Sahar Dreaat, project by Amani Sha’lan, Sahar Dreaat and Hassan Azmoty) Photography by Lucia Ahmad ©Lucia Ahmad MMXIIII Model Asma Ghanem
Baker Beach :: San Francisco [June MMXIV]
Plant District :: New York City
If you are a master hypocrite you can get a job here!
[United Nations Headquarters, New York City]
Cooper Union - NYC

Ramallah art show subverts ideas of Palestinian masculinity, statehood

To visit The Ceremonial Vniform, on display at the Birzeit University Museum until 20 June, is to walk through a unique experience exploring cultural history, identity politics and gender within Palestinian society, seen through the lens of clothing design.

The exhibition leads viewers through Jerusalem-based artist Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ’s processes and prototypes for designing a uniform for an imagined Palestinian state. Made in response to the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 United Nations statehood bid, the artist’s garments for male officers seek to reflect the “frenzied campaign” for statehood as well as subvert its masculine authority.

The critical themes of the show, which deconstruct notions of gender, identity and power in the Palestinian context, are thought-provoking and subversive, albeit slightly overbearing at times. Despite this, the show highlights the artist’s stunning craft and extensive research processes in creating his works.

Deconstructed space

The exhibition is unique in its complete deconstruction of not only the artist’s process, but also of the space of the gallery itself. A lowered ceiling and walls painted imperial blue create a space that feels less like a gallery and more like a workshop.

Adding to this ambiance are acrylic boards covered with taped-on images and notes which accompany each section of the exhibition, divided by time period or specific project.

The visualization of the research offers unique insight into the diverse sources that influenced the garment designs, ranging from Palestinian textile designs to iconic images of Leila Khaled to ornate military uniforms.

140612-meador-1.jpg

Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ, ”The Uniforms”: Palestinian garments intermixed with garments created by the artist.

The artist describes his initial research as concentrating on the masculine framing of the Palestinian male, manifest as “martyr, prisoner, fighter, worker, farmer, ‘terrorist’ and politician.” This is juxtaposed with the image of the Palestinian woman, often visualized in traditional embroidered thob (long dress), merely a reflection of her “male-derivative role as sister.”

In the most developed prototype of the designed uniform, the artist addresses these two motifs, using the bright colors of traditional female garments in a male outfit that appears grand and Elizabethan-inspired.

In a continued effort to display the undertaking of creating the works, behind the uniform hang textiles and garments that were formative to the final uniform. Some are traditional Palestinian garments, including the traditional female thob, and some are created by the artist. The garments are intermixed to blur the distinction between the two.

Heavy-handed

The exhibition features two ornately framed photographs, both named “The Official Portrait: Abu Zahair and Abu Saleh.” Each photograph features a man adorned in garments created by the artist and wearing traditional medals and ceremonials, such as a British General Service for Palestine Medal and a United Nations Medal for Palestine. Stylized in reference to European portraiture, each man sits amongst ornate decorations and wears the same set of women’s heels.

140612-meador-3.jpg

Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ, ”The Official Portrait”: deconstructing power, gender and notions of nationhood through dress and photography.

While visually stunning, the photographs’ subtlety are undercut in part by the verbose wall text accompanying the work. The work is described as a “mockery and derision of the inept Palestinian political establishment” for its mimicry of European models.

The outfits the men wear deconstruct the need for status symbols in places of power. The heels critique the notion of masculinity as central to the Palestinian struggle for sovereignty, a theme present throughout the show. The arguments are subversive and interesting but heavy-handed descriptions leave little room for personal interpretation.

Beautifully crafted

One of the most impressive pieces of the show is “The Talismanic Shirt,” a silk-screened garment that references both a traditional thob and traditional Islamic talismanic shirts worn for protection from evil. Printed on the garment is text from addresses at the UN by both Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, as well as symbols of the nation and militarism.

140612-meador-2.jpg

Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ, ”The Talismanic Shirt”: a reference to traditional Talismanic shirts, worn under regular garments as protection from evil.

