I was raised in the Palestinian city of Ramallah where I have vivid memories as young boy trying to catch up with my father in the bustling souks while he shopped for produce while simultaneously wishing that I could slow down to immerse myself into the most captivating "thobes" (traditional Palestinian Dresses) worn by the local women. "Tatreez" (Palestinian embroidery) tracks back to the 19th century as a tradition that has been passed down from mothers to daughters like family recipes influenced by each generation. Each thobe is distinguished by its geometric shapes, lavish colors, laborious embroidery patterns and ornate designs that represent a particular town or village. It's strongly linked to national culture and identity by telling real stories about the women who create them, geographical imagery and native surroundings, health, prosperity or even marital status. They are grandmothers, daughters, young girls, farmers, business women, doctors, mothers, teachers, students, artists and the list continues.... they celebrate their heritage, expressing a unified hope for a dignified life with social, racial and economic justice in their homeland.
At sixteen years of age I was inspired by the beauty of the embroidery and pieced together a Palestinian traditional fashion show in high school. With the help of my childhood friend and classmates, models walked down the runway with vibrant thobes and elaborate jewelry borrowed from families and friends.
In hindsight, I realize those were my early trips to a museum - a living museum. I was inspired by the meticulous detail that usually takes months to a year till it's completed, typically created for a wedding or a special occasion. The thobe is alive, its coded language became a symbol of solidarity that connects people living in Palestine and the diaspora across the world.
During the early months of 2020 I spent my time in quarantine thinking and reflecting about the state of the world. Masks have become a global statement and I have something to say. I designed "ARD" Project; a line of limited edition "collectable" ornamented genderless masks as a nod to my roots and heritage. Masks are personal, they became second skin throughout daily life. I thought about the shapes of comfort and importance of fit with protective, soft and functional fabrics from day into night that are vibrant and safe. Some are hand embroidered while others are inspired by the craft. Tatreez supports the artisans while preserving an endangered and masterful art.
Photo by Shelby Comstock Britten