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Q&A with Palestinian fashion designer Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ

Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ is a Palestinian fashion designer living and working between Palestine, London and Beirut. To coincide with London Fashion Week he reveals his most recent work and creations Official Portrait; the final phase of The Ceremonial Vniform project. More information. 

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© Omarivs Ioseph Filivs Dinæ & Tarek Moukaddem MMXIII.

1/ Tell us briefly about yourself (where are you based / what are you studying/ where have you previously exhibited etc.)

I am officially based in Palestine, Jerusalem. Still I move around very regularly and work across several places including Ramallah, Beit-Sahour, Birzeit as well as London and Beirut. It is not very ideal this nomadic lifestyle. An inevitable pattern of life under occupation; when you are lucky to have the appropriate papers that allow you to move more freely in occupied Palestine and abroad you have to go to people and the world, because usually it’s not easy the other way around.

I officially graduated with a BA in Fashion Design and Technology from London College of Fashion in 2010. I decided to apply for an MA in Social Anthropology earlier this year and received an offer from Goldsmiths in London. I start in 2014, which will give me enough time to fundraise. The decision to go back to academia was mostly prompted by a need to understand my own practice, which heavily relies on social history and ethnography.

My first ever exhibition, Silk Thread Martyrs, in 2011 was at the Mosaic Rooms in London. That same year it was shown again in Jerusalem as part of Yabous’ Jerusalem Festival, and I curated my first exhibition, Beyond Æsthetics, at Birzeit University Museum (BZUM). Beyond Æsthetics was great fun because I did not have to worry about making things or showing my own work. It was about interpreting and displaying the objects in the Museum’s ethnographic collections and playing with what already existed. I had a lot of freedom and a lot of support.

In 2012 I collaborated again with BZUM on a more conceptual exhibition called Museum Seat of the Mvse. At the same time I was working on my Young Artist of the Year Award 2012 entry, the Ceremonial Vniform MMXII. This was barely completed in time for the exhibition, at the A.M. Qattan Foundation in Ramallah later that year. Typically I was not satisfied with the final product, so in 2013 when some works from the show were exhibited at the Mosaic Rooms (YAYA12), I decided to show different aspects from the work and withhold others. I showed the ‘Presidential Panel’ and the ‘PLO Clogs’, which were value-laden objects with a lot of work and process invested in them. This also gave me the chance to elaborate on each object.

2/ Since you exhibited at The Mosaic Rooms, you have been busy working on a project entitled: Official Portrait, which was unveiled during London Fashion Week. Can you briefly tell us how this came about and describe what it includes?

 Well, Official Portrait is effectively the final phase in The Ceremonial Vniform. It basically is the photo-shoot of the collection. The collection is not really a series of outfits but rather a collection of manuals, techniques, samples, garments and accessories that imagine a system of dress for male officials in a would be Palestinian State. I wanted to create an image that would not only show these but that would continue the concept of the artwork. So I thought of painted European portraits and state pictures which show the sitter in a very particular and relevant setting. The props in those were always significant and usually referenced the background of the portrayed person. Some were metaphors others were exceptionally explicit statements on power, class, experience, etc. So the fruits in the pictures, the ottoman furniture, the flowers the draped fabrics, and the bit of wall showing in the left corner; these are all very deliberate symbols and references.

Beirut was the only place I could have produced images like this, first because I could work with Tarek Moukaddem, my Lebanese photographer and visual artist friend. We met in 2009 outside a bar in Beirut after he showed interest in a pair of sirwal-jeans I was wearing and wanted me to make him a pair. Our first collaboration was in December 2010 on the Silk Thread Martyrs shoot, right before the show in 2011. Once he gets down to shoot, it all becomes effortless and genius, not so much the preparation and settling on the concept or style though.

Official Portrait would have never looked the same though had it not been for the sitters/models. Abu Zuhair and Abu Saleh are Syrian workers who have to live and work in Beirut for all sorts of reasons. Their involvement was intentional, as I was looking for someone who was not familiar with modeling or posing for fashion. What was very interesting was the unexpected calm with which the entire shoot was conducted. It was August, so it was super hot and super humid in the studio and they were in layers and layers of fabric. Even though they had never done anything like this before, everything fell into place. There was very little direction or posing. It was brilliant. Initially I did not see it, but what both men bring to the image and narrative is in terrible sync with the project itself. They were both in a place where they have never been before, in reality and on the constructed set, which reflect the concept of the Ceremonial Vniform, especially in terms of awkwardness and imposition.

I am also aware that there could be a lot of romance and discourse spun around these two men. Especially because of their life experience, nationality and circumstances that have led to them working and living in Beirut. It’s very tricky because, had these men been professional models, their life experiences and identities would almost be totally irrelevant. It’s something to think about.

3/ Can you tell us about any exhibitions you visited recently that you found interesting/ inspiring?

Do it at the Manchester Art Gallery curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist. The exhibition was not in the least inspiring, but very interesting. It made me think about the emergence of these super-star contemporary art curators, who more commonly tend to be male and the power they yield. Comparing them to the celebrity designers in fashion put me on an interesting trajectory of thought…It provoked something more of an academic though process, rather than a moment of euphoric epiphany and insight!

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