Interlaced in a delicate geometry, the logo of the Palestinian Authority is patterned with icons of guns, tanks and helicopters to create an intricate design on the garment. The shirt visualizes the mainstream political discourse in Palestine, its redundancy and its ritualization. Printed on a talismanic shirt, it questions its efficacy as “protection” from evil.

Also on display are the screens created to print the shirt, made by hand in a three-week process. The screens, along with the other visualizations of the creative process, allow for an appreciation of the artist’s craft and technique.

Locally sourced

In addition to its extensive references to and use of Palestinian fabrics and techniques, the artist sourced materials from local craftspeople who are thus collaborators in the work. This includes shoemakers from Ramallah, mother-of-pearl carvers from Beit Sahour and embroiderers from Yatta and Beirut.

Impressive in its depth of exploration, The Ceremonial Vniform is made of visually stunning, beautifully crafted works. Beyond this, the body of work’s powerful criticality can be appreciated.

In challenging the power structures and status quo of contemporary Palestinian society, it forces viewers to deconstruct and rebuild an imaginary world, all through the lens of clothing construction.

Daryl Meador is a graduate student studying media at The New School who recently lived and volunteered in Nablus. Follow her on Twitter: @yalladaryl.

الفيديو الرسمي :: زي التشريفات - أبو صالح

تجربة ١

أثناء جلسة تصوير أبو زهير وأبو صالح، قرر المصمم والمصور تصويرهما بالفيديو أيضاً. لم يكن هناك هدف محدد أو فكرة واضحة في حينه حول كيف سيتم استخدام هذه اللقطات.

قرار استخدام اللقطات بشكلها الخام مع قليل من المونتاج جاء ليظهر للمشاهد صورة أقل تركيباً وأكثر بوحاً من الصورة الرسمية. يظهر الفيديو ارتباكاً وعدم راحة كما يظهر عملية التصوير غير الظاهرة في الصورة الرسمية. تعد اللقطات أيضاً كسجل لأنها وثقت الأصوات والضوضاء المحيطة بما في ذلك صوت كل من المصمم والمصور ومساعديهما خلال التصوير.

الخطابين اللذين تم دمجهما في الفيلمين هما: خطاب أبو عمار (ياسر عرفات) في الأمم المتحدة عام 1974، وخطاب أبو مازن (محمود عباس) في الأمم المتحدة عام 2011.

مونتاج: علاء أبو أسعد وفارس الشوملي. مساعد التصوير: وائل بطرس وديمتري حداد

The Official Video :: The Ceremonial Vniform - Abu Saleh

First Attempt

When the photos of Abu Zuhair and Abu Saleh were taken, the designer and photographer also decided to film both sitters. There was no clear intention or idea what the footage will be used for at the time.

The decision to use the footage in its raw form and with minimal editing was to show the viewer a less constructed image as the one in the portraits. The awkwardness, discomfort and process of photography concealed in The Official Portrait , is revealed here. The footage also serves as a record as it captures the surrounding sounds and noises as well as the voices of both the invisible photographer and designer and their assistants during the shoot.

The Speeches which were integrated into each film are Abu Ammar’s (Yasser Arafat) United Nations speech in 1974 and Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas) United Nations speech in 2011.

The video was edited by Alaa Abu Asad and Faress Shomali (Palestine). Assistants on the photo-shoot were Wael Butrous and Dimitri Haddad (Lebanon).

Design in Context :: Autumn Stars (Shirt by Yusra Gazzazz, project by Yusra Gazzazz and Yara Al Khdour) Photography by Lucia Ahmad ©Lucia Ahmad MMXIIII Model Asma Ghanem

 

الفيديو الرسمي :: زي التشريفات - أبو زهير

تجربة ١

أثناء جلسة تصوير أبو زهير وأبو صالح، قرر المصمم والمصور تصويرهما بالفيديو أيضاً. لم يكن هناك هدف محدد أو فكرة واضحة في حينه حول كيف سيتم استخدام هذه اللقطات.

