Masbanet Abu-Shamat 1500-2002, 2014-
Abu-Shamat Soap: 1990
300 handmade bars of olive oil soap, digital image (taken 2010), wooden stool, customized stamp, soap wrapping paper. under acrylic cube: Original Abu-Shamat soap bar from 1990.
My work focuses on characterizing items that relate to my ingrained identity as a Palestinian-American. These items are sources of hidden stories of the past, and their prominence in daily life allows them to transcend time and conflicts to define generations of a forgotten culture. My family’s ancestral hometown of Nablus is historically esteemed for its rich olive trees, a product that represents the community’s most valuable and versatile creation.
The olive oil harvested from the fertile trees was used to construct soap as early as the 10th century, and soap production quickly became a thriving industry. During that time, Nablus was known to be a regional hub for trade with a prosperous economy.
My family was among the handful to own a soap factory, some of which dated back to the 1500s. During the second intifada in 2002, Nablus was re-occupied by the Israeli army. Our factory and two other timeworn factories were destroyed by tank shells. Of the dozens of historical factories that once stood, only two remain today.
I strive to recreate and revive my family’s demolished soap factory in this installation to represent the potential for the rebirth of a dormant Palestinian culture. The tower of soap is a nod to an age-old step in the production process, as it was how they dried the freshly created soap. I retrieved the original recipe and attempted to follow it as closely as possible within the limited means available to make the soap.