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Stories from the Middle East Region

Letternoon featured on Bedford + Bowery

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Letternoon Holiday Pop up 1
Letternoon (Photo by Kavitha Surana)


You’re not sick of holiday shopping and pop-ups yet, are you? What’s that? You just started on your naughty & nice list? Then we’ve got another ephemeral place you should hit up ASAP to find those singular last-minute gifts to make your whole crew feel special and maybe even worldly.

Letternoon, founded by Nadia Jabri, is an online marketplace with a particular mission of bringing “a new Middle East” to its customers by way of design. The pop-up is a partnership with a Turkish brand she stocks called Santimetre by Tulya Madra, and will be open at 103 Allen Street through December 24th.

Letternoon Holiday Pop up 2
Pieces at Letternoon (Photo by Kavitha Surana)

While many people only know the Middle East through one-dimensional news reports foregrounding violence and war, Jabri and Madra hope the simple act of interacting with Middle Eastern design will open up people’s minds to another side of the region. “The Middle East is global,” Jabri insisted. The task, she thinks, is to take back the position of defining the so-called “Middle East”and reinterpret it. Some of the handmade pottery items, jewelry, and other housewares might not be a bad gift for your aunt who’s never traveled outside the US. Then when she says something problematic about “ISIS and Muslims,” instead of launching into a diatribe about mass media’s penchant for sensationalism and American ignorance, you can start the conversation with: “Well, you know that cool tea cup set I got you for Xmas…”

And actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same goods you’ll find at Letternoon anywhere else within thousands of miles. “It’s difficult to access emerging and independent design, and particularly with the Middle East — I think because of the nature of the region and politics — people have some resistance to really exploring in the way they might feel more comfortable to do in other regions,” explained Jabri, whose background is Syrian and Swiss. As such, she spends a lot of time traveling in Turkey and the Arab world, on the hunt for designers who will offer something new to American homes. Other artists in her file live in the US but hail from the Middle East or are simply inspired by its history.

Many of Jabri’s designers, including Vanina WorldTar Tar GoodsTalaya Jewelry to name a few, are reinterpreting age-old techniques with contemporary spins, like wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, or using traditional materials in new ways.

“I’m ‘porcelain-izing’ everything,” said Madra smiling, because much of her Santimetre collection elevates everyday plastic objects in Turkey into porcelain pieces of art to behold. One of her most popular products is a porcelain Turkish coffee pot with a handle made from an olive branch. Another artist, Siba Sahabi, uses felt (another historically-used material) to recreate the form of traditional clay vases.

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Vases by Siba Sahabi (Photo by Kavitha Surana)


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Turkish coffee pot from Santimetre (Photo by Kavitha Surana)


You might think picking up a cute Middle Eastern knick-knack is no big deal, but Jabri and Madra say there are politics tangled up even in curating the platform. You can’t just import some artwork from Iran with the click of a button, and recent debates in Congress are even putting proposals on the table that would bar anyone from entering the US who has even traveled to parts of the Middle East, meaning vital cross-pollination for many artists would be harshly restricted.

“We need to celebrate creative talent in the region,” said Jabri. “I think right now it’s more important than ever. It’s a real social mission to emphasize design and we have to support each other because of the way things are right now.”