قرار استخدام اللقطات بشكلها الخام مع قليل من المونتاج جاء ليظهر للمشاهد صورة أقل تركيباً وأكثر بوحاً من الصورة الرسمية. يظهر الفيديو ارتباكاً وعدم راحة كما يظهر عملية التصوير غير الظاهرة في الصورة الرسمية. تعد اللقطات أيضاً كسجل لأنها وثقت الأصوات والضوضاء المحيطة بما في ذلك صوت كل من المصمم والمصور ومساعديهما خلال التصوير.

الخطابين اللذين تم دمجهما في الفيلمين هما: خطاب أبو عمار (ياسر عرفات) في الأمم المتحدة عام 1974، وخطاب أبو مازن (محمود عباس) في الأمم المتحدة عام 2011.

مونتاج: علاء أبو أسعد وفارس الشوملي. مساعد التصوير: وائل بطرس وديمتري حداد 

 

The Official Video :: The Ceremonial Vniform - Abu Zuhair
First Attempt

 

 

When the photos of Abu Zuhair and Abu Saleh were taken, the designer and photographer also decided to film both sitters. There was no clear intention or idea what the footage will be used for at the time.

 

The decision to use the footage in its raw form and with minimal editing was to show the viewer a less constructed image as the one in the portraits. The awkwardness, discomfort and process of photography concealed in The Official Portrait , is revealed here. The footage also serves as a record as it captures the surrounding sounds and noises as well as the voices of both the invisible photographer and designer and their assistants during the shoot.

 

The Speeches which were integrated into each film are Abu Ammar’s (Yasser Arafat) United Nations speech in 1974 and Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas) United Nations speech in 2011.

 

The video was edited by Alaa Abu Asad and Faress Shomali (Palestine). Assistants on the photo-shoot were Wael Butrous and Dimitri Haddad (Lebanon).

 

جلنار :: نوار الرمان
Pvnica granatvm
Allenby Bridge 13/05/2014



-I remember you.

 

Sorry?

 

-I remember you, you were the one who asked me the STUPID questions about my friends the last time I came.

 

PAUSE

 

Well then, there is no need to explain this.

 

-No.

 

What is the purpose of your visit to Israel (Palestine)?

 

-I live here.

 

DO you have KHA(خ)awieh?

 

-Yes I do.

 

Where is it?

 

-It here in my passport, page 8.

 

No, where is your KHA(خ)awieh?

 

-I do NOT carry my ID when I travel; my ID number is in my passport, on the residency visa.

 

Where were you before?

 

-In London.

 

What were you doing in London?

 

-I was visiting friends.

 

What are the names of your friends?

 

- !!  (Names omitted here).

 

What else did you do?

 

-I visited museums.

 

What museums?

 

-The British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum…..

 

What else did you do in London.

 

- !! I saw friends, I DRANK, I ATE, I WATCHED FILMS, I FUCKED…..

 

Did anyone give you any…..bla bla bla….?

 

-No.

 

Do you have any weapons with you or anything that might look like a weapon?

 

-No, I just came through security…..

 

 

End.
Design in Context :: Student’s embroidery sample (Maysa).
بيت لحم :: أقفاص

New Left Project | Articles |Hollow Symbols of an Imaginary State

On 29 September 2012, the United Nations voted to grant Palestine the status of ‘non-member observer’ state.  The ‘upgrade’, the result of a three-year-long campaign, met with furious condemnation and breathless support.  Dubbed Palestine 194, in reference to Palestine becoming the 194th member of the UN, it sent Palestinian leaders – as well as a symbolic blue chair, crafted from Jerusalem olive wood – on high-level delegations around the world.  The process, and the vote when it finally was passed, was enthusiastically lauded by international progressives and governments including China, Russia and Spain.  Many regarded it as a glimmer of real progress in the midst of hopeless stagnation: in the West Bank, at least, it prompted a desperately needed spike in popularity for Abbas and the PA.

