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From Palestine with love: Designer explores postcard power

A young Palestinian graphic designer combines old photos with modern designs to show a different side of her country.

Colorful mosaic patterns and Arabic calligraphy make a stark backdrop to the gray scale cutouts of Palestinians in traditional garb in postcards that aim to combine modernity and tradition. These postcards are part of a series called "You Are the Homeland," the brainchild of Ramallah-based graphic designer Rand Dabboor. 

Over the last three years, Dabboor, 20, has been working on bold, colorful designs — postcards, stickers and small cutout objects — that bring a modern flair to Palestine’s cultural heritage. Drawing since she was little, Dabboor received technical training in graphic design at the Ramallah Women's Training Center (RWTC) in 2014. Established by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in the 1960s, RWTC prides itself on being the first institution in the Middle East that offered refugee women vocational training, though its financial resources have become scarcer in recent years.

“I would love to talk about Palestine in a different way,” Dabboor told Al-Monitor, explaining that she believed there was a lot more to her homeland than war, strife and impoverishment. “I want to show that [the people of my] homeland are loving and peaceful.” 

"You Are the Homeland" series was launched in May 2018, with the aim of getting people from all over the world to write to their loved ones and remember Palestine pre-Nakba, "the catasthrope" as Palestinians call the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Her postcards feature old photos that show Palestinians in their traditional clothes, either individually or with family members or friends. They mostly come from a book she has found that contained photos that date back to before 1948. Dabboor's favorites are the photos of women, whose embroidered clothes show diversity according to the different towns and villages as well as personal status. She then adds modern touches to the photos by using splashes of color, calligraphy in bold prints or a modern backdrop.

“I focus on some of the aspects of our heritage that have been forgotten, so I can try to restore what has been lost,” Dabboor said. “Nowadays everyone runs toward new designs of clothes and away from the old, [but I want women to] feel proud of their heritage, see how beautiful the traditional clothes are. We are occupied and everyone is trying to take our heritage from us. This also includes embroidery and design. We should reclaim it.”

The reason Dabboor focuses on women is “because Palestinian women have a main role in our revolution, in our tradition, in our society."

Focusing on women, however, has created a backlash from the online community. One piece in particular — a digital poster of a Palestine map between the legs of a woman, with the words “Life begins here" — led people to harass and even block her for posting the postcard. She eventually ended up removing it from her social media accounts. 

“It’s about life, it’s not sexual,” she insisted. “When I made this piece [in August 2018], it was during a period when there were a lot of honor killings. I just wanted to emphasize that there was no shame in a woman's body — and that is where all life springs from. All Palestinians started from this place.”

Besides postcards, Dabboor creates stickers — her first and most popular product. Adorning students’ laptops and cellphones all over the West Bank and beyond, Dabboor’s stickers are bold, quirky and reflect today's Palestinian popular culture. Some depict a map of Palestine made up of bright patterns or a dark silhouette with a variety of colorful images behind it. Others are funny sayings or speech bubbles of Arabic phrases only heard in Palestine.

“When I travel, people see my laptop full of stickers and they will ask about it,” Dabboor said. “It’s a simple thing but it can arouse people's curiosity toward Palestine.”

Dabboor’s clientele varies from Palestinians to sympathizers of the Palestinian cause and she has a small clientele abroad. For some, sending a postcard created by Dabboor reasserts Palestine on the map. Dabboor thinks this is important, particularly after the recent tweet by Yair Netanyahu, one of the sons of the Israeli prime minister, who wrote that "Palestine does not exist."

She sells her artworks mainly online through her Instagram page, though she has nine points of sale in Palestine and Israel, two in Jordan and one in Paris. Unfortunately, she cannot mail items to most places around the world because the cost is too high.

The postcards also aim to give Palestinians around the globe a whiff of their homeland. “I would love to give those people something about Palestine … to remind them and to [anchor] them to Palestine through one picture.”

“Not all Palestinians here,” she added, “know all the details [of our heritage]. I’m resharing the archives of Palestine through [modern] art."

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