|This object is a small brass tray from the Jerusalem
Hilton, 7 3/8" in diameter and about 5/8" high, and was produced to be
sold as a tourist souvenir in the late 20th century. It is
comparable to similar items sold in the tourist trade in Morocco. The
back side is stamped "Iskandar Matar & Sons Nazareth". The
Matar family is a Catholic Arab family from Nazareth, still in business
handcrafting brass and copper. The image of the hennaed hand, the
hand that blesses and averts evil,
is an icon in many traditions, and is identified slightly differently
in each of the religions where it appears.|
The hamsa pattern in the center would have been generally familiar to Muslim, Jewish, and Levantine Christian visitors to Jerusalem. This piece is constructed to appear authentic, ancient, purposeful, and traditional, though it is a modern piece. It strikes a chord of familiarity in all of the people who feel that it is part of their own tradition. This hamsa design itself is eclectic, a fusion of several sources, not an item produced within a culture, but an item produced for cultural consumption by tourists. For the people who really know their hamsas, that’s what kept throwing them off!
This little brass tray was probably never used in any functional way, other than as a memory of a stay at the Jerusalem Hilton, though there is a black mark that looks like someone might have let a cigarette burn out on it. (Boo, hiss)
This piece is an interesting example of culture and tradition packaged for the global tourist industry. It is reminiscent of bridal trays, the Hand of Fatima, the Hand of Mary, the Hand of Miriam, and of the hennaed hand conferring blessings. Tourists eagerly purchase items that have a veneer of authenticity. The people who produce them know they are not actually authentic cultural artifacts; they are a commodity for profit and export.
To this point, this little plate is parallel to the transitions that henna has gone through in the last two decades. Henna was once a marker of family celebration and tradition, done in the home, most often done by family and friends. Now, henna is integrated into the global tourist industry, and is an item of international cultural consumption, as disconnected from its cultural setting as this little plate was in a tourist’s cache of mementoes.
Consumption and globalization are often accused of destroying culture, but the economic energy provided by international interest in cultural artifacts can energize a culture. Flamenco dance is an example of a cultural practice that has benefited from international enthusiasm. Flamenco is a vibrant, growing art form that probably would not have continued had it not gotten international attention. Henna globalized in 15 years to become an item of international cultural consumption. The farming, milling, techniques and artistic production of henna have been invigorated and evolved rapidly during this phase of international attention.