Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Saturday, October 18, 2014

About our lost exhibition. And sumud. And hope.

"Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
exhibition title panel 
installed at WOCMES, Mainz, Germany
(First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies)

A couple of months back we mentioned our lost exhibition on our Facebook page in regard to a newsletter article by The Palestinian Museum about lost Palestinian art exhibitions.  In response to that a few Education Officers have asked for up to date info about the lost exhibition. So, as we are coming up on the 11th anniversary of it's loss, we thought we'd make a post.

"Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" was the Palestine Costume Archive's third traveling exhibition. Curated in 2001, it was unique - the first museum quality exhibition of post 1948 Palestinian costume and embroidery, it's display material primarily drawn from the Archive's collection, the Archive being one of a very small handful of museums worldwide to collect and acquire post 1948 Palestinian cultural material.

The Archive began it's traveling exhibition program in 1995 with the extremely successful "Portraits without names: Palestinian costume" exhibition,

"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum

which:
"features over 200 years of Palestinian design, and examines how traditional costume and embroidery have long reflected the culture and identity of the Palestinian people. It remains the only exhibition of Palestinian cultural heritage available on the international museum travelling exhibition circuit. 
"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum
  

"Curated originally for display in regions worldwide with Palestinian communities, Portraits without names is designed so that examples of cultural heritage held by the nearest community, or material held in nearly museums, can be incorporated into the display...."

Wedad Boutagy, a member of the Sydney Palestinian community,
stands in front of an exhibition exhibition graphic showing her
in a Jerusalem studio photograph as a young woman,
at the opening night of the Archive's travelling exhibition
"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume" at the
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 1996.  The story of the Boutagy family
 was one of the diaspora stories told in the Sydney installation of the exhibition
 (courtesy: Powerhouse Museum).

With "Portraits" still touring and to counter the anti Muslim / Arab post 9/11 environment the Archive curated  "Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world":

"Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum

The exhibition was reviewed in Newsletter - East Asian Art and Archeology Issues 57-70:
"this exhibition of breathtaking costumes and textiles covers a cross section of the arab world, including Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It features historical and contemporary examples of costumes worn by urban, village, oasis and bedouin women. Among the most striking are heavy silk floss embroidered wedding outfits from Siwa Oasis in Egypt, ornate cross stitched bedouin dresses from the Sinai Desrt and lavish, gold sequinned festive over dresses from the gulf region"

"Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum

With our third exhibition we wanted to return to the topic closest to our heart.  "Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" was curated with several goals in mind:
  • it focused specifically on post 1948 costumes and textiles. Until this point museums very rarely acquired or displayed Palestinian costume produced after 1948.  Because Palestine had ceased to exist in 1948 it was believed any contemporary cultural material was inferior and not worthy of being preserved in a museum. But we knew that those "inferior" costumes and embroideries had important stories to tell. 
Palestinian political textiles on display in
"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum
 
  • While certainly there was a selection of these important works in our first traveling exhibition this was the first time Palestinian "intifada" political textiles had been displayed in some depth
Chest panel of an intifada “flag” dress
Palestine Red Crescent Society's
Al Amal Rehabilitation Centre Embroidery Project, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip
(collection: Palestine Costume Archive, Canberra)

  • The exhibition was also accompanied by a range of embroidered products from the refugee embroidery projects that featured in the exhibition, so acted as both promotion and as a fundraiser for those projects.
Deaf Palestinian refugees embroidering furniture covers
 at the Palestine Red Crescent Society's
 Al Amal Rehabilitation Centre embroidery project,
Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, 2000
 
(photo: Jeni Allenby)
  • the exhibition could easily be adapted for low budget display for Palestinian diaspora communities / international academic conferences  / political activist organizations venues
The following blurb went up on our website:
"Symbolic defiance reconstructs the last half century of Palestinian cultural history, bringing to life the almost complete loss of that heritage after the events of 1948, and documenting the extraordinary revival of Palestinian costume and embroidery that occurred in the late 1980s. 
"The exhibition examines the establishment of Palestinian refugee camp embroidery projects and the effect of this upon embroidery's traditional role in Palestinian society. It also documents the development of Palestinian village life, including traditional dress and embroidery, as a nationalist symbol, and explores how women’s traditional costume became one of the dominant representations of Palestinian cultural identity. 
"The exhibition includes material never before displayed, including examples of traditional dress styles from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as rare intifada dresses and political embroideries, many on loan from Palestinian refugee camp and village embroidery projects in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon...."
Abdel Rahman al-Muzaye 
a PLO postcard from the 1970s showing a Palestinian woman
 in traditional dress with agricultural implements, symbolically
 supporting her (pre 1948) village
(Palestine Costume Archive collection) 

The checklist included:
  • examples of embroidered clothing during the decades since 1948 
  • examples of refugee camp styles
1980s traditional dresses in
"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"
installed at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum
 
  • examples of political garments and embroideries, most especially intifada dresses and embroideries
Detail from "The Martyr" embroidered panel, 
designed by the ANAT Workshop, Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Syria 

(Palestine Costume Archive collection) 
(photo: Jeni Allenby)
Detail from "The Martyr" embroidered panel,
designed by the ANAT Workshop, Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Syria,
featuring allegorical figures holding symbols of lost Palestine 

