Marlene Abdallah is a designer whose accessories not only reflect her Palestinian heritage, they also support her people. Marlene, who was born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, designs jewellery, handbags, shoes, belts and even some home décor and hand-crafted souvenirs that are inspired by her roots and made by underprivileged Palestinian refugees. The cultural symbolism such as Palestinian poetry, proverbs and expressions shines brightly in her work, which also brightens the lives of those who work for her.
"Some people might find the Palestinian influences to be too much, but that's what I want to accentuate. It's a passion. I feel that through my work I can show people that our culture is very rich. I can put in messages of happiness and enjoyment and reach out to others," Marlene says.
Some bracelets and rings have patterns that are made entirely of verses from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's poetry. They are visually stunning, like silver or gold lace, and carry messages that complement their physical beauty.
Marlene, whose work is sold at boutiques in the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Jordan, has also started making some jackets, tops and shawls to complement her accessories. While she admits her true passion is for jewellery, the clothes also reflect her heritage. She uses some traditional materials and techniques.
The pieces are designed by Marlene, but she uses her business to support Palestinian women, and others, to use their talents and earn money. The making of each piece requires several steps, and there are many women involved in the processes. Much of the work is done in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, with refugees and anyone else who wants to help themselves.
"To me it's helping others if they want to help themselves. The most important thing is helping and giving back through making things together and by understanding each other's situations. Those women are like my family. It's not only work. I want to provide work for them," she explains.
Marlene's creativity and sense of social justice go beyond her designs. She also helps youth in Jordan get involved in the arts. She runs a project called Zil Zal Al Mahaba, which encourages youth to come together and share their talents, whether they are musical, poetic, visually gifted, or can act or dance. While it's located in a central area of Amman, she also invites youth from other neighbourhoods and refugee camps near Amman. They host events, all run by volunteers, to exchange their talents with each other.
"My mother used to teach children in the area where she lived in Amman. If someone was an orphan, she would feed them, if someone couldn't afford tuition, she would pay. When she passed away, the kids that she taught for free said the impact she had on their lives was huge. They will never forget her," she says.
Now Marlene wants to carry on her mother's legacy. "I would love to continue her vision and leave an imprint and do something good for the community," she explains, adding that she inherited her talents from her mother and grandmother.
While her Palestinian roots are very important to her work, she says she feels at home throughout the Arab world. She has lived in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman. Marlene doesn't just talk about feeling like a woman who is at home throughout the Arab world; her work reflects it. Some of the jewellery designed for a collection launched at Bait Muzna Gallery in Muscat is a tribute to Oman. It includes khanjars and calligraphy dedicated to Oman.
"I belong everywhere, and everywhere has given me something. I feel at home wherever I go. We should live in harmony. It doesn't matter if you're Jordanian, Lebanese or European. We're all human and we should manage to unite," she says.
To see Marlene's work in Muscat, visit Bait Muzna Gallery in Old Muscat, or Boutique Muscat in Jawharat Shatti. Visit her website at www.marlene-abdallah.com.