You are nobody if you don’t know who you are.
And it is this belief in self that drives the passionate photographer, artist and jewellery designer that is Nadine Kanso.
It began with an urge to remove the negative connotations that had cropped up after 9/11 and it started with art. Art that expressed her passion for Arab culture in a contemporary visual. “But it wasn’t enough,” expressed Nadine, “I had the art and the t-shirts and the cushions and there were even the photographs but, in the end, none of it felt tangible. I mean, the rest of the stuff you buy and put it in your house. There was nothing that could show the world on a daily basis just how proud I was of my roots. Realising this, I decided to make jewellery and I started with a ring. I went to this workshop I knew of, gave them the design and had the first piece made. It was the letter ‘noon’.”
From there, there was no turning back. With friends asking her to design pieces for them and stock them in their stores, Nadine began spending more time in the workshop learning how to perfect her craft. “I then realised that I didn’t have a brand name or packaging or anything for the jewellery. I needed a name and since I was only making things in Arabic, I decided to name it ‘Bil Arabi’ which literally means ‘In Arabic’,” said Nadine. Since then, Bil Arabi has grown to include earrings, bracelets, pendants, cufflinks and handcuffs. Most famously, Nadine created a bangle studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds with the word ‘Fdeytak’, an Emirati expression of endearment, auctioned off at Christie’s. “Thing is, it stands out because it looks artistic and unique but people don’t always understand what’s written. They will stop you and ask you for an explanation. And that’s how a conversation starts and barriers are broken. I also realised that it’s a good souvenir for tourists and expats because it’s handmade and personal,” says Nadine.
“A lot of people have been making jewellery but I think my degrees in Communication Arts and Advertising Design helped me understand calligraphy and typography and that’s where Bil Arabi stands out. Lots of people make hand cuffs and earrings but no one makes them in Arabic,” stated Nadine, “but I would really appreciate it if other designers would have their own identity.”
Nadine believes that karma comes into play with a lot in her life. “I don’t rush things. I don’t really have a business plan. I know what I want and I work towards making them happen but I’m not greedy or aggressive and I believe that those that lack their own identity and push too hard may have momentary success but no longevity,” she explains. But the fiery Arab woman has a vision; “I am at a point where I need more people to take the next step forward. I want to grow and expand and either I invest everything I have in the business or wait for an investor. I want to start a sub collection but I know that if I start something new, it has to be as strong as the original so as to maintain the identity.”
With regards to her photography she says, “It is a little more challenging for me, in terms of the process. It has to make sense to me and because I want the picture to be deeper than what you see, it takes time. For instance, with my collages, they should never be taken at face value. Even if they seem obvious, there is always more to discover within them when you look closely. The best example would be my last exhibition where I wanted to present my view on what Beirut, my homeland, could have been if the Civil War hadn’t plagued it. You see, because of the destruction, a lot of the buildings are old and are being torn down for new developments and I realised that as time goes by, my kids are not going to see Beirut the way I saw it. I also realised that every city has it’s own spirit, it’s own DNA and so with the collection, I tried to capture it as best as I could.”
Whether it be the photographs, art or jewellery, Nadine Kanso has a vision and will use her gifts to break down walls and show the world just how beautiful the places she calls home is.