(Palestine Costume Archive collection) 
(photo: Jeni Allenby)
  • Palestinian refugee camp embroidery project products
Jordan River Designs dolls wearing traditional dress
 from the Archive's collection in 
"Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
  • Examples of contemporary embroidery from Palestinian diaspora communities
  • Examples of contemporary fine art/cultural expression from Palestinian diaspora communities inspired by Palestinian embroidery and costume
Detail of the chest panel of a 1991 intifada "flag" dress
showing embroidered Palestinian boys with slingshots,
in the colours of the Palestinian flag,
designed by the Anat Workshop, Syri
a
(photo: Jeni Allenby).
  • original works on paper including 19th and 20th century postcards and photos showing traditional dress plus around thirty posters featuring costume and embroidery motifs
PLO postcard in the Archive's collection

The Archive originally had around fifty posters in it's collection. A selection of thirty were chosen for this exhibition.  We've specifically listed the ones below because there are also copies of these in the Palestine Poster Project Archive so you can follow the link to see a photo of them:
  • Occupied Palestine Magazine: The Dance of Peace - artist Abdel Rahman al Muzain 1979
  • Palestine Red Crescent Society / Palestinian Heritage House series: calendar and posters featuring series of paintings by artist Abd al aal Hassan based on photos from other sources. Some examples: Al Souk and The Wedding (original source is a film still published in Shelagh Weir's "Palestinian Costume" British Museum)
  • UNRWA - series of postcards and posters of traditional Palestinian dress from Widad Kawar's collection in Amman - one example here:
UNRWA -Ramallah dress poster
from poster and postcard series of traditional
Palestinian dress from Widad Kawar's collection in Amman

source

As you can imagine, with this wonderful checklist "Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" was a stunning looking - and very informative - exhibition, and very quickly we received requests to display it.

The exhibition's first international installation was at the first World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Mainz, Germany.

"Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
installed at WOCMES, Mainz, Germany
(First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies) 

We met fellow Australian academic Vicky Mason there (who at the time was Research Associate International Relations and Global Security Curtin University of Technology Perth Western Australia). Vicky later sent us this review:
"One of the highlights of attending the September 2002 World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) conference in Mainz, Germany, was attending the outstanding Exhibition of "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian Costume and Embroidery Since 1948" organised by the Palestine Costume Archive in Canberra, Australia. 
"I felt honoured to have been able to see first-hand such a world-class collection of this priceless nature. In the course of my research I have read much about the key role costume and embroidery have played for Palestinian people, and to see such first-rate and unique examples of this work – such as with the Intifada Flag Dresses - was a truly amazing experience for me. 
"Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
installed at WOCMES, Mainz, Germany
(First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies) 
"I also have to say that the exhibition was a particular success because of the professionalism of the organiser of the exhibition – Jeni Allenby. In particular her paper "Re-inventing Cultural Heritage: Palestinian Traditional Costume and Embroidery Since 1948" gave a wealth of information enabling the true value of the exhibition to be appreciated. 
"Moreover, I was not the only one who felt this way about the exhibition and Ms Allenby’s paper. Many other scholars attending the conference that I spoke to personally also expressed their appreciation of the exhibition, a notable example being the Palestinian singer and musicologist Reem Kelani. I hope that the Archive continues their wonderful work taking this amazing collection to new audiences across the globe".
"Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
installed at WOCMES, Mainz, Germany
(First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies) 

We tried!  After WOCMES we were contacted by several venues and in 2003 an American tour was organized. As we later advised Electronic Intifada the exhibition:
"was to have been displayed in the United States at the MESA 2003 (Middle East Studies Association annual conference) in Anchorage and the Arab Festival in Seattle...
"However on 1 November 2003 the exhibition (which was being couriered over to MESA 2003 by the Archive’s director) was taken for a security check/ x-ray at Los Angeles airport’s Terminal 4 and has not been seen since. All attempts by the Palestine Costume Archive, Qantas, Alaskan Airlines and MESA to locate the exhibition over the last three weeks have totally failed and the search has now been abandoned. 
"The “loss” of this exhibition under such circumstances raises major concerns for all museums and curators worldwide currently proposing to tour Middle Eastern exhibitions to the United States and is a matter that should be further investigated before other such “losses” of Arab or Islamic cultural material occur. 
"For the non-profit, volunteer-run Palestine Costume Archive - the only museum to make exhibitions of Palestinian cultural material available on the international museum traveling exhibition circuit - the loss is devastating and certainly puts in doubt the proposed 2005 tour to the United States and Canada of another popular Archive exhibition, Portraits without names: Palestinian costume, which contains a great many rare and irreplaceable 19th and early 20th century Palestinian costumes on loan from international museums and private collections...."
The "Portraits without names: Palestinian costume" was indeed cancelled.  As we posted on this blog's FAQ page (after discovering during a tour of our storage areas the two exhibition title stick-on wall labels for "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" for the two venues where the exhibition was to be displayed after the MESA conference):
"Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
exhibition stick on wall labels for the two venues the exhibit never reached
"It was terribly disheartening when it happened.  I'm just very glad I was the courier. I would have hated anyone else from the Archive to bear the responsibility.  Luckily the loans for the exhibitions were in my hand luggage so at least those were not lost, but everything else was..."
So what happened to our exhibition?  We won't elaborate here other than to say we've been unofficially told that Israeli airport security experts were advising at LAX a lot sooner after 9/11 than the media reports. And ours was hardly the only Palestinian cultural exhibition that's disappeared over the years, as The Palestinian Museum's newsletter article ("simply an initial step towards drawing attention to an issue deserving of far deeper investigation") about 17 lost Palestinian art exhibitions reconfirms:
"Over the past few years, Palestinian artists have participated in a number of exhibitions outside Palestine. Unfortunately, a significant number of these exhibitions are now effectively lost, and the paintings they contained remain unaccounted for. 
"Speculation about the fate of these important works of art abounds; so too do the fingers of blame pointed at various groups and individuals. In interviews recently conducted by the Palestinian Museum, artists have agreed that the loss of many of the works was largely due to a combination of bad organisation and opportunistic misappropriation. If we add this to the shows confiscated or irrevocably damaged by the Israeli authorities, we find ourselves facing a situation that urgently needs to be rectified: these lost works represent an important part of the Palestinian visual history, and it is an enormous shame that they remain inaccessible to the Palestinian public."
We agree.  The Archive very nearly didn't survive the loss of our own exhibition.  While we were very very grateful for the response we received after it's loss (as we wrote in our Press Release update of 10 Dec 03
"the Palestine Costume Archive would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contacted us regarding our missing exhibition. We greatly appreciate your concern and support. The Archive would also like to thank MESA staff and other conference delegates for their wonderful support and tireless suggestions during the MESA 2003 conference in Anchorage (where the exhibition was to be displayed)") 
you can imagine the enormous resulting expenses related to trying to locate it from Australia /  legal fees etc, plus it was a priority for us to immediately cover the loss of all the embroidered products various refugee embroidery projects had provided for both display and sale.  And of course all this occurred at a time when getting funding was almost impossible, in the post 9/11 environment.

