WHO ARE YOU:
Samak Bilab Bi Delo / the fishes tail still wiggles (SBBD) was founded in 2016 by artist Julie Fox and designer Eliza Collin. SBBD uses design and craft to forge local networks between artisans, designers and vulnerable community members. Through research, communication, and collaboration, we have been able to strengthen relations with local partners in the region and move forward steadily towards our goals. We aim to create a sustainable and international trade network which serves to provide support to educational programs while highlighting the many artisanal traditional skills, processes and materials. By creating a product which is not only made in Palestine but also emblematic of the rich material culture and history of the people of the region, we are working to develop an alternative narrative of contemporary Palestine.
SBBD has undertaken a children’s summer camp (July 2017), established a trade route, produced a series of embroidered and dyed samples, and held its first exhibition, ‘Welaa’, at the Tanweer Centre in Beit Ummar, Palestine (March 2019).
We are aiming to raise £2,000 to go towards the creation of a collection to be exhibited at ‘Material Connections. This includes the production of materials in Palestine and Jordan, embroidery, dyeing, artisans wages, administrative fees, and postage costs.
Your donations will enable us to further develop on the exquisite work of the artisans and forge an alternative market for Palestinian craft, while supporting the vulnerable within the community through educational programs at the Tanweer Centre. Any funds we raised below or above this figure will simply be reflected in what we can then produce, so every donation is incredibly valuable and we thank you greatly.
In 2016, while living in Tel Aviv, Fox volunteered with Muna Anmar as liaison between the embroiders in Beit Umar and potential international markets, as Embroidery remains a craft that provides economic relief primarily to woman in rural communities. However, at that time it was difficult to located any established or viable network, and there was little interest garnered even by Palestinian Solidarity Unions within many UK institutions to set up a market for the products; scarves, wallets, etc. all hand embroidered by women in Palestine. Together, we explored the reason why, and in the process have developed our own contemporary vision and solution.
We unpicked through the history and geography of the region in an attempt to understand the tradition better, to pinpoint what had been lost in the act of monetizing a cultural heritage. We focused primarily on the material, where it is sourced and processed, and the embroidery motifs which once told stories of the embroiderer's life, but are now a blur of stereotypical, homogenous patterns. In our research, we followed the geographical lines of history, tracing back to a more unified middle east trade route, leading us to Jordan.
In 2017, thanks to your generous support and contributions, we raised over £2000 which went towards a summer camp in Beit Ummar, held at the local orphanage and attended by over 80 children, where all local teachers were paid a wage equal to men's daily wage in Palestine. We were able to provide all supplies for the various classes, and to buy = paint for the murals we painted on the playground wall, a permanent fixture which has inspired another school in the village to paint murals in the hallways of their buildings.
The children’s artwork from the summer camp formed the basis of the designs that are now being developed and provided a strong framework to encourage creative exploration among the artisans.
Julie Fox is a visual and performance artist based in New York. Her work is rooted in narratives, and she makes art to explore the truth of stories of identity: her own and others’. Somewhere between the real and the absurd, (like seriously not taking oneself seriously, or not taking oneself seriously, seriously), her work examines the subjects of the raw mess of identity. Fox presents a struggle within the materiality. There’s a toughness to the softer materials, such as embroidery thread, as if it’s hard to work things out. As with the stories, her works deal with topics such as marriage, terrorism and untimely death, but the thing that tenderly holds the whole work together, is often not according to plan. Fox trained in Drawing at Falmouth University, Cornwall and at Camberwell, London. She was the assistant director for ‘Bereshet’, an art film by Michel Platnic. She performed as a member of Ensemble 209, Performance Art Platform from 2016 to 2018 in Tel Aviv, and is currently developing clothing pieces for ‘Baby Crow’, la vénération du Sidonie, with designer, Mimi Féry in New York.
Eliza Collin is a designer working between London and Sicily. Her work rejects the hyper speeds of post-capitalist consumption by prioritising sustainable practices and accountable processes. Recently she has been focusing on the imitation of luxury and use of waste to re-create and question our ideas of objects of desire. In May of this year, Collin designed and built a bench with artist Pietro Librizzi at 'casapiena' microcentro, an artist residency in Sicily they are founding together. The bench was in the Terrazzo style using either waste or sustainable/eco materials, a result of their research into alternatives for toxic or otherwise unsustainable materials used in art and design. As with SBBD, Collin is also interested in production straight to its core and works hard to build fair and transparent supply chains representing everyone involved. Collin studied an art foundation at Falmouth University, BA(hons) Fashion design and technology: womenswear at London College of Fashion and is commencing her MA Material Futures at Central Saint Martins this year. Recent shows include: 'All in green went my love riding', Giardino del Zuccaro, Venice (2019), 'Interwoven: Progress to Process', Somerset House, London (2019), 'Life Cycles', Light Eye Mind, London (2019).
