Autumn 2019 — Summer 2023
Antwerp Research Instituut for the Arts (ARIA) — Sint Lucas Antwerp & University of Antwerp
The PhD research project “Disarming Design from Palestine” questions how design can be a vehicle for empowerment and solidarity in suppressed realities. How can one through the practice of design develop sustainable positions in fractured societies? Building upon relations of trust and long-term involvements in Palestine, Annelys Devet will analyze, define and design the conditions for design to have a social, political and emancipatory impact. A concrete goal is to develop, in close collaboration with local partners, new forms and platforms for design education, collaboration and exchange in Palestine, reinforcing the economic, political and artistic sustainability of designers.
In 2012 Annelys Devet co-founded the thought-provoking design label ‘Disarming Design from Palestine’ to spread human and cultural narratives about life in Palestine through useful products that address the occupation from inside out, with the ambition to ‘disarm’ the often violent media-image of the Palestinian situation. With this project she wanted to sensitize the debate on the situation and reflect upon the potential of creative practices in situations of conflict. Yearly workshops were organized in which Palestinian and international designers collaborated with local producers. Collaboratively they designed new goods out of existing production techniques and available, mostly local, resources. By stimulating interdisciplinary working relations new artistic models were developed. The project presented design as a platform for discourse and questioned how creative practices can contribute to the emancipation, self-empowerment and resilience of people in marginalized positions.
Approaching design and crafts in this context gives other perspective on resources, labour, identity, economy, heritage, community, occupation and politics. It sharpens the gaze to marginalized voices, suppressed positions and colonialism, also out of Palestine.
Through design one can reclaim agency on another way then for example journalism, politics or the arts can do. But design can also easily be instrumentalized in oppressing markets and indirectly contribute to its power, instead of resisting it — for instance when it’s solely presented as a problem-solving-tool. Does a fractured society demand even more articulated conditions and a critical mentality for designers in order to maintain an emancipating position? An informed discourse on these issues is lacking in a design context. While it is essential for political debates that designers understand how to attain agency in the discussions that shape their world, and use their expertise to support resistance, solidarity and equality.
Given this context, Devet conducts further research in how design can be a vehicle for political action and solidarity; how, through the act of design, one can engage in complex politicized realities and how design practices can be a way to resist oppression, and a strategy to establish sustainable positions in disrupted and fractured societies. How can the act of design in Palestine teach us about the political, economic and social impact? How can the political, economic and social impact of such a design practice be activated through cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaborative processes? How to develop new educational platforms for design based on these insights? And how can such a program contribute to the economic, political and artistic independence of designers, hence strengthen their emancipatory and resilient potential?
Based on this further research, collaborative models will be developed in which designers, crafts and the political realm meet, such as summer schools in Palestine with local and international designers, a self-sustainable peer-to-peer educational design program in Birzeit and a program on masters level. The specific conditions and models will be developed in collaboration with: Disarming Design from Palestine, the Birzeit University, the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam and the Sint Lucas School of Arts Antwerp.
Collaboratively new vocabularies will be set about design in conflict situations during workshops, expert meetings, interviews, essays, a masters program, symposia and other relevant formats of exchange – and ultimately it will take shape in new educational models, in but also outside of Palestine. The findings of this theoretical and practice based research will result in a publication that shows the potential for a design-mentality and practice that contributes to the political debate. Because in a society that is prevented from thinking creatively, progressive change is impossible. Design, which teaches us to think in a visionary manner, is essential to both societal and political transformation.
PhD Candidate: Annelys Devet
Promoter UAntwerpen: Dr. Pascal Gielen
Promoter SLA: Dr. Petra Van Brabandt
Chair: Roschanack Shaery-Yazdi
External expert: Dr. Lara Khaldi