Aware the exhibition was unlikely to be found, we put the call out:
"the Archive has two aims in any further promotion of this matter. The first is to raise international awareness of the exhibition's loss to avoid such a thing happening again. The second is to raise public awareness of our museum’s need for emergency funds to replace both lost cultural material and expensive exhibition support material (such as enlarged graphics, museum banners, wall texts etc)."
And so began the long road to re-curating the exhibition, something that was very important to us and that gave us a reason for not giving up.  We began reacquiring embroidered products from refugee embroidery programs,  put the call out to Palestinians worldwide for help with replacing posters and political ephemera, early postcard etc and also asked that friends worldwide keep an eye out for interesting Palestinian political textiles.

But we then discovered we'd lost our nerve, in terms of touring internationally.  Our lives are dedicated to preserving and documenting Palestinian heritage and we'd caused precious heritage to be lost, no matter how good our intentions.  How could we tour and put more cultural heritage at risk? So for a while, as we noted this blog's FAQ page:
"we cut down our traveling exhibition program and started advising people wanting an exhibition to think about creating their own, perhaps working with an Archive Education Officer."
And that worked well for a few years, while the Archive recovered from this experience - it's not easy as a museum to have experienced such a loss, and to live with it.  Especially in the light of recent events in Gaza, a place that remains close to our hearts.  We drew great comfort from reading Omar Al-Qattan's "In the face of possible genocide, what use is a museum? On Gaza" which came as part of The Palestinian Museum's recent newsletters, and which we'd like to quote in detail here, because it's so important to us as a Palestinian museum ourselves, albeit on a much smaller scale:
"As the world watched in horror the vicious destruction visited upon the people of Gaza over the last weeks ... [at] the Palestinian Museum ... we were left feeling numb and powerless in the face of this carnage... In fact, the Museum team was inevitably left asking itself what a museum could possibly do in the face of such events, and what its role should now be.
We've gone through the same thing, these last dreadful months.
"The Palestinian Museum endeavours to narrate Palestinian history as a means of preserving part of our national collective memory, while reflecting upon, and hopefully learning valuable lessons from, that process. Unfortunately, the Palestinian narrative is one in which examples of attempted social and cultural genocide against our people abound, particularly during the last sixty five years: the Nakba of 1948, in which Israeli forces expelled over three quarters of a million Palestinians from their country and destroyed their villages and towns; the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the expulsion of a further 250,000 Palestinians in 1967; the 1982 war in Lebanon that killed thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians civilians and ended with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which Israel colluded in the murdering of between 800 and three thousand civilians by its Phalangist allies; the brutal suppression of two popular uprisings; confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources; the relentless building of illegal settlements, walls and checkpoints across our land and, last but not least, three military onslaughts on the Gaza Strip since 2008. But is the study and preservation of these historical crimes a guarantor that they will never occur again? And if not, then why build a museum to mark them? 
"One possible answer lies in the notion of sumud, or steadfastness, which has profoundly influenced Palestinian cultural and political discourse and is essential to the thinking behind the Palestinian Museum.
Sumud has also been a foundation stone of the Archive.
"The logic of this notion is that we as Palestinians must continue to build our lives and our institutions in the face of Israeli military might: it is the simplest and most vital form of resistance, a way of asserting our physical presence and cultural vitality on our land, in a situation where the political balance of power is overwhelmingly against us. Part of that process is the preservation of the past, particularly the injustices perpetrated against our people."
"Yet we have seen in recent weeks that what this quiet defiance cannot do is eliminate the possibility that genocide and ethnic cleansing will be contemplated again - in a dark corner, perhaps, of the Zionist movement, faced as it is with its signal failure to rid historic Palestine of its Arab inhabitants and yet still staunchly refusing to recognize their rights within the framework of a just and equitable peace. One can even see the war on the people of Gaza, and the open calls by senior Israeli politicians for the expulsion and even extermination of Gaza’s Palestinians in recent weeks as a brief, if brutal, dress rehearsal for such a scenario. And of course, this is not something a museum can do very much to avert. All it can attempt is to raise awareness among both Palestinians and the world at large that what happened in 1948 can happen again, only this time on a much more cataclysmic scale. It can hope, too, that such awareness might just act as a deterrent to further horrors. 
"The Palestinian Museum must also, surely, provide a platform for Palestinians to reflect upon our own responsibility for the events of the past and present. After all, how history unfolded in the way that it did, and what we might or should have done to change it, are questions that every museum of culture and history would surely like its visitors to ask themselves. Such questions are profoundly empowering: they remind us that we are not merely victims of history, but also, potentially, its agents. And so museums also, in this sense, end by offering hope. In our case, that the Palestinian people are still here, that at home and in exile we continue to make our voices heard and to gain support and solidarity, that our culture is celebrated the world over when a few decades ago it was denigrated and dismissed - surely all this means that the future belongs to us, not to those who seem determined to eliminate us...
 Please read the rest here.  To conclude we'd just like to re-quote that last paragraph, because it inspires us so much:
"museums also, in this sense, end by offering hope. In our case, that the Palestinian people are still here, that at home and in exile we continue to make our voices heard and to gain support and solidarity, that our culture is celebrated the world over when a few decades ago it was denigrated and dismissed - surely all this means that the future belongs to us, not to those who seem determined to eliminate us..."
And who know, insha'allah, if we keep steadfast and strong, one day our lost exhibition may come home :)