In the eyes of some Palestinians, however, the achievement was not a crucial step in the path to self-determination, but another addition to a humiliating diplomatic facade that did nothing for the liberation of the Palestinian people.  And for Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ – a designer from Jerusalem – it was the inspiration for a project that would arguably subvert the ‘frenzied bid for statehood’, using symbols that, over decades, have become integral to the Palestinian cause.

In the exhibition The Ceremonial Vniform : Birzeit Vniversity Mvsevm, 2014, he has created a system of dress for male officials in what would be the Palestinian state.  The components are objects and symbols: icons that, in the long and grinding course of history, have been constructed, used and reused, and which for Palestinians are mostly instantly recognisable.

This system of dress, and the photographic documentation that accompanies it, are aesthetically seductive, drawing the viewer into the image through the use of these familiar signifiers of Palestinian nationhood.  At the centre of the exhibition one is offered portraits modelling the costumes created from the references to, and symbols of, Palestinian struggle.  They are exemplary of the empty and individualistic rewards of prestigious institutions: in lush, rich colours, subjects dressed in decadent finery stare blankly at the spectator.

The photographs – named The Official Portrait by the designer and made in collaboration with Lebanese photographer Tarek Moukaddem – have clearly been staged in a professional studio.  It seems obvious that the stereotypically ‘oriental’ drapery and fruit and flower arrangement that make up the backdrop have been placed there in an ironic manner, subtly referencing a history of European portraiture and colonial photography characterised by the ‘orientalist gaze’.

It is this backdrop against which an Arab male model is presented, wearing robes reminiscent of traditional female dress that incorporate familiar cross-stitch embroidery, symbols and texts of political resistance, including coins and medals from Palestine’s colonised history.  The exhibition has a ‘tongue in cheek’ quality as images present us with a model who reveals his pink floral pumps that appear ‘out of place’ when coupled with the so-called traditional clothing.  It is items such as these and the very consciously constructed quality of the images that lets the viewer know that neither the uniform nor the representation of it actually corresponds to any real national dress or lived Palestinian reality.

Signifiers such as the torn white robes and the pick axe tucked into a red satin belt, or the sickle tied to a scarf all point to generalised and mythical characters that correspond very poorly to real people and their lives as Palestinians.  As Ioseph articulates visually and verbally, this is an imaginary uniform for an imaginary state.  The motifs and craftsmanship on the clothing, however sophisticated and intoxicating, are redundant: they are flourishes of prestige and recognition, built over the absence, not the substance, of freedom and justice.

The representation is a mirror of the leadership and direction of Palestine today, Ioseph says, ‘in that these are actually just a cluster of repetitive symbols, slogans and cliches.’  While the powerful among the Palestinian people grasp at international standing in a fruitless game of diplomacy, the nation supposedly being forged with seats and signatures is being eaten up by settlements, divided and colonised, its people deprived of rights and routinely killed or violated by military forces.

‘This is tied up with this fixation on a state, as something to aim for, as if the state is the redemption of the Palestinian people,’ Ioseph tells me.  ‘It is as if once we’ve got this, we somehow miraculously acquire an international status and develop rights and force others to respect us.  But what is the real meaning of what’s happening?  Politicians actually selling out our rights for the symbols of a state.’  A crucial point here is the fact that the projected state only lies within the 1967 lines.  That’s just 22% of historic Palestine, and an assignment that shows little regard for Palestinians beyond those borders – including the global diaspora and those that now make up 20% of Israel’s population.

‘We have this absurd situation of an unelected group that’s taken it upon itself to define what being Palestinian is,’ Ioseph says.  ‘But my reality cannot be defined by a few undeclared leaders.  It cannot be negotiated.  My identity as a Palestinian is not about subscribing to these slogans, it is much more than that.  I don’t believe that we need a state to have an identity and to live in dignity; these are non-negotiable with or without it.’

