UAE designers turn to watermelon motifs as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine

Fruit has come to represent war-torn land and is being sought out by supporters around the globe

Crystalised watermelon brooches by Palestinian-Jordanian designer Zaid Farouki are available in the UAE. Photo: Zaid Farouki
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Digital illustrations of colourful watermelon slices cover a light pink dress. It’s a design created by Emirati graphic designer Fatma Al Mulla, and the starting piece for a collection called For Palestine, which she launched to pay homage to the war-torn land. She is donating a portion of the sales to charities supporting those affected by the war.

Disturbed and distressed by the footage emerging from Gaza, Al Mulla sat down one day and began drawing. “I didn’t have any collection in mind. I just wanted to create an illustration inspired by what was happening,” she tells The National.

I didn’t want to make it upsetting or depressing, but rather send an uplifting message. I like the idea that the watermelon is a circle, so it’s about all of us getting together, like all the slices of the fruit coming together.”

Al Mulla drew the watermelon slices in a circular formation and then created similar graphics, intertwined with flowers and geometric shapes to create custom-printed fabrics used across six dresses (Dh615 each) in the For Palestine collection.

The watermelon is an unexpectedly powerful symbol in Palestinian culture, representing the colours of the flag
Zaid Farouki, Palestinian-Jordanian designer

Even after creating dresses flaunting head-to-toe watermelon illustrations, Al Mulla still didn’t have her fill of the symbol. She next crafted oversized bedazzled earrings bearing the fruit, with a campaign shoot showing models holding fresh fruit.

Watermelons are in vogue for the same reason keffiyehs are in high demand – Palestine supporters want to show their solidarity, and fashion is one medium through which it can be expressed.

In the Middle East, Al Mulla is just one of many designers using the watermelon motif, which is appearing on everything from T-shirts and tote bags to bracelets and phone straps.

Palestinian-Jordanian designer Zaid Farouki, who has started making embroidered and crystallised watermelon brooches (starting at Dh599) in his Dubai atelier, explains that the fruit has a deep-rooted meaning for Palestinians.

“The watermelon emerged as an unexpectedly powerful symbol in Palestinian culture, representing the colours of the Palestinian flag and bypassing the prohibition of displaying the actual flag,” he explains. The Palestinian flag was first banned by the Israeli occupation in 1967, and watermelons have been a symbol of resistance ever since.

“As a proud Palestinian, my heritage and cultural background have been the main source of inspiration for my work,” says Farouki. “I often incorporate traditional Palestinian motifs, symbols, colours and patterns that tell the story of our struggle and perseverance through difficult times.”

Controlling where we spend our money is a powerful tool
Fatma Al Mulla, Emirati graphic designer

Contrasting almost jarringly to the bleakness of the reality in Palestine, the symbol is bright and colourful. The watermelon is also a widely loved fruit across cultures and continents, which is why pro-Palestinian supporters of all backgrounds sport it as a sign of solidarity, and why designers appreciate the versatility and timelessness it offers.

Farouki says it is heartwarming to see his vibrant brooches being bought by clients across the globe who are styling them with casual and formal outfits.

Some designers are using watermelons to make a splashy statement, while others are using it more subtly. Sayka Abbas, founder of fine jewellery brand October13, released the Resistance necklace (Dh2,850) in the shape of a watermelon slice.

The white and yellow gold pendant is adorned with seven micro black diamonds as seeds, and comes on a matte gold chain.

“Not only is the fruit itself an aesthetic motif, but the power of the symbolic nature of it, just like any art, holds a thousand words,” says Abbas. Small and dainty, the necklace has been purchased by clients who she says want to “visually and financially support the Palestinian cause”.

Abbas and Al Mulla are donating 30 per cent of the proceeds from their sales to relevant charities. Al Mulla believes this is an added motivation for clients, who have become increasingly conscious about the brands they spend on.

“As a society, this is the one thing that can give us a sense of control over what’s happening – controlling where we spend our money – and I think it’s a powerful tool,” she says.

She emphasises that her Palestine collection was rooted in a sense of helplessness. “What we’re seeing is heartbreaking, and I know so many people who are emotionally invested in this,” says Al Mulla, who feels uplifted when she sees people wearing supportive motifs and mottos. “It makes you realise you’re not alone,” she says.

But solidarity is not always about wearing your activism on your sleeve. While keffiyeh scarves have become the most obvious marker of Palestinian solidarity, recent reports of shootings and attacks in the US and Europe may deter some from appearing so visible in their resistance.

“Where more outward symbols can spark any kind of danger, fine jewellery is a beautiful alternative to show solidarity,” says Abbas, who recently rushed an order for a client who was travelling to the US and wanted to wear the Resistance necklace on her trip.

While many designers are using watermelons in actual products, others are incorporating it as a prop in their campaigns. For her spring/summer 2023 collection, modestwear designer Yasmin Jamaleddine, from Sydney, posted a video featuring models in neutral-toned dresses seated picnic-style around watermelons. “Let me be clear: this is not cultural appropriation, but cultural appreciation,” the designer wrote on Instagram.

The watermelon, after all, has no sole community that can lay claim to it, yet its capacity to spark conversations and raise awareness has been made abundantly clear. Case in point: Jennifer Garner’s 18-year-old daughter, Violet, making headlines after wearing a Wear The Peace sweatshirt featuring a watermelon in the shape of Palestine.

Fashion is an extremely powerful medium, believes Farouki. “Through it, we can create a space where marginalised voices can be heard, stories can be shared, and culture and tradition can be preserved.”

Updated: January 10, 2024, 12:03 PM