Detail of "Orange Tree" embroidery panel,
designed by the ANAT Workshop, Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Syria,
featuring allegorical figures holding symbols of lost Palestine
(Palestine Costume Archive collection) 

(Jeni Allenby)

More Info:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine's “One Book, Many Communities: Mornings in Jenin”

LAP - "One book" campaign
source

Most Archive Education Officers and volunteers are familiar with Librarians and Archivists with Palestine ("a network of self-defined librarians, archivists, and information workers in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination") because we've sung their praises quite a lot.

We rather like their latest project - a new reading campaign called  “One Book, Many Communities" which is similar in concept to our own real time (wherever Archive staff are based) and cyber (when we meet online as a group) book club meetings and morning teas. So we thought we might take part :)

source

The  “One Book, Many Communities: Mornings in Jenin project:
"draws inspiration from the “one book, one town” idea—wherein people in local communities come together to read and discuss a common book. Librarians and Archivists with Palestine invites readers, librarians, and others to organize gatherings in January 2015 to discuss Mornings in Jenin, the acclaimed novel by Palestinian-American author and activist Susan Abulhawa. 
"Mornings in Jenin is a sweeping, heart-wrenching historical saga about four generations of the Abulheja family. From Jenin to Jerusalem to Beirut to Philadelphia, the novel follows the family from its displacement from Ein Hod village in 1948 through love and loss over decades of life in Palestine and the diaspora. 
“Every now and again a literary work changes the way people think. Abulhawa…has crafted a brilliant first novel about Palestine… [This] intensely beautiful fictionalized history… should be read by both politicians and those interested in contemporary politics.” –  Library Journal 
"LAP’s “One Book, Many Communities” campaign will introduce readers to the richness of Palestinian literature, and create a broader awareness and understanding of Palestinian history and the struggle for self-determination. 
"Please join us! If you’re interested in organizing a reading group in your community, let us know and check back here soon for more information and resources. Book groups can be held at a library, university or school, at a local non-profit organization or community center, in your living room, or at a bookstore. If you schedule your event for sometime during the month of January 2015, you’ll be connected to readers across the globe who will be reading and discussing the book at the same time. Use your imagination! And let us know what you’re planning! "
We thought we'd hold one in Canberra, but also wanted to suggest some of you - scattered around the world as Archive Education Officers and volunteer staff are - might like to hold one in your own town / country / city.  Check out LAP's very useful "One book "reading group toolkit page on their website for how to plan an event / what type of format / date / venue / reading resources etc and don't forget to tell LAP. And us as well - like LAP we'll list on this blog and link to it on our Facebook page.

You might prefer just to attend one of the events LAP are co-ordinating.  Keep an eye on LAP's events page as they'll be listing new events all the time over the next few months.

source

Those of you near New York might like to attend the official launch of LAP’s “One Book, Many Communities” campaign and meet Susan Abulhawa who wrote Mornings in Jenin, at the Bluestockings Bookstore, Café + Activist Center on Saturday, November 8 at 7:00pm.