Ioseph is speaking at Birzeit University, a leading Palestinian academic institution and the space where the Ceremonial Vniform has been exhibited for the last month.  It’s a short drive away from Ramallah, where the engine of the state-building project is rolling at full power and gleaming towers and NGO offices fight for space with smart cafes kept afloat by international funding.  The Palestinian Authority headquarters are here, and for the last year an enormous luxury villa has been taking shape on a plot overlooking the hills, towards a sea inaccessible to most West Bank Palestinians.  It’s a guesthouse for the delegates and officials that will visit the Palestinian President.

Depending on who you speak to, Ramallah might be referred to as the de-facto capital of the Palestinian state, or a ‘bubble’, isolated from the reality of occupation by consumerism and aid money.  Since Oslo, funding has flooded the occupied territories: between 1999 and 2008, international aid to Palestinian NGOs increased from $48 million to $257 million, and in the six years following 2004 the number of NGOs doubled.  Critics say that aid trends – capacity building, empowerment, advocacy – have come to define what the public get, and the economy is utterly reliant on being kept afloat by international money.  And the problem goes much deeper than finance.  The aid Palestinians are dependent on is tied to stringent political conditions: deviations from the demands of donor nations, among which the United States looms large, could spell economic disaster.

As the peace process benefited an elite and gave Ramallah the appearance of a thriving city, Israel has continued to entrench the occupation.  Since 1993, the Israeli settler population has doubled to 500,000.  Some 7,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.  Restrictions, confiscations and the fragmentation of Palestine into 167 enclaves make a mockery of economic or political independence.

For the entire period, the Palestinian Authority has continued to hold fast to the forever delayed promise of building a nation through negotiation, enforcing the agreements of the accords in Area A – the 3% of the West Bank where they maintain power.  ‘There really is no national aspiration to the Palestinian authority, they really are just a subcontractor to the Israeli occupation,’ Ioseph says.  This is not a radical suggestion, but one echoed repeatedly across all strata of the Palestinian population.  ‘Knowingly, unknowingly, willingly, unwillingly: I’m positive that many of them are aware of and are complicit and are benefiting from Israeli occupation and apartheid.’

The particular style of mockery they convey has not gone unnoticed in the past.  In an October 1993 essay that dubbed Oslo an ‘instrument of Palestinian surrender’, Edward Said made particular exception to the ‘fashion-show vulgarities of the White House ceremony’.  The ‘degrading spectacle’ of Yasser Arafat’s thanks, the ‘fatuous solemnity of Bill Clinton’s performance, like a 20th-century Roman emperor shepherding two vassal kings through rituals of reconciliation and obeisance,’ he wrote, only temporarily obscured ‘the truly astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation’.

Now, as the peace process recedes, whimpering, into the dusty annals of historical failure, Said’s comments look prophetic.  In Ioseph’s exhibition, the imagined uniforms of the state the accords were supposed to create, appear almost an embarrassment.  And painfully, the feeling extends to the components that constitute the clothing.  Medals created for Palestine by UN institutions and colonial controllers, have been purchased for a negligible sum from eBay.  A pair of ceremonial clogs is detailed with letters from the original charters of the PLO.  Fabric is printed with hand grenades and rifles, and the design incorporates historical flashpoints: dates like 1948, 1967, the 1917 Balfour agreement, the beginnings of the first and second Intifada.  But the sum of these symbols is nothing but a superficial display: the objects have been elevated in hubris, and are now exposed as hollow trappings of state.

By dramatizing these signifiers, slogans, symbols and clichés, Ioseph calls attention to the challenge of identifying with them, potentially subverting the capitalist urge to uncritically consume them.  The deeper suggestion, too, in his empty symbolic recycling is grim.  Things which, perhaps, were once part of a living resistance are degraded by their co-optation into the state-building project, and turned into clichés that generate a plastic vision of a nation or power.  ‘These are adopted as the things that make up Palestinian identity,’ Ioseph says.  ‘But what are they, really?  These things are not the identity of the Palestinian people.’

