Dubai: Sisters colour Palestine in passion project to connect to their roots

Hoping to reclaim the narrative, expats Rita and Roula Haddad came up with 50-page colouring books, inspired by traditional patterns, landscapes and symbols that celebrate Palestinian culture


Somya Mehta

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Published: Fri 24 Nov 2023, 10:48 AM

Last updated: Sat 25 Nov 2023, 1:34 PM

If you take yourself back to the cinema hall, where, I’m assuming, you watched one of the biggest cinematic spectacles of the year — Oppenheimer — by master storyteller Christopher Nolan, you will recall that the film paces forward keeping two narratives intact. The black-and-white version is the objective view of the film and the coloured version is the subjective point of view of J. Robert Oppenheimer, as Nolan discloses in an interview post the movie release.

A first from the filmmaker, the stark difference in colour — and the absence of it — was more than just ‘for effect’. From nostalgia to sadness to yearning, black and white imagery has the unique ability to convey emotion. Similarly, the utilisation of colours in storytelling conveys deeper meaning, often associated with more affirmative and hopeful sentiments.

Colouring, then, becomes more a means to reclaim a narrative. An ethos intricately woven into a small venture set up by two Palestinian sisters Rita Haddad, 39, based in Beirut and Roula Haddad, 36, based in Dubai.

Inspired by the documentary Stitching Palestine a couple of years ago, the sisters decided to launch their passion project – Coloring Palestine – bringing Palestinian patterns and traditions to the fore through a beautifully crafted colouring book.

“We wanted to work on something that would celebrate our ceramics, tapestries and bring it to life for others to better understand our culture as well. That’s how Coloring Palestine was born,” the sisters told Khaleej Times.

Similar to the plight of several Palestinians, the sisters have never been to their homeland and can only imagine what living and breathing on that soil would feel like. “Like every Palestinian, we long to one day go home. There’s a beauty in the common threads of the Palestinian diaspora,” the sisters mentioned. “It is in our culture to be resilient and to celebrate life, no matter what hardship life might throw our way.”

Inspired by traditional Palestinian patterns found in the embroidery (tatreez) and ceramics, Coloring Palestine was imagined in Dubai, researched in Beirut, designed in Bahrain and is now enjoyed all over the world. “The creation and evolution of the drawing books is as diverse as the modern Palestinian diaspora, fuelled by love and commitment to our roots,” said Roula.

The 50-page colouring books, available for both adults and children, are inspired by traditional patterns, landscapes and symbols and are a celebration of Palestinian culture, ‘bringing our identity to the forefront of the conversation’. They also serve as an opportunity for people to learn about the different patterns and motifs from Palestine.

"Palestinian embroidery, or “tatreez”, is an artistic skill traditionally passed from mother to daughter, while Palestinian ceramics are produced at traditional family-owned factories," the sisters added. "Both art forms are labours of love, reflecting the Palestinian spirit of perseverance and community, and the traditions are honoured and passed on from generation to generation."

“We just hope we are doing our part in empowering people around the world to appreciate and promote Palestinian art and keeping the culture preserved and alive,” said the sisters. "Through adding colour to the black and white pages, people help the art and culture of Palestine to live on forever."

Both Rita and Roula, who started this venture as a side hustle, grew up in a Palestinian/Lebanese expat community in Greece, and then moved to Montreal, Canada, for work and education. “Moving to Canada, which is an international melting pot, we met a lot of Palestinians who were born and raised in all parts of the world, and understood the uniqueness and power in our shared identity. There are a variety of Palestinians from different backgrounds, colours; but the thing we have in common is our love for life,” said Rita.

"Even in the UAE, you will meet many Palestinian founders, scientists, doctors, artists who proudly have made the country their home,” added Roula, who’s also an e-commerce specialist based in the city.

“Moving around the world, we always found comfort in seeing familiar prints and patterns in our family friends’ homes. It always reminds us of a Palestinian artwork we have hanging outside our childhood home in Greece,” the sisters added.

The physical act of ‘colouring’ their hometurf – albeit with acrylics – is not only an extension of preserving and sharing their culture with other people but has also become an impactful way of feeling connected to their roots. “Connection to our roots comes through preserving the stories and traditions, whether that’s art, music, food, dance, fashion, and much more - these are elements of ‘home’.”

Moreover, colouring therapy, often referred to as art therapy, is also an activity that involves using colouring as a means to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. A creative and therapeutic practice, individuals engage in colouring therapy to colour intricate patterns or designs that foster a sense of calm and mindfulness.

“Colouring books also serve as a mindfulness activity, calming the mind and helping the body relax. The act of colouring keeps your attention focused in the present moment. There’s no right or wrong way to colour.”

Through the venture, the Haddad sisters have also participated in multiple fundraising events, donating books, colouring sheets, and large foam boards for groups of people to colour on together.

“We absolutely love it when people reach out to let us know what these books mean to them,” they added. “We get messages like ‘I have been stressed out a lot lately and the book will help in focusing and concentrating. Whenever I feel angry or stressed, I pull out the book and colour’. These messages go a long way. We feel elated that we’re able to positively impact someone’s life.”


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