HAIFA SHAWWA MASRI
(Compiled by Reem Fadda)
Artist / Jewellery Designer Starting a jewellery business was like following a dream. With two kids and a rewarding job at a prominent research centre, Haifa Shawwa Masri’s decision was sudden. She thought it was about time she did something on her own. It only took her one night to think it over. The next day she submitted her resignation.
It was only designing jewellery that she had in mind at the beginning, and in an attempt to enrich her talent with knowledge she started studying gemmology. Six months later, on April 2000, her first collection, “Tallah," which means literally ‘to appear’ in Arabic, was ready. “Reflecting on my first pieces," she says, “I don’t think I had a clear-cut style then. The collection seemed like bits and pieces of a dream; pretty and appreciated by the audience, but quite timid and reserved." Her second collection, “Washawesh," which was recently exhibited at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah, came as a surprise not only to the public but to herself as well. “Finally, I think that I have succeeded to ignore the classical concept of expected jewellery themes, lines and colours, which had restricted me at the beginning. I am now quite comfortable with my new motto. Jewellery is what you imagine it to be; the more colourful, whimsical and diverse, the better it is."
The road between “Tallah" and “Washawesh," however, was not that easy, because Shawwa Masri was trying to cross the line from being only a designer to becoming a jewellery craftsperson as well. A lot had to be learned and a lot was to be discovered. Proud of being self-taught, Shawwa Masri believes that reading books on the subject is not enough and that there is always something one could learn from others. No good books on the subject were available in Arabic, so she accessed the Internet for information. She also received many magazines and books from friends as presents. “I might write my own instructions book in due time, to give Arab readers the chance to fulfil their passion for crafts, through clear, attractive and easy-to-follow books."
After five years of hard work, designing and marketing her jewellery, she still dreams of the day when her modest, independent jewellery business becomes known as “Kirdan of Palestine." She seeks formal recognition in order to achieve such a dream. Kirdan, the title she chose as a brand name, is a big, heavy traditional necklace with recurring units. It was the first piece of jewellery Shawwa Masri got exposed to. She thought it was a prime piece of traditional Palestinian jewellery. A three-year research proved her ignorance. The Kirdan was just one of many jewellery pieces dominating the rich heritage of Palestinian jewellery. Quite a modern piece (late 19th or early 20th century), it was scanty in real Palestinian prototypes and motifs, which are laden with symbols and secrets. Pieces of gold jewellery from the times of the Canaanites were found in various areas of Palestine, indicating that our ancestors were people who not only appreciated jewellery, but also produced them locally. “Like a magic box, tradition never fails to provide me with secrets, surprises, prototypes and symbols, which I attempt to resurrect in my own way. This is my way of paying tribute to my country. I present our art tradition in every piece, colour and symbol. I tell stories about Bedouin women’s ways of attracting the attention of men through wearing jingling jewellery. They do not utter a word; their jewellery does the work."
“Washawesh" was a turning point for the artist. The collection was very well received by all those who saw it: women, men, tourists and even children. The viewers at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre paid attention to every detail, such as the motifs of fish used in some of the necklaces, which Shawwa Masri explains stand for Gaza, her beloved hometown. The exhibition received wide media coverage, with local and foreign papers covering the event.
Although a successful column writer and a free-lance trainer on “Creative Thinking," Shawwa Masri says jewellery designing is her priority. “Washawesh" will be on display at the Bethlehem Peace Centre in mid June. The artist intends to design more collections. She will also focus on jewellery-making workshops for different levels and different target groups and ages. “Revealing secrets about the Palestinian jewellery tradition" is the theme she intends to discuss at lectures and workshops locally and abroad.
More of Haifa Shawwa Masri’s jewellery could be viewed at: www.zaytona.com/kirdan. The artist can be contacted at email@example.com