Graffiti artists spice up bags with custom tags

BEIRUT: A cheeky rhyme turned a sturdy plain-canvass bag into an edgy statement accessory. “Habaytik. Wein baytik?” it read – “I love you, where do you live.”

The design was among the top entries in a competition, hosted by Sarah’s Bag, for the best graffiti-designed purse. The event featured at the Beirut Art Center Wednesday evening at the opening of the White Wall exhibition, highlighting graffiti art.

The social business turned high-end accessory brand – worn by the likes of Queen Rania of Jordan – waited to review competition submissions until after the event.

But in the opinion of one spokeswoman for Sarah’s Bag, “Habaytik. Wein baytik?” was definitely in the lead.

In line with the mission of the BAC exhibition, Sarah’s Bag promoted local and international graffiti artists by offering exhibition-goers a customized purse of their own design as well as a selection of 50 or so pre-made, one-of-a-kind bags.

After picking out a plain canvass accessory in one of the various styles – clutch, messenger, even iPod and cellphone cases – graffiti artists were on hand to design them on the spot. Many of the bags will be on display at the BAC for the coming month, the spokeswoman said.

One lucky event-goer, Maria Vincenti, went home with a personalized bag tagged with her name “Maria” in Arabic on one side. On the other, the artist, called Parole, signed his pseudonym to take credit for the work.

Vincenti’s friends bought her the designer bag as a farewell gift, one particularly meaningful for its uniqueness.

“It’s a great souvenir done right on the spot,” Vincenti said.

Parole, the Belgian graffiti artist who designed Vincenti’s going-away present, had two pieces on display at the main exhibition. He spent the opening night satisfying a queue of shoppers, spicing up their accessories with acrylic spray-paint.

“Most requests are for Arabic calligraphy, usually the girl’s name,” he said.

Parole called the crossover between fashion and his graffiti art a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. He watched as satisfied patrons slung the freshly dried fruits of his labor over their arms.

He described his usual art as “freestyle, organic and anarchist,” saying he’s unaccustomed to working in fashion. The artists spun the recommendations of their patrons into freehand designs, infusing each piece with a little of their signature style.

Parole and the other artists have mostly been tagging around Beirut, in Nahr al-Mott and areas around the BAC most recently.

Sarah’s Bag offers their own graffiti-inspired bag, available on their website for $110.

The line of bags came about after a growing number of graffiti statements began popping up around postwar Lebanon. The original bags drew from a real tag found in Beirut that read “Beirut will never die” in Arabic. “They were very popular abroad,” the Sarah’s Bag spokeswoman said. “The bags provided a sense of nationalism.”

The colorful clutches bear a Lebanese cedar along with the slogan in white paint. The brand recently started making a version of the graffiti bag in mixed media, with white beading and extra embellishment.

“They’re really unique because they make a strong statement,” she said.

Sarah’s Bag is a social business that promotes female empowerment and recidivism from Lebanon’s women’s prisons, such as the one in Baabda. Many of the businesses’ first employees went on to become managers or successful artisans within the company.

The extra embellishment adds an important element for the company’s artisans, by allowing them to try their hand in different forms of craftsmanship, like beading and embroidery.

As for Wednesday’s artisans, the graffiti artists said they enjoyed the exposure to accessory design, but preferred to work in street art.

Another Belgian artist, dubbed Obetre, worked on two bright yellow bags. The first had a haughty statement of “I’m richer than you” scribbled around its exterior.

The second conveyed a more sophisticated thought with a question mark on one side and the philosophical movement “Nihilisme” written in French on the other.

“My goal was to do something that made a dialogue with fashion. I’m very proud [of the pieces] because they are ironic.” Still, he won’t be doing another fashion project soon, Obetre said. “I’m going back to the street.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 07, 2012, on page 2.




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