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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Portrait of a Nation: The scientist with an eye for artistic jewellery

Syrian Heba Barazi, a professor at Zayed University, has designed a collection of rings inspired by her homeland and ornaments that reflect Sheikh Zayed’s vision of tolerance

Heba Barazi designed a collection of ornaments that each feature the lotus flowers seen on the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National
Heba Barazi designed a collection of ornaments that each feature the lotus flowers seen on the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National

Combining art and science is not that common but Heba Barazi, who is originally from Syria, manages to do just that.

The science professor at Zayed University has always had a passion to create with her hands and, as a result, she has made her own jewellery line inspired by the Middle East.

“My art became really elevated after I started to actually bring in emotion and what is interesting to me, instead of just doing stuff because it’s pretty,” said the 49-year-old Abu Dhabi resident. “That’s where it started – when I wanted to include a concept that was dear to me in my work.”

She started with a collection of rings inspired by Syria in 2014. “I sat down with myself and asked, ‘what’s so important to me that I would want to express in my art?’,” Ms Barazi said. “The whole concept of doing rings came from a verse from the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, stating, ‘I am a ring jewelled by Damascus’. So I created nine rings that people can wear and take this message with them about Syria.”

Each ring design was inspired by one of Qabbani’s verses.

“They all represent parts of nature in Syria which is very significant,” she said. “It’s almost like an artist bringing out the art of somebody else.”

Her message also aims to put Syria on the map. “I lived in the United States for 30 years and people really didn’t know where or what Syria was, even though it’s the oldest civilisation on Earth,” she said. “They only know her now because of the war but they don’t understand what civilisation, culture, intellect, art, poetry and history there is there, as well as all this beautiful nature. So these rings really bring about both concepts that it’s not just war and by reminding people of all these messages, you bring back humanity.”

Her next collection, Sheikh Zayed Jewels, which was launched last year, is based on the UAE’s message of tolerance.

“When I think of Sheikh Zayed’s prime jewel, I think of the Grand Mosque because it’s not only an incredible piece of architecture but the concept of the mosque is about tolerance,” she said. “If you read the mission of the mosque, it’s not just a building where people pray, it’s an organisation that seeks to share information and bridge the gap between different religions.

“They opened their door like no other mosque did in the region – it promotes mutual understanding of what Islam is between other religions and that’s the epitome of tolerance.”

Each ornament in the collection represents the three lotus flowers adorning the mosque’s 1,048 pillars.

“I wanted to capture them, so I created it in 3D and they can be placed as a display or as a brooch, so it’s like people are taking that significant symbol of the mosque with them, which is in turn a symbol of tolerance,” she said, adding that jewellery is the perfect type of art to communicate concepts with.

“It’s the kind of object of art that you can form a lot of intimacy with because you carry it with you. It’s not like a painting on a wall. You’re carrying your passions with you and the objects give you an opportunity to talk about them because people notice them.”

The UAE’s openness marked her when she first moved to Abu Dhabi six years ago. “The only place in the Gulf where I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia and because I didn’t live in the Middle East much, that’s what really hit me in the face here,” she said. “I had no idea a Gulf country could be so open and welcoming and I loved living here. It sets an example to all other Arab countries, so I felt a very emotional connection to it and I felt very compelled to do a collection on the UAE.”

Ms Barazi also tries to incorporate her passion in the classroom. “My students love it,” she said. “I teach microbiology and one of the projects the students have to work through is creating a work of art using agar plants.”

Her collections can be seen at www.hebabarazi.com and at an art gallery in Nations Tower in Abu Dhabi.

Bio

Country of origin: Syria

Place of birth: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Education: Riyadh School for Girls in Saudi Arabia,

George Washington University in Washington DC. BSC in medical technology, PhD in molecular biology

Career: Previously at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, now as an assistant professor at the college of science and natural health at Zayed University

Marital status: Married with three children

Favourite pastime: I like to make stuff, I'm a maker

Life-long goal: I'd like to find a niche where I can bring science and art together in an applied way.