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Exploring Palestinian Culture through Art: Q&A with the creator of Watan

Exploring Palestinian Culture through Art: Q&A with the creator of Watan

Image by: Jumana Al-Qawasmi (Watan)

Image by: Jumana Al-Qawasmi (Watan)

When we talk about Palestinian resistance, certain things automatically come to mind, such as the BDS call by Palestinian Civil Society; Sumud (steadfastness) of the people in Gaza; Palestinian hunger strikers among others. But we often miss to mention one important aspect of resistance that all oppressed people have protected for hundreds of years – Art.

A fundamental part of culture, art has been used to pass on knowledge, traditions, stories and the feeling of hope. It is a universal language and transcends different tongues and knows no borders. Within the Palestinian struggle, resistance through art has surfaced in many different forms such as Naji Al-Ali’s Handala, Leila Abdelrazaq’s graphic novel “Baddawi,” Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, Shadia Mansour’s music.

Jumana Al-Qawasmi’s diverse and beautiful art pieces deserve recognition. Palestine in America interviewed the creator and founder of Watan, a new and upcoming creative platform showcasing Palestinian culture through art. Watan has rapidly become the go-to shop where you can purchase authentic Palestinian-inspired pieces such as earrings, illustrations and bags.

Palestine in America (PiA): Tell us a little bit about you and your background

Jumana Al-Qawasmi (JA) : I was born in Atlanta, Georgia to immigrant Palestinian parents. I am a 23-year-old Palestinian American and art has always been part of my life. Mama was born in Kuwait and Baba was born in Palestine; Mama is from Yaffa and Baba is from Al-Khalil. I start off with this recollection of roots because it’s something very important to me, though it hasn’t always been so. The importance of the Palestinian narrative was not something I cared much for while growing up. Yet, when I began college and met so many positive and inspiring Palestinian students engaged with the international struggle for freedom, I became inspired to get more acquainted with my roots, my history.

PiA: How did the idea of Watan come about?

JA:  I first got involved with Palestine organizing at the end of my first year of undergrad. Before that, I knew very little about Palestine–I had only learned about the Nakba in 12th grade. So I got involved with SJP [Student for Justice in Palestine] and met so many amazing Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike. But eventually, I started hitting a wall. I was learning my people’s history and culture through a sort of foreign lens—in the sense of learning about my heritage like an outsider.  And since SJP is a solidarity specific space, I couldn’t get to the parts of my roots that I wanted. But that’s fortunate, I suppose, because it’d be very alarming if I’d found my history and culture in a non-Palestinian organization.

So I created Watan, or “Homeland” in Arabic, an Etsy art shop dedicated to Palestine/Palestinian-inspired pieces. I began Watan in January 2014 mostly out of a need to make a space to delve into Palestinian culture. Though this space has evolved and continues to develop, I use Watan as a platform through which I learn about and teach Palestinian heritage. It forces me to be accountable to something outside of myself–something I definitely need–in order to keep on reading and researching.

PiA: What’s the message behind Watan?

JA: I don’t know! Many things and nothing? I guess the message of Watan lies in its name: home. I want Watan to be one place of building community, since we build communities in so many different ways. I mean, this is centered on an exiled Palestinian’s perspective. It’s pretty romanticized, even though I try to stay away from that; its detached from the realities on the ground in Palestine. So while it uses and builds on themes of resistance, belonging, cultural reclamation, and more, Watan never claims to be some sort of revolutionary space but instead aims to become a  Palestinians in the diaspora might find their roots in countless places, activities, and objects. I hope Watan can be a genuine place where people can find those roots.

PiA: What inspires you to create the pieces/work you make?

JA: It really comes down to my mood. It can happen one of either two ways. I sometimes find some bit of heritage–be it a line of poetry, an illustration from a famed Palestinian artist, an event in history–that I want to put into a piece. I’ll then decide how best to feature that. Sometimes it’ll be emblematic (i.e. fig earrings, Palestine map necklaces using the colors of the Dome of the Rock, etc.). But I try to move away from that because we already reduce Palestine to a set of images–the flag, the kuffiyeh, Handala. Other times, it’ll be a feeling that I try to capture (i.e. working for liberation but remembering to keep *envisioning* that liberation as if it’ll happen tomorrow, the smell of jasmine and car smoke, etc.).

But other times, I’ll just come up with the next art project I really want to try out! The latest project that I’m trying to work on is watches. I don’t have anything specific in mind for the piece. But I know that I want to make it. That’s how pieces like the Dome of the Rock clutch came about!

Essentially, I try to take bits of literature, art and history and my own inspiration and tangle them all up into the variety of pieces I make. This is how I learn more about literature past the requisite Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani, the requisite Ismail Shammout, the requisite Naji Al-Ali. Even more, it’s my way of relaying that learning to people who watch Watan.

PiA: What goals or what do you hope to accomplish with Watan?

JA: I don’t want Watan to become a big hullabaloo of an entity. I see a lot of Palestine items out there–t-shirts, scarves, and so much more–that tend to capitalize on a popular cause. Maybe I’m second-guessing people’s intentions and I really don’t mean to do so; but being critical of what we do only leads to improvement, I think. I don’t want Watan to veer into that territory, however popular or profitable it may be. I don’t want Watan to be a place of superficiality. Rather I want Watan to be a place of connection, understanding, contentedness, among other things. Art is a universal language for everyone. So I hope Watan can be a medium through which people can connect with Palestinian culture. *

Check out their shop and show some love on Etsy and on Instagram.When we talk about Palestinian resistance, certain things automatically come to mind, such as the BDS call by Palestinian Civil Society; Sumud (steadfastness) of the people in Gaza; Palestinian hunger strikers among others. But we often miss to mention one important aspect of resistance that all oppressed people have protected for hundreds of years – Art.

