the local pen paying homage to the region
“I’m not a talented artist who draws in an elaborate way or a prolific writer who writes poetically, but with the right pen or the right pencil I can feel – for a moment – like one or the other. “, explains the founder under the radar. from Elaa, who prefers to simply be called MZ.
Born in Abu Dhabi, Elaa produces “conceptual pens” and her first design, the Touine, is a manifestation of MZ’s long-standing love for writing instruments. In the 1990s, his first major purchases were a fountain pen and a mechanical pencil, he recalls.
“Both were significantly more expensive than my monthly allowance of Dh50 at age 11 and required savings to purchase them. I admired the craft, the writing performance, the drama of its packaging and, of course, the prestige and privilege I felt using them.
Young MZ also lived next to a stationery store and spent his afternoons browsing his shelves. “I always feel like I’m in a toy store when I’m in a stationery store, and in every country I travel I have to visit their stationery and pen stores.”
His interest in pens is reflected in philosophical reflections on the act of writing and the pen as a symbol of communication and culture; but also as an in-depth knowledge of the history and geographic differences between writing instruments around the world, from disposable Japanese gel ink pens to the rare German fountain pens.
After graduating with a design management degree from the American University of Sharjah, MZ focused on filmmaking and continues to direct and produce films, TV shows and branded content. But, in his essence, he calls himself a “designer / creator, in the most abstract sense”, which led him to make his own writing instruments.
The Arabic word elaa translates to “to” or “to”, and is a way of addressing someone in a letter or package. But also, significantly, it is the Finnish word for “to live” or “to be alive,” notes MZ.
“By that I mean that the pen is only alive when the ink passes through it. This pen, person and paper trinity brings the three to life and the result is a permanent expression of this vitality.
Sculptural, tactile and organic, the Touine feels like a living being. It is made primarily from the leaves of the date palm, a material that intrigued MZ for many reasons. “People here would know that every part of a slingshot was used for crafting or construction not so long ago. Before concrete, siding or plastic, it was part of the rare desert reality that nothing goes to waste.
“Today, these slingshots are thrown away or even worse, burned, because they are no longer useful. With a huge and growing date industry, I find the environmental implications of this quite disturbing.
“As a material, it has some really interesting properties; it has a very high weight-to-strength ratio when dry, which is why it was used as a building material. However, after a certain length, it becomes flexible. The leaves of the frond, the khose, have been used for centuries to weave baskets and other household items, ”he says.
Limited to just 71 pieces and priced at Dh7,121 ($ 1,940) each, the Touine comes with limited edition artwork by local artists Mariam Abbas and Khalid Mezaina, a box organizer made with the safeefah weaving technique and a PlyPalm mastaba base with a camel leather surface.
Touine’s roots in this region added resonance, as the writing evolved in two separate places, ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, in this part of the world. This sense of history is evoked in the pen’s brass cap, which mimics the shape of the qalam, an ancient reed pen used in Arabic calligraphy.
But that doesn’t mean Elaa is married to the past tense. “As someone who believes that the quality writing instrument industry is mostly rooted in a 20th century tradition, with big brands desperately looking for inspiration in their archives, I want Elaa to be a brand of ‘writing instruments born in our time, and not in the past,’ says MZ.
“I have the impression that Elaa answered a question I was asking myself before I even started: what is it to be an artisanal / luxury product in the 21st century? And what would that imply creatively, environmentally and economically? “
Updated: November 22, 2021, 12:47 PM