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London, August 1st, early afternoon
“Hi! Can you hear me?”
I say to the reflection of my own face on my laptop screen. No, she’s not there yet. The connection keeps failing. I’m trying to reach Nujoud Oweis. We met a few years ago and instantly clicked, rare was the weekend we wouldn’t see each other in London B.C. (before Covid).
The benefit of this crisis is that people are ironically more reachable. Interviews are facilitated through the digital space, but only when the wifi is in a good mood. Everyone has more time and seems more eager to chat when inside four walls.
“Yes, yes I can hear you! Can you hear me?”
I decided to interview Nujoud because she is an incredible artist and one of the most unique and kind hearted people I know. Her work is mesmerising and the depth to which she goes with her pieces is impressive. Nujoud is Jordanian, she has recently graduated from Central Saint Martins in London, with a BA in Textile Design. She has been nominated for an international graduate in textiles prize, the NextGen Awards Première Vision. Currently, she is in Amman, Jordan, where she returned to at the beginning of the pandemic, but she states she can’t wait to get her feet back in London.
Nevertheless, “I’m happy to be here because it gave me a better opportunity to get to know my country, to discover all of these new places that I didn’t have the chance to before” she concurs.
“I have always been interested in working with my hands from a young age” she tells me. “My grandmother is my biggest muse and inspiration, she’s an embroiderer, painter, sculptor, just a multi talented woman, so I was kind of brought up to appreciate art in general in all of its forms. When growing up I started to realise where my interests truly lie, which is in textile fabrics, accessories mostly, and also fashion of course as a form of self identity and self-expression. I just started developing my own style throughout the years which lead me to where I am today, a proud Jordanian artist and Arabic woman.”
Her family is incredibly supportive and has a keen interest on the arts, so I asked her how does she feel the Jordanian society sees her career path.
“I feel there is opportunity for a lot of creative endeavours in Jordan, I just feel that the majority of the population just doesn’t understand the depth of which an artistic career can lead to” she said, sadly.
“When you say you are studying textile or fashion design, they always assume that you're a tailor, just a person who sews things together, there’s no understanding towards that kind of career. People usually tend to resonate more with medicine, engineering or architecture in my country, also mainly because it’s a very patriarchal country, so art tends to lean more towards the feminine side or the more expressive side of any career, so it’s just a little bit alien to them.”
However, she is optimistic and says things are changing. “Coming back to Jordan after being in London for four years has been a cultural shock but also a pretty good thing because I’ve realised there are a lot of opportunities for artists here, and also there is a small community of creatives that is slowly starting to grow, whether it’s architects or graphic designers, fashion designers, or even people who just want to be heard and who haven’t had the chance to yet, like gender fluid people, people who suffer for not being accepted because of their sexuality. All of this for me falls under the creative sphere because they're just people who don’t think they’ve found their place within the Jordanian society yet. I’m hoping that things do start to chance here, and it’s unfortunate that most people don’t see it, but you know, it always starts somewhere and then it grows from there, so I’m hopeful for the future.”
Since her work is so unique and embedded in her Jordanian heritage, in my understanding, I asked her if it was a conscious choice to incorporate that part of herself in it or if it is something so deep-rooted within her that just becomes inevitable to her self-expression.
“Yes, I feel like my work has a very clear theme, as for my use of found objects from the sea in Jordan.” The love for crustaceans has always been there but their incorporation in her pieces was something later discovered without an immediate connection to the ‘why?’. I guess some things are just inescapable.
“Sustainability is something that’s really important and I think every designer and creator should encourage this in their work because we need to be conscious of the materials that we use, where they come from and their lifespan”, she calls out. “My grandfather bought a beach house in Aqaba, Jordan when he was really young with his brother and ever since then, everyone in the family has set foot on that same beach, and so have I. Having that in mind is really special to me and my favourite activity there is collecting shells with my grandmother and discussing these unreal extravagant creatures, that produce the most beautiful shells and objects.”
Nujoud finds beauty in what others fail to notice. “When creatures leave their shells what is left is beauty that is overlooked by so many. I see people walking at the beach, in the sand, and they don’t observe, they just walk. For me observing has been a huge way of learning, since always I have collected so many objects, like corals and shells and you can just see how they dry and their behaviour outside of water. I’m trying to use that in my accessories’ pieces and it has turned out to be something that even other people now appreciate.” It turns out sometimes you only need someone to make you see what you have ignored before.
What does the current Fashion and Art scene in Jordan look like? Where would creatives feel at home when visiting Amman?
“It’s definitely growing, there are so many beautiful things to see here, whether it’s galleries supporting traditional artisans or more contemporary artists. I feel art has definitely been integrated within cafés and there is also a lot of graffiti street art around specific areas in Jordan”
Some of her favourite places are Orient Gallery, Nabad Galley, Darat Al Funun, Wadi Finan Gallery, the National Jordanian Gallery of Art, a must, she says, and the MMAG Foundation that supports young artists who can rent spaces and present their work there.
“There are as well some areas like Al Waibdeh, Rainbow Street and First Circle, which are spots with a lot of cafés, where artists can just be themselves. These areas are where you usually find all the creatives.”
Nujoud says she is currently working on turning her projects into business. “My final graduation project was based on accessory design, two things I would like to develop is first: observing the bags I made for my final collection and try to make a few, maybe four, really perfect ones to see if the quality, the materials and the style is something that can be sold into the market”, she states putting her business cap on.
“Something else is a jewellery collection that I’m working on, merging both nature and luxury, where I’m going to be using gold and corals that I found on the beach. I’ve done a few prototypes and they’ve been successful, they turned out beautiful!”, she smiles and I know it’s true. “I’d like to do some pieces that are statement pieces and some pieces that are everyday pieces to see what sells more and to see how people react to it.”
To finalise, I asked her, as an artist, where would she like to be based-
“That’s a very easy question, London for sure. Notting Hill, more specifically. Portobello Market is my escape, when I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday, I go there with some friends who are as obsessed with antiques and art and craft and food as I am”, endearingly winking at me. “I think London is so diverse, you get to meet so many new people, and it’s just so expressive, it allows you to freely be who you want without any judgement and that’s something that I love, especially coming from an Arabic country, which is quite conservative, it’s nice to see that there are other societies that just accept beyond the sphere of societal norms.”
If you are interested in knowing more about Jordan, you can check Nujoud’s local guide for a full blown tour.