We are sure most of you are familiar with Susan Abulhawa - we first became aware of her via her Playgrounds for Palestine project and more recently always look out for her Electronic Intifada articles and book reviews - but if not you might like to check out her Wiki page which says of Mornings in Jenin:
"Abulhawa, who at the time was working for a drug company, visited Jenin as an international observer in the aftermath of the 2002 Israeli attack on a refugee camp there. 
"The visit “transformed” Abulhawa, she later said. “You grow up as a Palestinian knowing about these massacres and the wars and the injustice but it was completely different to be there." "What I saw in Jenin was shocking at so many levels,” she later said, “but it was also quite humbling to watch how the people came together and shared what little they had. So when I left there, I really wanted to tell their story because I knew nobody was going to talk about it.” 
"Returning to the U.S., she had trouble reconciling the concerns of her coworkers at the drug company with the travails of the people of Jenin. “They were two parts of my life and it was suffocating. A few months later I was laid off and it was probably the best thing that happened to me.” The result was a novel, Mornings in Jenin, which was published in 2010. 
"It has been described as “a poignant, lyrical tale tracing four generations of the Abulheja family as they suffer loss after loss - first, with the kidnapping of their son Ismael in the 1948 Naqba by an Israeli soldier and then through their violent expulsion from their village near Haifa.” The novel follows the family through “successive horrors inflicted during the 1967 war, the siege of Lebanon and slaughters in Jenin, Sabra and Shatila, the devastation and agonies wreaked on ordinary Palestinians are depicted through the struggles of the book's protagonist Amal, whose brother Ismael is raised as the Arab-hating David.” 
"The novel, published by Bloomsbury, has been translated into Arabic by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. It has also been translated into at least two dozen other languages and has become an international bestseller. 
“In the Palestinian narrative,” she has said apropos of the book's story, “there are no two sides. There are no two sides to this conflict in the same way that there were no two sides to the Holocaust. There were no two sides to apartheid. There are no two sides to slavery. You have a nuclear power that is pitted against principally an unarmed civilian population. This is not a matter of sides.”
source

We've got two copies of Mornings in Jenin in the Archive's Research Library, one in English and one in Arabic, which we can lend to anyone who wants to read it, but let us know quickly as there will probably be a bit of queue of people wanting it.  Also you could buy a copy yourself - links below.

We thought we might hold our Canberra book reading at Zar Bakery and Cafe (Canberra's only Palestinian food outlet) as that way no one has to worry about catering and exact numbers re attendees. If you've not tried Zar's yet have a read of our earlier post.

For those interested in attending a Canberra event, get in touch via our Facebook page. We'll also be discussing the Canberra event idea further when we meet up for our next cyber morning tea and also when we meet up for the Sydney and Canberra parts of the Palestinian Film Festival which is in the first half on November.

More Info:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Palestinian Film Festival Australia

source

Yes, it's that time of year again - our friends at Cultural Media have announced the 2014 Palestinian Film Festival program in Australia:
"Cultural Media is pleased to present the 2014 Palestinian Film Festival. As with previous Palestinian film festivals, this year’s festival guarantees to surprise and delight as well as inform and challenge. 
"Showcasing the very best of Palestinian cinema from around the globe, the festival presents an exciting opportunity to see and feel the energy, diversity and creativity of Palestine through film. Visit Palestine in Reel Time and join the growing Australian community discovering and enjoying Palestinian cinema."
The Festival is visiting Sydney, Melbourne - and for the first time, Canberra this year :). Here's the program:

Sydney - Palace Norton Street
  • Thursday, 6th of November, 2014 8:00pm: Condom Lead, Giraffada 
  • Friday, 7th of November, 2014 7:00pm: Though I Know The River Is Dry, Where Should The Birds Fly? Saturday, 8th of November, 2014 4:00pm: Beyond Blue and Gray, Mars at Sunrise 6:30pm: Palestine Stereo, Apartment 10/14
  • Sunday, 9th of November, 2014 4:00pm: The Red Stone, The Village Under The Forest 6:30pm: Xenos, Omar
Canberra - Palace Electric Cinema
  • Friday, 7th of November, 2014 7:00pm: Condom Lead, Giraffada
  • Saturday, 8th of November, 2014 4:00pm: Beyond Blue and Gray, Mars at Sunrise 7:00pm: Though I Know The River Is Dry, Where Should The Birds Fly?
  • Sunday, 9th of November, 2014 4:00pm: The Red Stone, The Village Under The Forest 6:30pm: Palestine Stereo, Apartment 10/14
Melbourne - The Kino Cinemas
  • Friday, 14th of November, 2014 7:00pm: Condom Lead, Giraffada
  • Saturday, 15th of November, 2014 4:00pm: Beyond Blue and Gray, Mars at Sunrise 6:30pm: Though I Know The River Is Dry, Where Should The Birds Fly? 
  • Sunday, 16th of November, 2014 4:00pm: The Red Stone, The Village Under The Forest 6:30pm: Palestine Stereo, Apartment 10/14
For more on each film, head here to to by tickets, here. We're especially delighted that Omar Robert Hamilton's "Though the river runs dry" will have it's Australian premiere at this festival  - just goes to show Cultural Media has excellent taste in selecting it!

