Art that Inspires
Holding a fistful of colorful tassels softly in one hand, Yasmine Dabbous looks from behind her 1970s eye glasses, her four face piercings and her kantha scarf.
"Do you see how beautiful they are?" she smiles. "These come from Uzbekistan and they are around 100 years old. They were used to decorate women's braids and eventually became a way to also show status."
Dabbous is a cultural studies academic, a textile artist and a jewelry designer from Beirut, Lebanon. She is the founder of Kinship Stories, a line of tribal art necklaces revolving around values, history and craftsmanship (www.kinshipstoriesproject.com).
The tassels are among the many embellishments that eventually make it into her necklaces. The latter come with a certificate detailing the story of the piece.
“I worked as an assistant professor of journalism and cultural studies for several years, until I figured out that there is a nicer way to tell my story,” she smiles. “I started slowly then ultimately left my university position to devote myself to this project.”
With every project she takes on, Dabbous mixes culture and cultural studies with storytelling, activism and design. Her work materializes mainly in exhibitions, where she sheds light on socio-cultural issues, of pertinence to our contemporary societies.
Kinship Stories necklaces are one-of-a-kind pieces, made with vintage and antique materials the young woman hand-collects during her travels.
"That's the real fun!" she says. "It takes me sometimes an entire day in one market to locate that one shop, at the end of an obscure set of stairs, selling authentic pieces that are not cheaply made for tourists."
Often of museum quality, Kinship Stories materials are sourced from various countries on five continents. "I have the bug," Dabbous admits. "Traveling makes me who I am."
Dabbous' website describes her pieces as a "way to celebrate artisanship and to foster intercultural understanding of otherness."
"I usually do not practice art for the sake of art," Dabbous says. "Rather, I believe in art and artisanship as a way to tell stories that enlighten and inspire."
Dabbous reflects that her necklaces come as her personal response to contemporary urban life.
"We are often disconnected, and communicate more through screens than through touch," she explains. "We need touch in our lives; we need intimacy. And that's what textiles bring to the table. They offer tactility and warmth."
With this same thinking in mind, Dabbous is currently working on connecting Syrian refugee artisans in Lebanon with designers here in the US.
An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war seven years ago. Lebanon currently hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees, amounting to 25 percent of the country’s population. Economic opportunity is scarce and medical and psychological support services are lacking.
In this context, embroidery and weaving come as a way to help alleviate financial needs and address post-traumatic symptoms associated with war and displacement.
"Several organizations in Beirut are working on training female refugees in artisan work," Dabbous explains. "My hope is to serve as a bridge between these organizations and between designers here in New York."
Last September, Dabbous created an installation for New York Textile Month at the Museum at FIT, where she shed light on the role textiles in general, and embroidery in particular, could play in helping refugees.
"Textiles were, and still are, the few clothes that recall home. They also allow Syrian refugees to make a living," she explains
The installation represented a laundry line, with hanging chiffon pieces featuring international refugee application forms and embroidered patterns from Damascus tiles.
"I represented embroidery as an anchor against metaphorical winds," Dabbous says. “I insisted to embroider it myself to go through the process and feel the persistence of these people.”
Pictures were projected on the wall behind the laundry line, featuring Syrian refugees at the Nabaa camp in Beirut. "I wanted to have pictures of refugees smiling, because I wanted people to reflect on their resilience and to sympathize with them, but not to pity them."