Bil Arabi celebrated its 10th milestone at Dubai Design Week from October 24 to 29.
Nadine Kanso’s exhibition was curated by designer Samer Al Ameen who showcased her journey through the last decade of Bil Arabi, highlighting some of her most significant moments over the years.
With metal sculptures shaped in Arabic words scattered on the floor and a projector with text and meanings displayed on the walls, the exhibition was a stunning visual experience.
Nadine Kanso’s Story
For me, the worlds of jewelry and photography have combined, overlapped and become my form of expression for the past ten years, creative projects and collaborations, too, joining the journey along the way. It’s been an exciting and explorative decade, this exhibition, now part of that. I am a designer. I am a cultural entrepreneur. This is my story.
To capture precious moments in life, it all started as early as my degree days when I had taken several photography classes as means to experiment and explore, but quickly became enamoured by its abilities to capture precious moments in life, making them lasting memories. I loved shooting portraits and taking close-ups while no one was looking. It caught and conveyed so much in such a small slice of time: the story of one’s life. I have always had my camera with me, taking impulsive and random pictures. It’s something, in fact, I will do.
It was in 2006 when this fascination and love first translated into something really real: “Arabize Me”, the exhibition held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, invited me to be a part of it. And that was a special moment in my own journey. My exhibit was entitled “Meena Ana”, which means “Who I am”, and was an eclectic mix of cultural and creative milieus featuring people from different Arab counties. I had photographed them all holding cards that I had made inscribed with gold calligraphy, the concept to explore contemporary Arab identity and narrative.
This exhibition was significant for me in many ways, laying the foundations for Bil Arabi, the jewellery brand for which I now proudly celebrate 10 years of in this, its own exhibition: Tentations. Words, calligraphy and sentiment are a recurring and known motif found in my work – Tentations includes 10 words I have used since the beginning, among them, “love”.
I began to experiment
The success of “Meena Ana” encouraged me to embrace my other significant passion: graphic design. And like my photography before it, I began to experiment- this time in the third dimension, turning to precious metals and stones that I felt manifested and symbolised sanctity, as my means of artistic process. Now, Bil Arabi is known the world over for its vast catalogue of handmade heirloom pieces. And it all began with just one ring.
“Noon”, or “N” in Arabic
Combining my background in design with my love for typography and my enchantment with all things precious: “Noon”, or the equivalent of the letter “N” in Arabic shined beautiful and bright in 18 carat gold and semi-precious stones. This is where it started.
Bilarabi, an authentic brand
Soon, singular alphabets turned into embellished words and Bil Arabi was noted as one of just a handful of authentic brands to emerge from the Middle East: I have been lucky enough to be praised and recognised for my work through awards and accolades, such as winning the Grazia Style Award for Best Jewellery Design for Bil Arabi in 2013 and 2016, and the Emirates Woman of the Year Award in 2008, as well as through prestigious collaborations.
Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Miami
Gucci invited me to work on its limited edition tome celebrating Kuwait’s most stylish influencers and artists, while Louis Vuitton commissioned me to create a photographic exhibit as a tribute to the traditional maritime traditions of Dubai to celebrate the Arabian racing Dhows during the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series. I was also invited to showcase my work, this time my jewellery, at Design Miami. I created one-off and bespoke pieces that explored my love for making a statement with cool bling.
I was also proud to collaborate with Christie’s to design one-off pieces for a special auction and have “Stop” from my definitive “Meena Ana” exhibit auctioned at the London auction house Philips.
Last year, I built on the success of the collection for women, I extended Bil Arabi to include a men’s line. It was through this that I met designer and creative director Samer Al Ameen, known for his recalibration of Arab heritage through product design. The result is a combination of my calligraphy style with a contemporary finesse for wearable works of modern art.
The past decade has been an evolution for me: from that first photography exhibition back in 2006 to showcasing at the B21 Art Gallery with “Rewind Ya Zaman” (“Rewind Oh Past”), at the Bastakiya Art Fair, and at the Cuadro Fine Art Gallery exploring the reality of today’s Lebanon and my native Beirut.
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