A Palestinian Home: Optimistic design in a context of misery.

Event brochure for Palestinian dinner at the WEF, designed by Salua Qidan.
A full scale Israeli assault on Gaza was (still is) underway and Palestinians were (still are) getting killed by the dozen. In the West Bank, the Israeli apartheid wall is being built. All of this is happening less than 100 kilometers away from Amman. These images assault us everyday on the front page of the newspaper and on TV, to the degree that we, like the rest of the world, have become almost numb.

So when Jack Persekian, the Jerusalem-based art curator and event organizer, walked into our office one morning with a commission to develop the visual theme for a Palestinian dinner and cultural event at the World Economic Forum, a mental reboot was necessary.

There we sat in our conference room at SYNTAX: Jack, my partner Salua Qidan and myself, debating how to approach such an assignment. We talk of walls, traditional Nabulsi soap, the typical image of the Palestinians who seemingly always complain how bad they’ve got it, the media and its power to manipulate, how even death can be branded as tragic and sad or, conversely, irrelevant and ordinary, depending on how it is “packaged” on TV.

So what’s the point of another slideshow of Palestinian misery to be shown to the WEF audience. Don’t we want to show Palestinian optimism instead? Well, it’s pretty absurd to hang out an “invest in Palestine” banner when the “country” is riddled with checkpoints, settlements, incursions and closures. What a dilemma!
Jack played a slideshow on his laptop, showing a selection of his digital photos of contemporary life in Palestine. Then it hit us: Palestinian life goes on, despite all the disasters.

“When you invite people to your home for dinner you don’t start complaining about all your problems the minute they come through the door,” I said. The idea of this dinner as an invitation to a Palestinian home stuck. A home/homeland is a reflection a person’s/family’s/nation’s culture and values. That’s what the invitations, slideshows, event program and the overall experience of this dinner should be about. A civilized Palestinian home and dinner table. In such context, it’s ok to discuss your problems with your guests.

The same day I took off to Dubai and Salua started developing the visual concept for an event program. With ten days to go till the deadline, no one on the ad-hoc team that Jack put together had time to waste. The event’s corporate sponsors liked the concept but insisted on “Palestine: A Cultural Experience” as a title for our event program brochure. Oh well.

Ten days of hectic activity and frayed nerves ensued. But on the evening of May 16, the “Palestinian Home” was ready, complete with a wall made of soap, slideshows, musicians and a contemporary dance performance. And it was a full house!

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