Spotlight on Jasmine, from Syria to the Philippines

Led by Syrian florist Abd Al-Mounim and Hanen Nanaa, with conversation led by horticulturalist Christine Balmes

Abd Al-Mounim spoke about his experience as a Muslim florist in the Middle East and why Damascus, the oldest city in the world, is called the “City of Jasmine.” We imagined how jasmine grows up the sides of buildings in Aleppo, and contemplated how the smell of jasmine is nostalgic for so many Middle Eastern, South and Southeast Asian immigrants. Abd's instruction was translated to English by his daughter, Hanen Nanaa.

Together we discussed how botany was established as a colonial means for commodifying the natural resources of the New World, which resulted in the overwriting of Indigenous knowledges and experiences. Participants designed their own bouquet while learning about the Middle Eastern origins of tulips, roses, and lilies.

In conversation with Christine Balmes, we proposed ways to decolonize our understanding of plants and flowers. Christine also shared traditional knowledge of Sampaguita (Arabian jasmine), the Philippines' national flower.

This workshop is a part of the series, Neither fortunes nor flowers last forever, developed by Petrina Ng and led by local florists. The series looks at non-western approaches to flower arranging and illuminates diverse cultural histories of plants and flowers. Each workshop also features critical discussion that asks questions about colonial histories, cultural appropriation, and our current climate crisis.

Scarborough Museum, 2019, commissioned as part of In Residence curated by Aisle 4.

Photos: Anthony Gebrehiwot.

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