At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery

Guest curator
Rachel Dedman

the Museum’s first international “satellite” exhibition opened at Dar el-Nimer for Arts and Culture in Beirut, Lebanon, curated by Rachel Dedman. The exhibition, which included items from the fascinating collections of Widad Kawar and Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim, cast a critical look at the role of embroidery in shaping historic and contemporary Palestinian politics and culture. Based on years of research and fieldwork and featuring newly-commissioned video, At the Seams is interested in the history of embroidery beyond 1948, exploring its role in nationalism, resistance and the practice of Palestinian identity today. 

Embroidery is extraordinary material – tactile, intimate, laborious, political. At the Seams will break new ground in extending the history of Palestinian embroidery into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Beyond its historical importance before 1948, embroidery has undergone rich and dynamic transformations in the decades since – constituting forms of heritage-driven nationalism, militant resistance, nascent economic power and challenge to the infrastructural and cultural violence of the Israeli state.

Key elements of the research concern the homogenisation of the thobe both pre- and post-1948; embroidery and the fashioning of a modern Palestinian woman in 1960s Beirut; the use of embroidery in the revival of heritage by liberation artists; embroidery as resistance; and the history of NGOs and circulation of embroidery in a global marketplace.

The research has unfolded from the understanding that textiles sensitively reflect the changes in the social and political landscape in which they are produced. Taking material that is little documented and rarely exhibited, the exhibition will place historic Palestinian dresses from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in conversation with photography, painting, archival material and contemporary design. Newly commissioned film from artist Maeve Brennan gives space to the women across Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan who continue to embroider today, and whose voices are rarely heard.

The curatorial process has been driven by extensive fieldwork and archival research. The knowledge and collections of Widad Kawar and Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim form the backbone of the exhibition's content. At the Seams will be accompanied by a research-driven publication and dynamic educational and public program in Beirut.

The Palestinian Museum

The exhibition is the first for the museum outside of Palestine, affirming the Palestinian Museum as one of the most ambitious contemporary cultural projects in Palestine, with a mandate to reach as many Palestinians around the word as possible, as well as those interested in their culture. The Museum will promote an open and dynamic Palestinian culture, at both local and international levels, and will contribute to the formulation of narratives surrounding the history, culture, and society of Palestine, from new perspectives. The Palestinian Museum’s focus will be on the modern era from the eighteenth century until today, and act as a generative environment for creative projects, learning programs, and innovative research. Dr. Mahmoud Hawari has been appointed as the new Director General of the Palestinian Museum, which is due to be inaugurated on 18 May 2016. Dr. Hawari is a Lead Curator at the British Museum in London, and continues to serve as a Research Associate at the University of Oxford in England.

The Palestinian Museum is a flagship project of Taawon-Welfare Association, a leading Palestinian NGO.

The Palestinian Museum in Partnership
Beyond the exhibition of At the Seams, Tiraz: the Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress and the Palestinian Museum have agreed to a long-term cooperation partnership, starting with a 3-year memorandum of understanding, by which the Palestinian Museum will provide support to carry out local and mobile projects and exhibitions, learning and training programs, and community campaigns.