Nina Clark is serving as a consultant and contact on the ground for SBBD in Palestine and Israel.
Samak Bilab Bi Delo is invited to take part in ‘Material Connections’. ‘Material Connections’, an exhibition curated by Abbie Adams and hosted at The Koppel Project, a charity and cultural centre that has recently opened a new space in Soho (49 Poland Street). The show will be open from the 14th - 22nd of September with the private view and drinks on the 13th open to all.
The exhibition will showcase works from a range of emerging European creatives whose practices revolve around contemporary making. The confirmed exhibitors are as follows:
Sarmite Polakova - Pine Skins @studio_sarmite
Cecily Ophelia (in collaboration with The Paper Fig Foundation) - ETIKA @cecilyophelia
Billie van Katwijk - The Ventri Collection @studiobillievankatwijk
Merle Bergers - Whats in a tear @studio_merlebergers
Abbie Adams - The TeYos Project @abbie.madams
Samak Bilab Bi Delo - House of Princes @samakbilabbidelo
Then finally, ISHKAR - Craftsmanship for Countries at war @ishkarartisans a charity that aids in the preservation of craft, they will also be exhibiting and running a lecture / evening event.
We have long wished to develop a large enough group of artisans to design a collection whose fabrics and embellishing could be 100% produced in Palestine. Now, three years after its foundation, we have the network to do so with a strong foundation of collaboration and community engagement. Therefore, for ‘Material Connections’ this September, we would like to produce a collection of clothing to display the rich variety of artisanal crafts available in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. Within these clothes, we would like to record the names of each and every person who contributed to their creation, so the wearer can proudly display the breadth of pure talent they are supporting and so we can remember how much it takes to produce clothing of quality and depth. Using the remaining fabric from production, we will design and produce a series of children’s stuffed toys made with the same techniques and stuffed with sheep's wool to be given back to the orphanage where we had our first arts summer camp.
Tanweer Center (Principal facillitator)
Link to project: Tanweer Centre
Muna Ammar is the founder of the Tanweer Centre in Beit Ummar. The Tanweer Center serves women and children with the goal of providing the youth and children of Beit Ummar with the skills needed in our fast, changing and globalised world. As Ms. Ammar (Muna) describes it, ‘New generations deserve entrepreneurial ideas to refine their personalities and to prepare them for a better future.’ Muna Ammar hosted us in 2017, and made it possible for us to complete Phase 1 of this project through large scale organisation and coordination within the town. Muna is vital to us for the success of this initiative, connecting us with the schools, artisans and supporting us in developing strong long-lasting professional relationships.
Welaa: Embroiderer, Beit Ummar
Muna Ammar of the Taneer Centre was always very supportive of our ideas to develop the artisanal craft in and around Beit Ummar, even if she never completely understood our approach. She wasn't the only one. When we first went to the town, Muna introduced us to an embroiderer who runs a community of embroiderers and trades their wares through her name. When we asked if we could be introduced to the women as we wanted to develop work with them directly, she refused, believing it to be too much work, and that the embroiderer would be unable to develop the untraditional design ideas. Muna's colleague, Abeer, connected us to Welaa Ali Breighith, whose family had recently opened an embroidery and Palestinian cultural history museum in the village where visitors are welcome to drink tea and see the material history of the village and the Ali Breighith family. We now work directly with Welaa who has the freedom to interpret our direction, which is primarily influenced by the work produced in the children’s summer camp in 2017.
On the left is Abeer Ali Breighith standing in the Ali Breigith embroidery museum and her daughter Laureen to the right in full traditional dress.
Above is an example of one of the embroideries made for us by Welaa next to dye samples from Safi Crafts.
Ghor El Safi, Safi crafts, Indigo plantation (UNESCO)
Link to project: Safi Crafts
By studying each aspect of the traditional Palestinian thobe, we found links spanning from Europe to the Far East in the dye colours and fibers which go into these works of art. Most interestingly for us, we found that UNESCO had invested in an all-women’s start up in the Jordan Valley, planting indigo which had been cultivated there for thousands of years. Historically, this must have been where Palestinians got their Indigo pigment to colour the deep blue thobes you find in Jaffa Beit-Dajan and the blue embroidery thread found in many of the styles all over the Palestinian Territories. Travelling between this factory and the Safi Crafts Indigo plantation in Jordan, we discovered the potential to establish a beneficial trade connection between Hebron and Jordan. We have been in contact with Hala Mango, Safi Crafts representative, who is excited to be collaborating, and believes this chance to show Safi Crafts work in London will be a ‘remarkable experience’.