Thank you again to Cultural Media - we know how much time, effort, money and love goes into organizing this event, and we want them to know we appreciate it more than we can say :)

More Info:


Monday, August 25, 2014

Palestine Poster Project Archives accepted for review by UNESCO's Memory of the World program

“Salma” by Sliman Mansour (1988)
published by Roots
Palestine Poster Project Archives website
source

We were absolutely delighted to hear that the Palestine Poster Project Archives has been accepted for formal review by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Memory of the World program. The UNESCO program’s International Register inscribes library and archival holdings of “world significance and outstanding universal value.” The nomination form states:
"Posters in the Liberation Graphics Collection representing a key era in the evolution and maturation of Palestine poster art, providing primary documentary data on the contemporary history of Palestine and serving as an extraordinary source of inspiration for artists from a diverse range of geographic locales, political affiliations, nationalities, and aesthetic perspectives. The Palestine poster genre is unique in world art and a much overlooked feature of Palestinian cultural heritage "
It is, indeed. As Dan Walsh, curator and owner of the Archives, says in an interview on the Mondoweiss website:
"these posters ... create a rich and textured portrait of Palestine that’s very different from the caustic and superficial stereotypes with which Palestinians were burdened subsequent to the Nakba. In these works of art we see keys and kaffiyehs, oranges and olives, horses and doves, poetry and embroidery, all mobilized to tell a story. These and other symbols, icons, and traditions of Palestinian identity are celebrated, preserved, and legitimated in the posters. 
"So the posters are a real teaching tool. Viewed collectively, they enable Palestinians to learn more about their own history and for non-Palestinians to undo the hasbara that has mis-educated them. It’s a source for national pride"
We're so pleased to see this nomination.  The Palestine Poster Project Archives and the Palestine Costume Archive share many things. Both archives came into being after academic research revealed the need. Both are staffed by volunteers. Both operate with severely limited resources. Both are committed to education. Both acquire specific forms of Palestinian cultural heritage. Both of us have collection / research areas which overlap - we both acquires posters featuring traditional Palestinian costume and embroidery iconography. Our own archive has a large works on paper collection, with a small but significant poster collection that always features in our traveling exhibitions, although sadly we lost about half our poster collection when our traveling exhibition "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costumes and embroideries since 1948" was "mislaid" at LAX on it's way to MESA, after being displayed at WOCMES.

We also like that the Palestine Poster Project Archives shares our frustration with Palestinian cultural material being mislabeled in archives and libraries and museums - Dr Walsh mentions this in the You Tube video below, which was a talk he gave at the Palestine Fund:


We know how hard everyone at the Palestine Poster Project Archives works, and we think it would be wonderful if that hard and very important work was acknowledged in this way :)


Here's the rest of that interview, published on August 16, 2014:
In early August, the nomination of a major collection of posters from the Palestine Poster Project Archives was accepted for formal review by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Memory of the World program. The UNESCO program’s International Register inscribes library and archival holdings of “world significance and outstanding universal value.” 
The nominated work, the Liberation Graphics Collection of Palestine Posters, is the first documentary heritage resource ever nominated by the state of Palestine for inscription to the Memory of the World. The review process takes about a year to complete. If inscribed, the Palestine posters will join a register that includes the Bayeux Tapestry, the Book of Kells, the Phoenician Alphabet, the Gutenberg Bible, Karl Marx’s personally annotated manuscript of Das Kapital, and hundreds of other historically significant documents.
Aside from the prospect of inscription into this prestigious register, the nomination itself is a watershed event for Palestinian art, culture, and history. Its significance is addressed in the following exchange between Dan Walsh, curator and owner of the Archives, and Catherine Baker, a member of the Archives’ advisory board. 
CB: Dan, describe the collection that has been nominated.