It follows that, even before it is wielded as a political tool, efforts to preserve and articulate precisely what Palestinian culture is distances the practice and understanding of culture from its lived reality.  In uprooting and destabilising Palestinian culture, the Zionist project has forced the colonised people to draw clear lines around it, often regurgitating the European, state-centred forms of the colonial powers themselves.  The result is the reduction of lived reality to ‘cultural artefact’, easily packaged for consumption. 

‘I don’t agree with the term cultural heritage.  These things are meant to be made and used,’ Ioseph says.  ‘People talk about our culture, our heritage having been robbed, taken away from us, that the occupation has destroyed these things, but what has actually been destroyed is the sensibilities of material and its reality.  You cannot rob or destroy an approach, but you can change the ideology around it and I think this is what happens with material history in order to transform it into cultural heritage.’

If that process is occurring in Palestinian society, it has been catalysed and enabled by the NGO economy.  Economic empowerment projects, generally targeted at women, often focus on traditional crafts, and it’s become fashionable for cooperatives to incorporate folk patterns into modern, ‘wearable’ clothing, often marketed abroad under ethical branding.  Ioseph believes the trend reduces what was a ‘quotidian craft’ to ‘revivalism and charity’, managed and shaped by those who do not produce. 

‘There is this warped and romantic idea: “because you’re a woman, you must be interested in embroidery, this must be a sort of dignified way of creating an income”.’ he says.  ‘It’s very condescending and chauvinist, and it does have a colonial aspect.  A large majority of the people involved in embroidery do not produce it for personal consumption, moreover a large majority of the people running or advocating for these charities are themselves not involved in the menial tedium of embroidery.’

The project itself attempts to counter that narrative by working with individuals and organisations that work in functioning industries, including shoemakers from Ramallah, mother-of-pearl carvers from Beit Sahour, and embroiderers from Yatta and Beirut.  The clothing, Ioseph explains, is made ‘for people to wear and consume, not from the point of view of solidarity, charity, or just revivalism, but as a living system.’

The work, and Iosephs’s writing on it, convey a deep dislike for the regurgitation of symbols and clichés that he believes so often constitute a national movement.  But given what’s at stake – the identity and liberation of the people themselves, it’s not surprising.  ‘Even things like right of return, end of occupation, self determination: these are non-negotiable aspects, of needs and wants and demands of the Palestinians, but now they have in themselves become just slogans,’ Ioseph says.  ‘So even if you go beyond the pomp and circumstance, and all the florid language and so on, you find that even these mean nothing any more, they’re just shells.

‘It can become very comfortable to be an oppressed Palestinian.  You have the NGOs, you have the lingo, the whole class that’s been established to take care of you, you have these words to talk about freedom, you feel edgy.  It’s become a role that we’ve become comfortable playing.  That’s a huge problem.  We should never be comfortable playing in this victim role: we should never become reliant, consumers of this.’

The picture of a Palestinian people trapped in comfortable victim roles, attempting to break out of oppression through the reproduction of slogans and clichés, is bleak.  It demands change through the creation of new paradigms and ideas: the recognition, Ioseph says, that ‘you can’t bring down the master’s house with his own tools’, as Audre Lorde puts it.  The necessary alternative is producing for self-sufficiency, creating new theories of thought and new ideas.  ‘The revolution that everyone talks about, an ongoing Intifada, it’s become stagnant as well,’ he says.  ‘It’s not being produced, it’s being consumed.  It’s not tackling the reality, it’s consolidating the reality, and it’s comforting and consumed to comfort.  That’s where I think the potential for change lies.  When you stop being an inert consumer.’

Bethan Staton is a writer and editor based in Ramallah, Palestine.  Her work has appeared in publications including New Internationalist, Left Foot Forward and PolicyMic, and she writes regularly for Palestine Monitor.  Previously she was a staff writer at The Day, and she has worked as a researcher and writer for a range of arts and charitable organisations.

تقرير معرض زي التشريفات :: متحف جامعة بيرزيت