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Female-Led Enterprises Introduce ‘A Thobe Story’ At Abu Dhabi Art

Embellished with intricate, handmade embroidery work, the national attire in Arab countries has been given an upgrade…

Two regional female-led organisations have teamed up to present “A Thobe Story,” a line of modernised thobes depicting nostalgia and missed experiences in Palestine. The collaboration between 81 Designs, an Emirati social enterprise supporting Palestinian refugee women based in Lebanon, and Jordanian design studio Naqsh Collective will be presented at the upcoming virtual edition of Abu Dhabi Art from 19-26 November.


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The 10 traditional thobes have been transformed into a new visual language to depict traditions that move through time. The rich Arabian culture is evident from the complexity of the work to the volume of details in each design and the transformation.


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Each of the pieces is hand-stitched in tatreez, the traditional Palestinian embroidery, by Palestinian refugee women employed by 81 Designs.

“The synergy between 81 Designs and Naqsh Collective is rooted from our ideal to preserve tradition through the time-honoured embroidery technique tatreez,” said Nadine Y. Maalouf, one of the Co-Founders of the organisation that is providing employment opportunities, as well as empowering and improving social and living conditions of the skilled refugee women in the Ain El-Hilweh Camp. “Through our collaboration, we aim to showcase the artisanal talents, while providing a platform for regional artists and designers to showcase their art in a different medium.”


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Nisreen El Tibi Maalouf, the enterprise’s other Co-Founder and COO, added the project encountered several hurdles due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic and political crisis in Lebanon. She also said they are thankful Naqsh Collective was so committed to bring the “project to life.” Naturally, the line of thobes embodying a deeply rooted heritage also incorporate Naqsh Collective’s signature minimal contemporary designs. The Jordanian sisters behind the studio founded in 2010 integrate the beauty of their Palestinian heritage into a contemporary aesthetic, producing works that translate traditions through shapes, meanings and compositions.


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“Our attempt in creating a Palestinian thobe is to imagine living our missing experiences of our beloved Palestine like jumping off Akka’s cliff and going on a fishing trip by Jaffa’s Port and more. The thobes will connect with grandmothers and can be passed on from generation to generation,” Nermeen Abudail, one of Naqsh Collective’s Co-Founders, said.  

Naqsh Collective, which integrates aspects of art, architecture and heritage, has produced works with brass, industrial marble and solid wood with aesthetics of embroidery. The Amman-based studio known for its delicate finishing wanted to allow the presence of cultural elements in non-traditional presentations. 

“We wanted the thobes to emanate the same cultural feel and reflect the same story as our brass work,” Nisreen Abudail, the second Co-Founder, said. “The women from 81 Designs that we work with elevate the quality of local craftsmanship because of their hard work and stories shared during the process.” 

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