Nader Al-Sarras, a journalist based in Berlin, caught sight of a tote bag on the Berlin metro printed with Arabic script. He found the translation so amusing that he shared it long with a picture on Twitter. The Arabic read: “This text has no other purpose that to terrify those who are afraid of the Arabic language.”
The tongue-in- cheek message generated a “crazy” amount of social media buzz. Al-Sarras’ tweet has over 200,000 users from a wide spectrum of social media networks either liking, commenting, or sharing it; Facebook users shared it over 15,000 times.
And the designers of the bags, Palestinians Sana Jammalieh and Haitham Haddad, found themselves effusively praised for their snarky political statement. Their humble graphic design and print outfit, Haifa-based Rock Paper Scissors, is now flooded by inquiries and requests for their Arabic tote bags and other products.
After meeting at college in Tel Aviv’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, Jammalieh and Haddad opened their studio just this May of 2016, and began selling shirts, bags and mugs printedwith comedic commentary on social and gender issues. The two had been in Berlin to promote their now-famous tote bag at the local market.
Haitham Haddad tells Al Jazeera that the print design on the bag “came from the reality that they [him and Jammalieh] were Arabs”; that is, Palestinian residents in Jewish Israel. With the recent increase in anti-Arab sentiment within the country, exemplified by the removal of Arabic writing on street and shops signs, prohibition of speaking Arabic in schools and the workplace, and moves in the Israeli legislature to remove Arabic’s official language status and even criminalize its use, the mere act of wearing a t-shirt with Arabic writing was a political statement.
At present, Haddad and Jammalieh have started branching out their product distribution to Europe, which is currently mired in the Middle Eastern immigrant issue and rising Islamophobia. So far the studio has received no negative commentary and feedback for their designs. They are also trying to contain a surge in unauthorized copying of their bags’ Arabic print for sale. The genuine article, they say, has “the sign of the studio at the bottom of the design and the unique font.”
But now RPS is hard at work making and printing more tote bags to meet the massive demand brought upon by their design’s viral popularity. And Haddad and Jammalieh have never been happier about the attention.
Photo Credit to www.straitstimes.com