As the Arab youth fall into a sense of loss of identity and the Arabic language faces the danger of gradual decline, Nadya Hazboun a fashion and jewellery designer sets out to change all this via her jewellery designs.
Hazboun is a local fashion and accessories designer from Bethlehem. The city, famous for using olivewood for souvenirs, which inspired Hazboun with the idea to make something new and different; accessories that are decorated with quotes and writing from Arab poets and thinkers such as Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish, Fadwa Tuqan and others, these quotes according to Hazboun are “my attempt to remind people of who we are and what our culture is all about.
It was a simple T-Shirt that brought people’s attention to Hazboun’s work and triggered the demand for more products. The T-shirt reflects the reality of Palestine generally and Bethlehem in particular as described by Hazboun herself from a distance the image on the T-shirt is just fingerprint but when you look closely it is a story of Palestinian; “it mirrors our reality when passing checkpoints putting our fingerprints and being reduced to just fingerprints”. The T-shirt carries a lot of information and there is a story behind it, it is a poem of Mahmoud Darwish ‘Record I am an Arab’ that fills the image all the way telling the story /struggles of a Palestinian person.
Hazboun launched her brand mainly online by simply posting photos of her work in order to create awareness of her line of fashion and build a brand name.Noticing that the young Arab generation no longer speak or use Arabic and some don’t even read or have vast knowledge of literature, gave Hazboun the idea to celebrate and promote the beauty of the Arabic language and literature through using calligraphy and quotes to decorate the clothing and jewellery. Her intention was “for these fashionable pieces to prompt people to start asking questions- to inquire about the messages, to search for their meaning, to look for further explanations”.
As the 5th Arab Report for Cultural Development, issued by the Arab Thought Institute in 2012, showed that Arabs spend a very small amount of time reading, while Europeans, on average, read 200 hours a year. This was something that Hazboun was troubled by and wanted to change to mainly to protect the identity of Palestine.
Arab and Islamic civilisation grew and prospered due to the translation and publishing movement that enabled early Muslims to see the ideas of other cultures, benefit from their intellectual productions and build on them. The same goes for modern western European civilisation which, in turn, learnt from the intellectual achievements of the Islamic and other civilisations. It then built on them to emerge from the Dark Ages of ignorance to the Renaissance and modernity at a time when the Arab and Islamic civilisation entered a phase of intellectual stagnation and fell into ignorance and superstition.
Therefore reading plays an important role in the individual’s awareness of others and understanding of their cultures and values as a foundation for building bridges of communication. Hazboun is determined to change this and make the Arabic language, history and literature fashionable and trendy, especially given the fact that Arab universities are absent from the list of the 100 top universities in the world. The Arab world has become a consumer of what other countries produces.
Ironically Hazboun’s brand and ideas were more accepted and welcomed abroad than back home in Palestine at first. It took a while for locals to really grasp the idea behind the designs and find them intriguing. Her designs first touched Arabs living abroad who started being great ambassadors for her work, it was only at a much later stage that Hazboun got to see the same enthusiasm in Bethlehem. Yet Hazboun is quite philosophical about her experience realising that when she first created her brand she knew “it was tricky to work with – Arabs for a long time looked for western creations and considered them ” hip” “cool” and beautiful- whereas Arabic was frowned upon as “uncool” – today this has changed and most people are happy to be celebrating their identity by showing it off through clothing”.
It is a firm belief of Hazboun that “at the end- what you wear is a reflection of your personality- style- identity”. For the western world “Arab” and “Arabic” has long been linked to a rather negative image and it is through her work that Hazboun is trying to break archetypes, “cross and surpass long planted false ideologies about Arabs, their language and heritage”. Education and raising awareness are in Hazboun’s view “the strongest weapon anyone can have” she considers her designs as “messengers- spreading a message , promoting a poem, a quote, an idea-“ and it is left to whoever sees or hears it to look further for its meaning and benefit from it. Therefore Hazboun’s line of fashion is in reality a method of education, explaining that “you can’t teach those who do not want to be taught- you can only benefit the curious”. For Arabs it is a celebration of [our] literature, language and heritage. “For Non- Arabs it is perhaps (hopefully) an eye opening road leading them to explore more about our culture and treasures”.
Hazboun hopes that her design will give none Arabs pinpoints on how to dissolve the false image the media has been feeding them and uncovering a whole new reality about Arabs and Palestinians in particular and their stories through reaching into Arab history and literature, served to both parties fashionably.
Every single design of Hazboun is a project by itself and lives to tell its own story. Her olivewood accessories line enables Palestinians to carry a piece of their olivewood with them wherever they go. “Olive trees have a strong symbolism to us Palestinians and that is why I consider this line very close to my heart”. Hazboun elaborated that she launched her collection with a piece “carrying one of my favourite quotes by the renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish – “in accordance to your dreams the universe expands” – and perhaps this summons up the core of all of my work”.
Raya Al Jadir