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While waiting to fly: Palestinian artists Nisreen, Nermeen Abudail on their “nostalgia for moments not lived”

LONDON: A woman strides through a field of golden wheat. She exudes confidence and joy. Her richly embroidered dress and distinctive Smadeh (headdress) identify her as originally from Gaza, Palestine. She is carrying a gift basket comprising the famous grapes of her region.

Who is she and where is she going? These are the first questions that come to mind when watching “Wa Mashat” by artists and sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail, co-founders of Naqsh Collective.

“She is supposed to go from Gaza to Amman, Jordan,” Nisreen told Arab News. “The trip shouldn’t take more than two hours of walking. But with what is happening in Gaza right now with the sanctions and all the hardships Gazans are going through, the trip is impossible. It is not even possible to think of crossing the borders from Gaza to Amman. Living in Gaza is agony because of the situation.

Sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail are the co-founders of Naqsh Collective. (Provided)

The sisters say that as second generation refugees from Palestine, they sometimes see themselves as the woman of Gaza.

“We play this lady from time to time throughout our trip to Naqsh. This journey is peaceful, joyful, and full of determination and pride. She is determined to overcome all obstacles, carrying her basket of goods on her head out of the siege of Gaza, to share them with the world, ”Nermeen said.

Nermeen points to the little bird perched at the bottom right of the image.

“The Bride’s Carpet” is currently on display as part of the Naqsh Collective’s “Unlived Moments” exhibition at Gazelli Art House in London. (Provided)

“The souimanga – which is the national bird of Palestine – is the symbol of expectation and hope; it is an icon of freedom. It’s not about stealing, it’s about sitting down and waiting for the woman, ”she explains.

Nisreen studied architecture at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. After working in the United States for a while, she is now based in Jordan. Her younger sister, Nermeen, currently based in Dubai, studied graphic design.

They are particularly inspired by intricate embroidery (tatreez), which for many Palestinian women over the centuries has been a powerful means of communicating important information about themselves, including their hometown and marital or financial status. . Passed down from mother to daughter, this silent tongue meticulously sewn onto their clothes speaks volumes.

“Unity and the Diaspora” is an open-air exhibition of 180 pieces. (Provided)

Nisreen and Nermeen have taken the delicate silk threads and reimagined them in unexpected contemporary forms using wood, metals, stone and marble.

The complex work “The Bride’s Carpet”, currently on display as part of the Naqsh Collective’s “Unlived Moments” exhibition at Gazelli Art House in London, is a case in point.

It tells the fictional story of a mother who gave her daughter a hand-woven rug for her wedding. Fearing that Israeli forces would break into her house and steal the precious gift, the mother buried it in her garden.

The story of hastily burying precious family treasures would be familiar to many of the 700,000 Palestinian Arabs forced to flee their homes in 1948 when Israeli forces stormed their towns and villages. Echoes of this traumatic past came alive for Nisreen and Nermeen when they discovered a rug buried in a garden.

“The Bride’s Carpet,” made up of hundreds of pieces of volcanic basalt stone, is engraved with dot patterns from all over Palestine and presented as partially buried under recycled brass shavings. Details of the work include the moon bride and the scene where she faces her stepmother, represented by two peacocks.

“We wanted to shed light on stories of our heritage and of the people suffering from the occupation,” says Nermeen. “Many families have buried their belongings next to a well, a fig tree or an olive tree, with the intention of recovering them when they return.”

The main theme of “Unlived Moments” is a common thread running through their work. You see it in plays such as “Acre,” which shows young Palestinians standing at the edge of Acre’s famous wall in the old port preparing to leap into the Mediterranean waters below – a rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. For young Palestinian boys in the diaspora, it’s a moment they only experience through the stories told by their grandfathers.

“We are nostalgic to experience unlived moments that we have never experienced,” says Nermeen. “We celebrate at the same time as we shed light on the difficult and even unliveable circumstances experienced by the people of Gaza on a daily basis. “

Another powerful story is told through their installation “Unit and Diaspora” (WihdehWaShatat). This 180-piece open-air exhibition captures the relationship of the Palestinian people with the passage of time.

“Unity and Diaspora” captures the relationship of the Palestinian people with the passage of time. (Provided)

In it, a series of sundials mark eight key locations in the Palestinian diaspora; Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, United Kingdom, United States, Chile, Libya and Kuwait. The dials are made of limestone and the gnomons (the part of a sundial that casts a shadow) of brass.

“The sundials are made from local stone which is strong but can chip or erode if moved from one place to another,” says Nisreen. “It can be warped and damaged, just like refugees who can be forever marked when resettled. The brass piece, which incorporates elements of Palestinian embroidery, symbolizes cultural heritage; brass represents durability, richness and an everlasting effect that does not fade but deepens and enriches over time.

“As soon as the sun hits the gnomon, we get the reflection on the stone,” she continues. “This thinking adds value to where the sundial is located, which is exactly the effect Palestinian refugees have on where they travel. They add value everywhere by reflecting their culture.

The installation will be placed on the roof of the new Naqsh studio which will open next year just across the border with Palestine, the sisters say.

“The new location will be called Naqsh Experience. People can come and visit the studio and see thobes and art, and connect with nature and all the aura of Palestinian history, ”says Nermeen.

The sisters say they want their exiled and trapped compatriots to spread their wings and “fly free,” like the bird that waits patiently in Gaza’s golden wheat field.

“We are still waiting for a solution to return to our lands – pending stability and better chances of living,” says Nisreen. “I remember my grandparents waiting for the news every day around 8 pm to keep abreast of the political situation – the peace treaties, the conferences. They are still waiting to come home. Until now, Palestinians around the world are still waiting.

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