Here are the different shades of Indigo and other natural dyes achieved during our first sampling session with Safi Crafts.
Yakub: Cotton Factory, Hebron
We wanted to find 100% cotton that was being produced in Palestine. Through the suggestion of our friend Bilal Abu Khalaf, a notable textile merchant and expert on Middle Eastern textiles, we visited a Cotton Factory in Hebron. Yakub, his son, and grandson run one of the last cotton factories in Hebron. We were informed that their production and exports have depleted by well over half since 1948. These changes are due to cheaper imports of fabric and textiles from China, which are now sold alongside the local textiles and embroidery. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese products are cheaper to produce than the local textiles. Lengthy and complicated hold times at Israeli checkpoints have also had a significant negative impact on exports, as they create an unreliable and unstable environment for international sales.
Yakub on the far right with son and grandson.
Bilal: Textile shop, Jerusalem
Link to article: Bilal Abu Khalaf
Bilal Abu Khalaf runs a textile shop in the old city of Jerusalem, stocking what is left of his importation of Syrian silk made in Damascus and Palmyra 5 years ago. Bilal is Kurdish-born and now lives in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Bilal connected us to the cotton factory described above and has a wealth of knowledge regarding textiles made all over the region. During our first meeting, he spent almost three hours telling us about his vast collection of Syrian and Palestinian-made fabrics. We learnt about each fabric and what its traditional use was. He also stocks fabrics for Muslim, Jewish and Christian ceremonies, and has been supplying families of all three religions with their textiles for many years. Bilal will act as a middle man, helping to connect and supply us with the type of textiles we are looking for.
On the top, you can see two of the Syrian silks we sourced from Bilal and below are two weights of cotton from Yakub, dyed with Safi Crafts using iron and tea.
Ra’anana: Palestinian spun wool
In the town Ra’anana, located along the coast from Tel Aviv, we found a small shop which stocks wool spun by Palestinian women. The wool itself is from New Zealand, but it is bought raw and spun in Palestine. We would like to work closer with these women to either search for wool in Palestine, or otherwise to source sustainably certified wool to be spun and woven or felted in Palestine. We sent some of the samples available to Safi Crafts in Jordan to sample dye them and were very pleased with the results.
Alsalam Glass and Ceramics factory, Hebron
Link to video: Upholding Hebron's Heritage: Al Salam Glass & Pottery Factory in Palestine
Before the First Intifada there were 14 glass and ceramic factories in Hebron run by 3 families, today there are only 3 factories left. We are working with Alsalam Glass and Ceramic, the less famous of the three, found on the road leading from Beit Ummar into Hebron's old city. Much of the glass is recycled from discarded bottles which are collected by children and delivered to the workshops in shopping carts. The fuel for the furnace is recycled motor oil which is collected by garages when they change the oil in a customer's car. We wanted to promote a more explorative approach with the glass workers and here we display some of the ‘mistakes’ they made and sell cheap in the shop. We are developing these ‘mistakes’ to create interesting and unusual pieces to be combined into the clothing, just as Palestinian women used to adorn their clothing with coins.
The creation of this collection will not only provide an exciting platform to display the skills of the artisans who work with us, it will also:
1) Generate an income for them immediately with the pieces that will be made as your gifts for donating.
2) Supply us with funds to enable us to pay the artisans involved in the production of the work an equal wage.
3) Open possibilities for these artisans to gain international exposure and future collaborations and employment.
4) Generate funds for pieces sold from the show to go back into the community of Beit Ummar, for future summer camps and to sustain the Tanweer Centre and all of the incredible educational work it is doing for the youth of Beit Ummar.
Gifts for donating:
To say thank you for your generous donations we have designed a series of 100% cotton T-shirts that are made in Palestine. The range includes a vest top, T-shirt and long-sleeved T-shirt. As described in the donation descriptions, depending on the level donation, you will receive either of the 3 above adorned with patch of embroidery stitched by Welaa and naturally dyed in colour of your choice in Jordan, along with an invitation to the private view in London in September.
The T-shirts are made in Bethlehem at the National Textile Co. and the Royal Textile Co.
The cotton comes from Turkey and Egypt and shipped to Palestine where the T-shirts are made and exported from Bethlehem. We will be buying T-shirts directly from suppliers in Palestine and delivering them to Welaa in Beit Ummar to embroider, drawing inspiration from children’s art works from Beit Ummar in 2017. Each one will be a unique work of art! Below are the range of colours you can choose from as well as another example of Welaa's exquisite embroidery.
Some of these pieces will be paired with an unusual piece from glass from the Alsalam Factory in Hebron.
Any left over funds will go straight to the Tanweer Centre in Beit Ummar towards art classes and another arts summer school.
A huge thank you from everyone at Samak Bilab Bi Delo!