The Palestinian Museum Organised a Symposium on the History and Evolution of Palestinian Embroidery

The Palestinian Museum hosted its third Symposium in the “Qalandiya International” at its premises in Birzeit. The session addressed the Museum’s first satellite exhibition “’At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery’”, which was organised in Beirut in May 2016. Speakers also presented the research alongside the exhibition on embroidery in the art and community works. Speakers included Rachel Dedman (curator of At the Seams exhibition), Farida Al-Aref Al’Amad, President of Inash Al-Usra Association, and artist Sliman Mansour, writer and artist, Tania Tamari Nasir, moderated the session.

Starting with her personal biography, Tania Tamari Nasir started the session to speak about the evolution of Palestinian embroidery and her encounters with this art since 1940s. She explained how embroidery shifted from the private into the public space and mentioned the names of women who played a prominent role in developing embroidery in the cities of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, including Ellen Mansour and Tania Zaarour, founders of the first embroidery cooperative in Ramallah.

Curator of “At the Seams” exhibition, Rachel Dedman, who had spent two years researching the history of Palestinian embroidery, interviewing 60 Palestinian embroiders in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, explained that embroidery bears an affectionate as well as a universal dimension. She added that the purpose of the exhibition was to demonstrate the history of embroidery before 1940’s and how modernity influenced clothing and embroidery as a living work. Moreover, embroidery, being a form of material history, sensitively reflects the social and political landscape in which it was produced. The exhibition investigates the ways in which embroidery was understood as an implicitly political act- by virtue of being made by people, for wear on the body. It displayed the explicit and declared ways in which embroidery mimicked the overall political scenes in the past hundred years.

In her presentation, Dedman presented examples of the different layers displayed in the exhibition, starting with daily dresses and how they present a reading of day-to-day life. She also addressed the issues of fabric and the industry and how embroidery was influenced by the economic changes under the British Mandate that it used new fabrics and European designs. On another level, in the aftermath of the Nakba, the hardship in camps forced a shift to machine embroidery, which appeared as a craft and source of income for many women. However, in the 1970’s, embroidery appeared as a symbol of the Palestinian identity and heritage. The symbolism of national dresses sparked in the 1980’s as women – with the eruption of the Intifada in 1987 – embroidered explicitly national symbols on their dresses including the Palestinian flag. This was a reaction against Israelis’ prohibition of any artistic representation of the colors of the Palestinian flag. Consequently, the production and wearing of dresses constituted an act of resistance. Nowadays, embroidery is commercially used with a new generation of young designers and artists who developed embroidery beyond “the dress”.

On embroidery in the Palestinian artistic landscape, painter Sliman Mansour explained that it was a key source of inspiration to Palestinian artists in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Embroidery, indeed, appeared in many art works as an expression of the Palestinian identity. It was painted using different tools. It remained present when a group of Palestinian artists decided to boycott Israel and use local Palestinian material like wood and leather. It was used alone in the productions of many artists. Mansour presented examples of art works marked by embroidery including works by Nabil Anani, Khalil Rabah, Kamel Moghani and Abdul Rahman Al Mozayen.

Ms. Farida Al-Aref Al’Amad spoke of the contributions of Inash Al-Usra in preserving and expanding the legacy of embroidery out of the Association’s keenness to produce and own pieces of embroidery and to support women’s productive activities. Moreover, they established the Museum of Inash Al-Usra in their efforts to preserve the Palestinian identity, as represented in the art of embroidery. She also mentioned Inash’s pioneer role to print embroidery on paper and provide empirical material on this subject.

The Film “The Embroiderers”, produced as part of “At the Seams” Exhibition was played during the session to gives space to the women across Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan who continue to embroider today, and whose voices are rarely heard.

The session concluded with interventions by the audience, some of whom were part of the curator’s research. The discussion was live and relevant.

Click here to view speakers bios