Culture / Liban
Three faces of women’s creativity in Lebanon
Zena Zalzal - 16/08/2008
Her design is contemporary and visual, though it is also poetic, inspired by an age-long art and it bears a deep meaning. Dia Batal, aged 29, engraves Sufi verses and Arabic poetry on everyday furniture with an ultra modern technique.
This young designer decorates her furniture made of refined high-tech volumes and materials (combinations of lacquered wood, chromium, Plexiglas and stainless steel) with calligraphies chiselled with…the laser.
The daughter of a famous Lebanese-Jordanian sculptress, Mona Saudi (one of her works can be admired in the forecourt of the Institute of the Arab World in Paris), Dia Batal was raised in Beirut. Though she suffered the war, she was always surrounded by sculptors, painters and poets. No wonder she has chosen the road of creation. A fan of graphic design and calligraphy, she preferred nevertheless to “embark on larger horizons” in her studies and undertook architecture and decoration at the Lebanese University of Beirut (LUB).
She started using calligraphy on designer furniture for the first time while working with the famous designer Nada Debs: “Nada Debs had launched a collection of pouffes encased in Plexiglas with various patterns. I produced a series for her with painted calligraphy”.
Starting from that experience her passion for graphics caught up on her. So she decided to create her own line of furniture based on “tri-dimensional calligraphy”. Low tables, benches, lights, pouffes, stools, side tables, etc. decorated with free geometrical shapes and arabesques to show “the beauty of our Oriental heritage and how it can harmonize perfectly with modern life”, she says. She has now gone back to studying for a year for a master on design in London at the Goldsmith University.
Joumana Medlej: A hundred per cent Lebanese super-heroine
She published her first comic strip just some months ago, Malaak (paper version in English and canvas version in French) and will soon publish the second adventure album on her “Hundred per cent Lebanese super-heroine”.
In fact, her character evolves in an all Lebanese context with the war on the background, “but it’s based in an alternative reality”, underlines the author, Joumana Medlej, 28, who has dedicated herself for several years now in creating illustrated works all, directly or indirectly, set in the Lebanon.
A graduate in graphic design at the AUB, she uses comic strips, illustrations and photos as artistic languages to promote and protect the Lebanese cultural heritage. She has committed herself to this “cause” since she started to collaborate with her mother (Youmna, a journalist and photographer, who passed on this passion to her) by publishing a series of small books for children, in French and English, aimed at preserving the richness and beauty of their land. This resulted in works such as: Beirut Underground, Cedar of Lebanon, Lebanese house, Olive picking , and others and more are still to come.
Led by the constant concern of “showing the various aspects of Lebanon’s culture: its nature, architecture, history, and even its mythology”, Joumana Medlej, considers her work within a perspective of cultural resistance. “I want to tell the young people of my age, those who leave this country because they’re disappointed, those who scream out their indifference to this land and claim that Lebanon doesn’t have an identity anymore, that on the contrary it has a highly marked identity and that they have to stay here to preserve it. I believe she says, that our generation should fix the damages of the previous one”.
Nour Najjar: the creativity of unexpected combinations
Following to a double master in Marketing and Finance achieved in France, Nour Najjar experienced two years as Head of Products at Unilever-Paris. However, in 2004 Nour Najjar abandoned a safe career to completely dedicate herself to her passion for jewellery, so she left the French capital for Beirut, where she was born but had practically never lived.
This radical change of view, she thought, would have inspired her creations. However Nour Najjar had already developed her inspiration since her childhood, when she used to have fun in taking apart and putting back her own chains and jewels.
That is how, years later, Nour Najjar started back to “play” with pebbles-jewels. In fact, this young woman of 27 is not what you’d call a diamond’s best friend, rather, she’s partial to costume jewellery which is more accessible and can be assembled with unexpected combinations.
Her art is mixing materials and colours to create pieces which, while remaining charming and feminine, can manage to provoke curiosity.
In her creations Nour Najjar combines glass pearls, semi-precious stones, hand-painted beads, felt, fur, moulded copper, jade and brass, seeking the perfect balance between European minimalism and Oriental exuberance, the two faces of her own personality.
This feature has distinguished her work during the various annual exhibits for creators, winning the favour of the young and hip Lebanese public and has allowed her to open up to the European market last year. In fact, her label N. Square is now on sale in Paris at Frank et fils (which is part of the Vuitton group), as well as in Switzerland, Belgium and obviously Beirut where in her stylish little workshop in Abdel Wahab Street, she keeps on creating more than 2500 pieces a year all by her self. When you like your job, you stop counting the working hours!