DW: The Palestine Poster Project Archives includes paper and digital images of almost 10,000 Palestine posters created by more than 1,900 artists from 72 countries. It’s growing by the day, both through acquisition of older posters and the addition of newly created works. UNESCO’s Memory of the World only includes defined and complete resources, so what was proposed for inscription is our core collection. This is a body of 1,700 posters published from the mid-sixties through the mid-nineties. They were produced during a key period in Palestinian history commencing around the time of the Six-Day War of 1967 and the 1968 battle of Al Karameh and continuing through the first intifada. The posters reveal how Palestinians organized and asserted themselves in response to the loss of land and the resulting displacement and diaspora. 
CB: Who made these posters? 
DW: Hundreds of Palestinian artists are represented. Some produced their work at locations within Palestine and others contributed from points around the globe. Palestinian artists whose names Mondoweiss readers might recognize include Ismail Shammout, Kamal Boullata, and Sliman Mansour, but there are many others.  The posters also represent a wide range of Palestinian publishers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to lesser known groups such as the General Union of Palestinian Plastic Artistsand, of course, the artists as publishers themselves. 
A good many of the posters were created in solidarity by non-Palestinians. To name a few: Marc Rudin from Switzerland, whose early solidarity with Palestinians earned him the honorific Jihad Mansour; the Italian comics illustrator Elfo; and the Italian set designer Elizabetta Carboni. There are many international artists who created Palestine solidarity posters in their early years and have subsequently enjoyed prominent careers in the arts. A number of the international posters in the Liberation Graphics Collection were self-published by the artists, others were published specifically for exhibits such as Palestine: A Homeland Denied, and a substantial portion were published by organizations outside of Palestine; as one example, the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. 
CB: What topics do these posters address? 
DW: This particular collection includes many about armed struggle, but other themes emerge as well. A 1982 poster quoting Yasser Arafat says: “This revolution is not merely a gun, but also a scalpel of a surgeon, a brush of an artist, a pen of a writer, a plough of a farmer, an axe of a worker.” These posters reflect that society-wide commitment to the revolution. Some are about a particular individual or group of Palestinians, and some are about events such as music festivals or cultural traditions such as sculpture and film.  We’ve got posters on the theme of return, literacy, voting, children’s theatre, refugehood, you name it. The joys and the challenges of Palestinian life are all represented here. 
CB: In a nutshell, what’s the big deal about this nomination? 
DW: Apart from the possibility of actual inscription in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register—which we hope will occur following the review process—the nomination itself brings world attention to a unique genre of posters that heretofore has been essentially unrecognized. 
CB: What do you mean by that? 
DW: Typically, posters related to Palestine have been archived by libraries and museums under all sorts of rubrics depending on who made them or where they were made. They’ve been catalogued under various terms such as Muslim, Arab, Middle East, Jewish, Israeli, Holy Land, Levant, and so on. This means that related posters were not readily available for unified analysis. We posted a definition of the Palestine poster at the Archives web site, and we included all posters that met that definition. When we did that, what emerged is a unique genre of tremendous breadth and scope. It’s a goldmine for artists, historians, and academics. There is simply nothing else out there like that in the poster tradition. 
CB: You’ve twice now called the Palestine poster a “unique genre.” On what grounds do you make this claim? 
DW: First of all, it’s the only political poster genre to make it from the street to the Internet. The other major poster genres of the mid-twentieth century— such as the posters of the Spanish Civil War, revolutionary Cuba, Nicaragua’s Sandinista movement, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the People’s Republic of China, Zionist colonialism—they’ve all faded away. Only the Palestine poster genre endured to the twenty-first century, seamlessly made the transition to the digital age, and continues to flourish. 
Another factor that makes the Palestine poster genre unique is the degree to which it has been suppressed, censored, banned, and forced underground. At the web site we have a whole special collection dedicated to this topic. 
But perhaps what is most unique about the Palestine poster genre is that it has survived virtually intact. After all, what is a poster but a piece of paper that’s plastered on a building, handed out at a concert, or taped to a dorm wall? It’s not meant to last; it’s ephemeral. But those 1,700 posters in the Liberation Graphics Collection were preserved because people kept them. People around the world participated in a spontaneous expression of salvage anthropology. They stored posters in their attic or in a roll under their bed or in the back of their artist’s studio. And eventually they contributed those posters to the Palestine Poster Project Archives. And they’re still doing that. Every month, it seems, somebody contacts me about some posters they picked up back when they were traveling or produced themselves a decade or four ago. And so since 2005, when we launched the web site, we’ve seen this narrative emerge. It’s like a documentary film in the making. Collectively, the people of Palestine and their friends are fleshing out an authentic history of contemporary Palestine. 
CB: Now I have to ask you to explain to Mondoweiss readers what you mean by “authentic history.” 
DW: The narrative presented by the Palestine posters is authentic in the sense that it is by, for and about Palestine and the Palestinians. No editors, no censors. Each poster reveals the attitudes, aspirations, and actions present at the moment of the poster’s creation. It’s unfiltered and it’s unrevised by later events. Collectively these posters carry incredibly useful primary data on Palestinian political, military, cultural, and social history.
I need to say here that, with some incredibly hardworking volunteers, we have been able to build a super-powerful Drupal site that is searchable six ways from Sunday. Academics enthuse over the capacity of the web site. I expect to see some impressive research coming out in the next few years based on this resource. 
CB: Talk to me more about the role of artists in forming the history of contemporary Palestine. 
DW: We’ve heard from the politicians, the journalists, and the diplomats and the academics—all the professionals in the so-called peace process industry. This genre elevates the voices of the artists. It allows us to hear people speaking directly to people. You look at these posters and you walk away with a completely different take on what Palestine is and what it means to be Palestinian, compared with what you get from talking heads through the news media. The great titles resonate: this quality is not something that can be fabricated, purchased, or faked. 
CB: Aesthetically, what excites you most about the posters in the nominated collection? 
To their credit, the early Palestinian political leadership never sought to centrally control either the internal or international production of posters. As a result, artists from around the world had the freedom to combine their own graphic styles and iconography with those of contemporary Palestine. The result is an astounding cross-fertilization. A good example is the 1979 poster, “Palestine: A Homeland Denied,” in which Thomas Kruze fuses the Danish woodcut style with the Palestinian iconography of white horse, dove, and embroidery. The posters also reveal how much the Palestinian cause has been taken to heart by political movements around the world. We see the joining of causes in, for example, Lazaro Abreu’s 1971 Cuban poster expressing solidarity with Syria, in which the flag of Palestine is included almost pro forma.  And we see solidarity reaching out in the other direction, in such posters as Solidarity With Students, People, and Youth of Vietnam.  
That’s a poster created by Hosni Radwan and published by the General Union of Palestinian Students. 
There’s one other thing I really love about these posters. It’s the remixing—the borrowing of iconography to make a new statement. Take for example the 1988 poster “From the Launching to the Uprising An Incredible Journey.” It was created by an unknown artist and published by an American artists’ collective called Roots. The poster features a photograph of a woman waving the Palestinian flag. That same year, artist Rene Castro re-mixed the image as a silkscreen for the poster, “In Celebration of the State of Palestine. ” 
CB: What’s the end goal with the UNESCO Memory of the World nomination? 
DW: As you well know, the Palestine Poster Project Archives is supported by nothing more than a collection of volunteers, both Palestinian and non-Palestinian. We’re doing the best we can with limited resources, but these posters need to be prepared for eventual acquisition by a Palestinian national institution capable of maintaining them in perpetuity. Ideally, this would be in Palestine itself. The Memory of the World nomination will hopefully help raise public consciousness and generate resources that will enable us to properly conserve these posters. 
But sharing these posters with the world has another benefit, because they create a rich and textured portrait of Palestine that’s very different from the caustic and superficial stereotypes with which Palestinians were burdened subsequent to the Nakba. In these works of art we see keys and kaffiyehs, oranges and olives, horses and doves, poetry and embroidery, all mobilized to tell a story. These and other symbols, icons, and traditions of Palestinian identity are celebrated, preserved, and legitimated in the posters. 
So the posters are a real teaching tool. Viewed collectively, they enable Palestinians to learn more about their own history and for non-Palestinians to undo the hasbara that has mis-educated them. It’s a source for national pride— the Palestinians’ gift to the world, really. In an article I wrote a few years ago, I called the Palestine poster genre the “visual equivalent of jazz.” 
CB: This is the first-ever nomination of a documentary heritage by the state of Palestine to UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. What other UNESCO programs recognize Palestinian art, culture and heritage? 
DW:  The poster nomination as a documentary heritage comes on the heels of two successful inscriptions of geographic sites by Palestine to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The first was Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem, inscribed in 2012; this was the first bid by Palestine after joining UNESCO. And in June of this year, the cultural landscape of southern Jerusalem, Battir, was also inscribed on the World Heritage List, after an emergency nomination that Palestine submitted in face of the threat posed by extension of the separation wall. All this UNESCO activity is raising the cultural prestige of Palestine, which is a welcome development.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Practicing costume / textile identification skills


