Labour of Love: New Approaches to Palestinian Embroidery

Guest curator
Rachel Dedman


In a moment of heightened global conversation around women’s rights and dominion over their bodies, Labour of Love explores Palestinian embroidery through the lenses of gender, labour, symbol, commodity and class. Structured around these thematic poles, the exhibition traces Palestinian embroidery’s shift from an historic, individual practice, associated with self-expression, to a cultural artefact and marker of national heritage. The exhibition examined the politicisation of Palestinian embroidery, its circulation as image in paintings and posters, the implications of its commodification, and the nature of its production by NGOs today. 

The second exhibition by guest curator Rachel Dedman for the Palestinian Museum, Labour of Love expanded upon the Museum’s 2016 satellite exhibition, At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian EmbroideryDar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut. Building on years of research and fieldwork, this new edition critically re-oriented approaches to Palestinian embroidery’s history and contemporary significance.

Labour of Love unfolds a material history of Palestine, telling little-heard stories through the intimate catalyst of clothing. "Intifada dresses," combining traditional motifs with rifles, maps and political slogans, were stitched by women in protest and solidarity during the First Intifada. Such dresses rendered women’s bodies active sites of political resistance, implicitly challenging popular images of women as anonymous carriers of heritage. A European-style shift dress, delicately embroidered on blue silk, melded foreign fashion with traditional detail as early as 1921. A dress donated from one woman to another after the Nakba, is patched with cloth from a sack of UNRWA flour. Polaroids from 1970s Lebanon show bouffanted women in pink embroidered jumpsuits, modelling the earliest designs of embroidery organisations. Though men are not perceived as embroiderers, the exhibition features objects and testimonies from men who embroidered as political prisoners in Israeli prisons. Their work mingles expressions of national pride with romantic love, disrupting expectations around embroidery and gender.

At the heart of the exhibition was a forest of 80 historic dresses and accessories, drawn from every region of Palestine. Placed in conversation with archival photographs, posters, paintings, music and newly-commissioned video, the exhibition amplified female voices and histories, casting fresh light on paradigmatic cultural material.

Labour of Love also included a parallel public programme of lectures and events, an educational programme tailored for children, and a catalogue, written by Rachel Dedman and edited by Shuruq Harb. Launched in October 2018, the publication features commissioned photographs and written contributions from Chiara de Cesari, Kristine Khouri, Tania Tamari Nasir, Kirsten Scheid and Tina Sherwell. 

To view and download the exhibition guide,click here.

The Palestinian Museum thanks its lenders that include: Palestine Heritage Museum–Dar Al-Tifl Al-ArabiBirzeit University Museum; Tiraz: Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress; Bank of Palestine; Maha Abu Shosheh; George M. Al Ama; the Issam Badr family; Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim; Ibrahim and Krista Ladaa; Naila Libbes; Vera Tamari; Tamam Al-Akhal; Abdul Rahman Al Mozayen; In’ash Al-Mukhayyam Al-Filastini; Inash Al-Usra; the Palestine Poster Project ArchiveZawyeh GalleryEl-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance; Popular Art Center; Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development; Ghalia & Omar Al-Qattan; Linbury Trust; and all those who generously shared items from their personal archives.

Rachel Dedman is an independent curator and writer based in Beirut since 2013. She curates and writes for institutions, collections and informal contexts internationally. Recent projects include Kindling for Fotopub Festival (Slovenia); Midad: The Public and Intimate Lives of Arabic Calligraphy, for Dar el-Nimer (Beirut); Halcyon for the Transart Triennial (Berlin); Unravelled for Beirut Art Center and At the Seams for the Palestinian Museum (Beirut). Rachel studied at the Universities of Oxford and Harvard, specialising in Islamic art history and contemporary art from the Middle East.

Artistic and production team                                           
Curator: Rachel Dedman; Exhibition Design: Plaid; Graphic Design: Sara Sukhun and Lena Sobeh; Public Engagement and Production Manager: Obour Hashash; Exhibition Production: Bashar Ammar; Registrar: Baha Jubeh; Collection and Research Assistants: Yara Abbas and Jenan Silwadi; Catalogue Managing Editor: Shuruq Harb; Public Programme Coordinator: Raneen Kiresh; Education Programme Coordinator: Hana Irshaid; Media and Public Relations: Jenin Abu Rokty and Haneen Saleh; Copy Editor and Translator: Malak Afouneh; film and photography commissioned from Maeve Brennan and Kayané Antreassian.