A fundamental part of culture, art has been used to pass on knowledge, traditions, stories and the feeling of hope. It is a universal language and transcends different tongues and knows no borders. Within the Palestinian struggle, resistance through art has surfaced in many different forms such as Naji Al-Ali’s Handala, Leila Abdelrazaq’s graphic novel “Baddawi,” Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, Shadia Mansour’s music.

Jumana Al-Qawasmi’s diverse and beautiful art pieces deserve recognition. Palestine in America interviewed the creator and founder of Watan, a new and upcoming creative platform showcasing Palestinian culture through art. Watan has rapidly become the go-to shop where you can purchase authentic Palestinian-inspired pieces such as earrings, illustrations and bags.

Palestine in America (PiA): Tell us a little bit about you and your background

Jumana Al-Qawasmi (JA) : I was born in Atlanta, Georgia to immigrant Palestinian parents. I am a 23-year-old Palestinian American and art has always been part of my life. Mama was born in Kuwait and Baba was born in Palestine; Mama is from Yaffa and Baba is from Al-Khalil. I start off with this recollection of roots because it’s something very important to me, though it hasn’t always been so. The importance of the Palestinian narrative was not something I cared much for while growing up. Yet, when I began college and met so many positive and inspiring Palestinian students engaged with the international struggle for freedom, I became inspired to get more acquainted with my roots, my history.

PiA: How did the idea of Watan come about?

JA:  I first got involved with Palestine organizing at the end of my first year of undergrad. Before that, I knew very little about Palestine–I had only learned about the Nakba in 12th grade. So I got involved with SJP [Student for Justice in Palestine] and met so many amazing Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike. But eventually, I started hitting a wall. I was learning my people’s history and culture through a sort of foreign lens—in the sense of learning about my heritage like an outsider.  And since SJP is a solidarity specific space, I couldn’t get to the parts of my roots that I wanted. But that’s fortunate, I suppose, because it’d be very alarming if I’d found my history and culture in a non-Palestinian organization.

So I created Watan, or “Homeland” in Arabic, an Etsy art shop dedicated to Palestine/Palestinian-inspired pieces. I began Watan in January 2014 mostly out of a need to make a space to delve into Palestinian culture. Though this space has evolved and continues to develop, I use Watan as a platform through which I learn about and teach Palestinian heritage. It forces me to be accountable to something outside of myself–something I definitely need–in order to keep on reading and researching.

PiA: What’s the message behind Watan?

JA: I don’t know! Many things and nothing? I guess the message of Watan lies in its name: home. I want Watan to be one place of building community, since we build communities in so many different ways. I mean, this is centered on an exiled Palestinian’s perspective. It’s pretty romanticized, even though I try to stay away from that; its detached from the realities on the ground in Palestine. So while it uses and builds on themes of resistance, belonging, cultural reclamation, and more, Watan never claims to be some sort of revolutionary space but instead aims to become a  Palestinians in the diaspora might find their roots in countless places, activities, and objects. I hope Watan can be a genuine place where people can find those roots.

PiA: What inspires you to create the pieces/work you make?

JA: It really comes down to my mood. It can happen one of either two ways. I sometimes find some bit of heritage–be it a line of poetry, an illustration from a famed Palestinian artist, an event in history–that I want to put into a piece. I’ll then decide how best to feature that. Sometimes it’ll be emblematic (i.e. fig earrings, Palestine map necklaces using the colors of the Dome of the Rock, etc.). But I try to move away from that because we already reduce Palestine to a set of images–the flag, the kuffiyeh, Handala. Other times, it’ll be a feeling that I try to capture (i.e. working for liberation but remembering to keep *envisioning* that liberation as if it’ll happen tomorrow, the smell of jasmine and car smoke, etc.).

But other times, I’ll just come up with the next art project I really want to try out! The latest project that I’m trying to work on is watches. I don’t have anything specific in mind for the piece. But I know that I want to make it. That’s how pieces like the Dome of the Rock clutch came about!

Essentially, I try to take bits of literature, art and history and my own inspiration and tangle them all up into the variety of pieces I make. This is how I learn more about literature past the requisite Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani, the requisite Ismail Shammout, the requisite Naji Al-Ali. Even more, it’s my way of relaying that learning to people who watch Watan.

PiA: What goals or what do you hope to accomplish with Watan?

JA: I don’t want Watan to become a big hullabaloo of an entity. I see a lot of Palestine items out there–t-shirts, scarves, and so much more–that tend to capitalize on a popular cause. Maybe I’m second-guessing people’s intentions and I really don’t mean to do so; but being critical of what we do only leads to improvement, I think. I don’t want Watan to veer into that territory, however popular or profitable it may be. I don’t want Watan to be a place of superficiality. Rather I want Watan to be a place of connection, understanding, contentedness, among other things. Art is a universal language for everyone. So I hope Watan can be a medium through which people can connect with Palestinian culture. *

Check out their shop and show some love on Etsy and on Instagram.

Image by: Jumana Al-Qawasmi (Watan)

Image by: Jumana Al-Qawasmi (Watan)

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