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New Partner: Introducing Bayboon! Reviving Mosul through Art!

This week Creative Iraq partnered with The Station and Ishtar Film Production for its Revive Mosul Project, so it only makes sense to unveil our first Mosul creative partner! The story of this business is a shining example of how multi disciplinarian opportunities can have an impact in growing a small business in addition to promoting social cohesion and positive cultural exchange.

Meet Bayboon! A group of female creative entrepreneurs who are reviving Mosul's heritage through beautiful illustrations, bringing history to the community, and on a mission to transform perceptions of their city: Creative Iraq's newest partner, and first in Mosul!

Baraa Yasir, a founder of Bayboon, graduated in civil engineering and had never really explored Mosul's incredible urban heritage. "It all changed when I joined a reconstruction programme led by ICCROM and supported by UNESCO. Over the 9 months, my eyes were opened to the incredible heritage of our city, and how unique it is. This was the inspiration to launch Bayboon. We created our slogan - Bayboon for Unique Pieces." Establishing a small group of creatives, Baraa and her 2 colleagues (another who joined Baraa in the ICCROM project) established Bayboon launching a series of designs reflecting the iconic doorways of Mosul. "The experience I had with ICCROM got me questioning our community - why don't we know about it? How can we convey this precious resource to our community? Bayboon has partnered with other local organisations to support their design needs, and made partnerships with other institutions such as Mosul Heritage House who act as a local sales point. "We have 4 across the city now, and would love to have one at the airport when its finished!" She aims to work with children in the future to support their engagement with the past.

The story of the Bayboon team epitomises the often overlooked potential for synergies between the cultural and business sectors. Their experience of heritage through the UNESCO/ICCROM project not only developed their professional skills, but allowed them to actively participate in reviving the urban heritage of Mosul, and contribute to the redevelopment of their own city. Culture empowering youth as equally as youth empowering culture.

Aside from engaging with the Moslawi community, Baraa has seen an influx of tourism coming into the city with people curious about the city: some to explore the ancient sites, some engaging in 'dark tourism.' "Tourists have come and bought our pieces as a reminder of their experience in the city. I love to think that our work depicting our city is now travelling around the world. We have a sense of belief that we will change perspectives of the city through our small businesses, which in turn will promote our culture and build understanding between cultures. Now with Creative Iraq, we will be able to sell our products outside Iraq and have them delivered straight to customers doors!”

With such ambition and determination amongst the Moslawi youth, Bayboon are certainly not alone. A number of small creative businesses are pursing their dreams through projects such as Ninevart that was hosted at The Station Mosul and funded by UNESCO in 2021 and 2022. Creative Iraq will be bringing highlights to these stories over the coming months.

The creativity of Mosul is historically famous, and that spirit of art and culture clearly lives on today. The number of events, concerts, and celebrations across the city grows annually as a city based identity emerges based on its culture. The graphic design community in Mosul is also growing, with many drawing on their heritage as a source of inspiration for their work. "There are still some skills gaps, but the community is growing and becoming stronger. 2 years ago, there was nothing, but now thanks to opportunities from organisations like The Station, I feel optimistic about the future." Bayboon will shortly be joining the national competition of 'Raidaat,' a female entreprenurship programme coordinated by The Station through the support of the French Embassy in Iraq. The final pitch day, to be held later this month in Baghdad, will be the culmination of months of learning that took her project beyond Iraq's border, to Beirut and Paris. "Raidaat helped us focus our ideas, now we really understand our business and the direction it is going. I'm excited - we are ready!”

For many small businesses in Iraq, there are challenges. For those operating in the cultural field, it can often be more difficult. The idea of heritage unfortunately remains in the hands of academics. "When I talk to people, they tell me heritage is boring. The problem is how we engage with it - at Bayboon, we believe its beautiful and should be celebrated which is why our designs feature our great landmarks from across the Nineveh province." Their newest collection celebrate monuments that have been recently restored or underway: Al Hadba minaret, Lalish Temple, Hatra, and Al Saa Convent. "These monuments are a celebration of the different cultures that make up Mosul, something we should appreciate. We are also working on new and exciting designs but that will be a surprise!”

Baraa is right. There are few organisations operating in the field of supporting the creative industries aside from UNESCO despite the benefits of promoting positivity through the community. The British Council have been particularly active in fostering its development, and acknowledging its potential, commissioning research and programmes that will enable creatives to take advantage of unique opportunities. Goethe Institute Iraq recently launched a new cohort for creatives in Iraq too. Unfortunately, many international led initiatives focus solely on traditional business or high end tech - yet culture and heritage offers a platform that can involve overlap whilst also contributing to social cohesion, local ownership, and preservation. We need to advocate for a greater understanding of what heritage is (and that is a debate in itself!) and how that can contribute to sustainable development as actively as SME or tech sectors. The foundations are there, pilot projects have been working, now we must have those conversations.

There are huge uphill struggles for creative businesses. "I want to buy locally, but either the quality of supplies doesn't exist here, or the equipment is just not available. In Iraq, its too expensive and the customer doesn't want these additional costs." Baraa mentions that she wants to make heritage accessible and engaging through Bayboon's work and that can be challenging when cost is a factor. "We would love to see more support for the creative sector, because there is potential for us to make money and raise awareness.” The social responsibility mission of Bayboon’s work is also present in so many creative enterprises, making them stand out against many other small businesses. Supporting them to grow will directly enhance their ability to raise awareness. It is important too that these Iraqi business have this opportunity to embrace and narrate their heritage after years of colonial excavation, systematic destruction, and identity politics.

Bayboon's "Doorways of Mosul" and "Landmarks of Mosul" collections are now available in different formats on the Creative Iraq store where their work can be purchased from anywhere in the world, and shipped direct to your door! This store allows creatives from Iraq to sell their work around the world, with 100% of the profits being given back to the artist in Iraq. This is an opportunity to support creative businesses tell their own stories and empower Iraqi storytellers through direct action. We have some new and exciting partners coming up from across Iraq over the coming months ensuring that there is something new to find - just come and like the store to follow! You can stay up to date with Bayboon's work on Instagram @bayboon_iq - go and give them a like! Creative Iraq is excited to be working with Bayboon going forward and lend its support to creatives across the country.

And best of luck in Raidaat Bayboon!

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