A beacon for Palestine’s culture and identity: The Palestinian Museum

On 18 May 2016, The Palestinian Museum opened its doors.

Palestine’s recently inaugurated museum is dedicated to supporting and strengthening Palestinian culture and identity, under the direction of British Museum curator Dr Mahmoud Hawari. Launching its programme of exhibitions is a satellite show in Beirut delineating the political history of Palestinian embroidery.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum. Photo: Bassam Al Mohor.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum. Photo: Bassam Al Mohor.

The long-awaited Palestinian Museum opened its doors on 18 May 2016, with an evening featuring a series of art installations conceived by Palestinian theatre director and artist Amir Nizar Zuabi. The opening night included a troupe of dancers led by choreographer Samar Haddad King, as well as a selection of individual musicians from different parts of Palestine, led by composer Faraj Suleiman. Also participating were a group of Italian artists, under the leadership of light artist Marco Nereo Rotelli.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum. Photo: Bassam Al Mohor.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum. Photo: Bassam Al Mohor.

The Palestinian Museum project

The Palestinian Museum building is situated on a 40,000-square-metre plot of land located next to the Birzeit University campus, on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea, seven miles north of Palestine’s administrative centre, Ramallah, and about 19 miles from its proclaimed capital Jerusalem. The building was designed by Dublin-based architecture company Heneghan Peng and is Palestine’s first green building with a silver-rated LEED certification.

The independent institution is dedicated to supporting “an open and dynamic Palestinian culture” both nationally and internationally. The Museum is a cultural project of Tawoon Welfare Association, Palestine’s largest non-profit organisation committed to furthering the progress of Palestinians, preserving Palestine’s heritage and identity, supporting its living culture and building civil society.

The idea for the Museum started in 1997, when members of Tawoon wanted to create a museum dedicated to the memory of the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus of 1948. Literally meaning ‘catastrophe’, the Nakba saw the expulsion of more than 60 percent of Palestine’s Arab inhabitants from their homeland and shaped the history of modern Palestine. With time, the project developed from a focus on the Nakba to an institution that celebrates Palestine’s culture more broadly and supports the shaping of a better future.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum.

The Palestinian Museum. © The Palestinian Museum.

A Museum without Borders

The Palestinian Museum was designed as a transnational institution, reaching beyond geopolitical boundaries with digital collections and online platforms in addition to its physical space, as well as a network of local and international partnerships with individuals and institutions worldwide. The Museum focuses on promoting Palestinian history, culture and artistic production at home and abroad through a programme of exhibitions and events that fosters international dialogue.

Tawoon outlines the Museum’s activities as follows:

  • Conducting research on Palestine and Palestinians from an indigenous perspective
  • Perpetuating an indigenous narrative about Palestine through exhibits and awareness-raising events
  • Documenting and celebrating Palestinian artistic productions.
"At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery", 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. Photo: Christian Moussa. © The Palestinian Museum.

“At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery”, 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. Photo: Christian Moussa. © The Palestinian Museum.

Answering its claim of a “museum without borders”, the institution appointed Dr Mahmoud Hawari as its Director General in May 2016, whose experience is based both within Palestine and abroad.

A specialist in Islamic art, architecture and archaeology of the pre-modern Middle East, Dr Hawari is currently Lead Curator at the British Museum in London and is Research Associate at the Khalili Research Centre at the University of Oxford. Dr Hawari is also an expert in cultural heritage management, museology and Palestinian cultural heritage.

Dr Hawari was born in Tarshiha in the Galilee, and received his MA and PhD from the University of London. He was a lecturer at the University of Oxford (2004-2007), a Visiting Professor at Birzeit University (2009-2012), and previously taught at Al-Quds University and Bethlehem University. Dr Hawari has also headed several Palestine-based archaeological projects, most notably at Khirbet al Mafjar in Jericho (2009-2014), and has worked on international projects such as Museum With No Frontiers. From 2004 onwards, he has also acted as a consultant to ICOMOS on sites nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

"At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery", 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. Photo: Christian Moussa. © The Palestinian Museum.

“At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery”, 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. Photo: Christian Moussa. © The Palestinian Museum.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. "At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery", 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. “At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery”, 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

In a press release, Dr Hawari was quoted as saying:

In spite of the great pride and excitement that I feel, I am also fully aware of the very significant challenges ahead, especially if the Palestinian Museum is to achieve its goals in the face of the continuing Israeli occupation – namely to act as a unifying platform for Palestinians who are dispersed in many parts of their fragmented homeland and abroad, and to support and strengthen Palestinian culture and identity.

Together we shall build an empowering platform for research, expression and new ideas on Palestine, open to all Palestinians and those interested in their rich culture and history, through exhibitions, educational programmes and collections. Together we shall also create a network of local and international partnerships so that the Museum becomes a dynamic and effective ambassador for Palestine, its people and its land, and a means by which to explore its past, present and future. Above all, this will be a museum that overcomes political and geographical borders, and links Palestinians together, at home and in exile, wherever they may live.

Click here to watch a video of “At the Seams” by The Palestinian Museum on YouTube

A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery

“At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery” is the Palestinian Museum’s first exhibition, launched as a satellite event on 25 May and running until 30 July 2016 at Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture in Beirut, Lebanon. The show, curated by Rachel Dedman, presents Palestinian embroidery and its history in a new light, by looking critically at the role of embroidery in shaping historic and contemporary Palestinian politics and culture.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. "At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery", 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. “At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery”, 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

The exhibition includes items from the prestigious collections of Widad Kawar and Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim. Based on years of archival research and fieldwork, the show delves into the history of Palestinian embroidery beyond 1948, extending into the 20th and early 21st centuries. The idea behind the project stems from the understanding that textiles, as a form of material history, reflect the changes in the social and political landscape of a certain locale. Palestinian dresses from the 19th and early 20th centuries are presented in conversation with photography, painting, archival material and contemporary design.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. "At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery", 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

Malak al-Husseini Abdelrahim collection, by Tanya Traboulsi. “At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery”, 2016, Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. © The Palestinian Museum.

A newly-commissioned film by artist Maeve Brennan gives voice to the women across Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan who continue to embroider today, and whose memories, experiences and opinions are rarely heard within this discourse.

As the press release explains, “At the Seams” explores embroidery’s transformations throughout the decades and its role in “constituting forms of heritage-driven nationalism, militant resistance, nascent economic power and challenge to the infrastructural and cultural violence of the Israeli state”.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Palestinian artists, textile, political, museum shows, news

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