On Identity

The following has been written on the IDENTITY page of this website for years:

Haitham Issam is a young Palestinian architect, calligrapher, and musician. He considers himself an apprentice in all four fields, regardless of his professional study of any of them. He received his architectural education at Ajman University of Science & Technology in the UAE, following an attempt at Civil Engineering that resulted in reinforcing his desire to pursue architecture.
Haitham was born in Abu-Dhabi in 1982, and lived there for a few years before moving to Amman, Jordan. His late father had a great impact on his orientation: his first architectural encounter was with a study model his agricultural father had built to visualize their own residence. He was fascinated by the realms of Arabic Calligraphy since his early days; how that is formed by a tool on a surface. Ever since, Haitham has been passionately interested in the written word and the forms of the latter and how it serves the word itself, and from there, Mr. Issam pushed him further into appreciating Arabic Calligraphy.
His interest in the Arts from his early days was rather versatile as it is today, and it has appeared from his interest in music as well, playing the keyboards at the early age of eight; taking up drawing seriously as one of his major interests alongside calligraphy; and the transformation of each form later on. Calligraphy developed to the level of professional study under Iraqi calligrapher Adnan Al-Shareefi, as well as his own attempts at self-practice. His relatively short relationship with keyboards ended quickly and years later, his interest in music was translated into a real instrument practice that is guitar.
After being involved in Civil Engineering, Haitham decided to start over at architecture. Ever since, his passion for photography developed in parallel with architecture as a mirror to reflect its aesthetic value. And as an architect that believes in the genuine tool of the hand, Haitham has started an apprenticeship with his Arts professor, Palestinian fine artist Yousif Dweik.
Although Haitham is now a full-time architect, working as a Teaching Assistant in his school, he continues to pursue learning architecture in a one-man atelier method. He is involved in teaching CG art, he teaches and studies music and wills to expand his musical horizon to include Bass and Oud (Lute). Haitham is the founder and the editor-in-chief of the architectural initiative enKlosure, a focus on the Middle East architecture and design and their development. [www.enklosure.com]

What makes one who they are? Is it just saying that I'm an architect that makes me an architect, or is it imagining being an architect, or a degree, or inner voice, what is it? How do I define myself? When people ask me what do I do I abruptly and proudly tell them I'm an architect. I know I am one but by filtering criteria I am not an architect. But here's the thing, that selection criteria means NOTHING to me. NOTHING.

The issue of identity is one of the dilemmas I find myself entangled with constantly. When for example people ask me where I am from, I don't have one simple answer like most people do, I have three. To most cases I am from Palestine, to many other people it's easier to say I'm from Jordan, and when Farah and I travel we found that it is far less inviting to questions when we say we are from Dubai. In reality I do not belong to any of those places, my family is from Nablus in Palestine but I do not have that sense of belonging to that place, I have never set foot in Palestine, let alone the thoughts I have are so different to what a Palestinian would have especially when it comes to the most important of all. My father was born in Amman, most of my family lives there, I grew up in Amman, I was somehow shaped by my experiences in the brief seven years I've spent there. But now, I simply do not belong. I love Syria, I miss it, I always have memories and flashes of Syrian streets and houses and they're the most vivid of images, but I am not Syrian either, I simply do not qualify in their book although my love for it is deep.

I was born in Abu Dhabi, I lived my first ten years there, and I still have this kid who skates on Abu Dhabi streets inside me, the kid who stared at the corniche at night from his parents' bedroom window when he woke up at night, the kid who loved Rosary school, the dirham, the Emirati afternoon sun that announced streets bursting into life, the many places my childhood friends were from, the smell of air conditioned air. I lived in Sharjah for ten years too, and Sharjah is one of the cities that I will always love. It's a mess, It's a planner's nightmare, it's a bedroom, but it's human. It is human in many ways many cities I have lived in are not, including Amman. It is human in the sense Homs in Syria is human; it is a city that includes and is humanly flawed. I've been living in Dubai for the last three years, Dubai is the city of life today, they have a way of doing things that I believe is different from any other city on the planet. I appreciate it. But all this, doesn't grant me the right to stay here at my will, whenever the three-year period ends, I have to always start over or leave. No matter what my stance is on being here, it's not up to me and I will never belong.

I defined myself previously as being an architect, calligrapher, photographer, and musician. If I would be presented with my photos I would rip them all up, except for maybe one that I still think is a "good" photo. I still look at photos and appreciate their qualities, I can pick up one of my cameras and take a photo unlike many who would not be able to take a photo like a photographer. It's not about the cameras nor my abilities to operate them, it is about the photographer in me who can take photos with an app like Hipstamatic and still produce photos that have a quality of photography. However I do not call myself a photographer anymore, I'm not passionate about it the way I used to be or how many are, especially Farah. She is a photographer and she has been from the first moment she picked up a camera, and she is happy and patient to be behind the lens, I am not.

I have been a calligrapher ever since I can remember. No one can take that away from me.

But a musician? Yes. I do play an instrument. To me that doesn't mean anything, the technical ability to play an instrument doesn't make a musician because in my view there are thousands out there who can play the guitar at 1600 BPM while they have no musicality, no emotion, and no feel. I would rather be the bad guitar player that I am with a profound passion for music than someone who plays 10 hours a day practicing sweep picking and shredding triads. I wish I had the technique and virtuoso hands of Al Di Meola, or the beauty of Gilmour, or the knowledge of Satch, but I don't, and I play the music that I love and I constantly strive to learn, and although I've only written one piece of music in 2005 but I know I will write more. My idols are musicians who disregarded the notion that musicians must be classically trained and must be able to read and write sheet music and have perfect pitch, I would like to express freely like Fredrik Thordendal and write minimalist masterpieces like Adam Jones. Hendrix was the ultimate play-what-you-feel musician who couldn't read sheet music. I still feel I want to pick up a bass, and I was an inch within buying a Oud last year before I decided that I should focus more on guitar rather than try to play another instrument.

I have left academia now. After a long seven years I felt that my tendency to talk has waned, I want to do, quietly. I work at Woods Bagot now.

My space, is my own, I will never open an office and call it my atelier, this space is, and so is the space in my mind.

IDENTITY will read this instead:

Haitham Issam is an architect and a calligrapher based in Dubai whose interests are too scattered to form a uniform personality. He’s an aspiring musician and an Urban Planner in the making and, at one point of time, inseparable from his cameras. He studied Arabic Calligraphy under Iraqi calligrapher Adnan Al Shareefi and exhibited at Sharjah Biennial in 2008 and Sikka in 2014.
Haitham was born in Abu-Dhabi in 1982, lived in Amman, Homs in Syria, and Dubai. His late father had a great impact on his orientation, his first architectural encounter was with a study model his agricultural father had built to visualize their own residence. Ever since his early days, Haitham has been passionately interested in the written word and calligraphy.
Currently, Haitham works at international architecture firm Woods Bagot as an Urban Designer.