A lot of the work we do here at the Palestine Costume Archive is identifying costumes and textiles. We do this for lots of reasons. We might be asked by a diaspora Palestinian family about garments or cultural material in their family. We might be asked by a museum to confirm details of an item they are hoping to acquire or items on a checklist for a forthcoming exhibition, or an auction house wanting to list an item for auction.  We might be asked to help people organizing Palestinian cultural events like fashion parades.

Whatever the reason we are always happy to help because these days a lot of cultural material that is not Palestinian - especially in countries close to Palestine (one example being Sinai bedouin garments) - is getting labeled Palestinian out in the diaspora. We're always grateful that the people contacting us have taken the time to check.

We've been using social media to help familiarize people - not only Archive friends / staff who need practice with identification tools, but others out there with less knowledge.

A couple of days ago we posted the photo at the top of this post of an item in our collection on Facebook and asked Archive staff and friends to identify it.  We chose this particular one because we wanted something light hearted. We provided a couple of clues:
"it wasn't Palestinian, it was acquired in Damascus and it always creates amusement when we display it."
Twenty of you dropped us a line.  Ten got it right.  We're impressed. Those who didn't - don't worry about getting it wrong. This is all about practicing your skills. And you all came up with excellent suggestions, especially those of you who thought the garment might be a Sinai Desert bedouin headveil. This was a very good guess, because we have several Southern Sinai bedouin headveils with very similar sequined decoration in and on loan to our collection. You can see two of these displayed flat on the wall in the photo below of our traveling exhibition "Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world":

Sinai Desert bedouin costumes on display
in the Archive's traveling exhibition
"Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world"

Several even feature red sequins - here's one in storage, we've just pulled the archival paper back so you can see:

Sinai Desert bedouin headveil
in storage
Palestine Costume Archive collection

So seriously, well done :)

The clue to putting it all together was in our final clue - as one of you wrote "your "always creates amusement when we display it" gives it away lol".  Here's the entire garment:

Black and scarlet sequined Syrian lingerie
Palestine Costume Archive collection

If you are wondering at this point why on earth we are collecting underwear then you are in for a treat - it's Syrian lingerie and that's always over the top and very special :)

Black and scarlet sequined Syrian lingerie - detail
Palestine Costume Archive collection

"Forthright displays of the some world's kinkiest "leisure wear" have long been a feature of Syrian souks - though many tourists don't notice the crotchless knickers and PVC French maid outfits among the more traditional inlaid backgammon sets and textiles. 
"It stems from the Syrian tradition for brides-to-be to be given a trousseau of exotic underwear - sometimes dozens of items - usually by girlfriends, aunties and cousins, to add spice to their wedding nights, honeymoons and beyond..."
The Archive has three sets of late 20th century Syrian lingerie acquired in Suq al Hamidiya, Damascus.  

Pink heart Syrian lingerie
Palestine Costume Archive collection

As Martin Asser points out:
"There's a whole street off the historic Hamadiyeh Souk selling this genre of clothing - all outfits manufactured in Syria, some that Madonna herself might blush to wear, all showing bawdy creativity and a wicked sense of humour"
 Asser notes that according to Rana Salam and Malu Halasa who published "The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design" in 2008:
"there are more than 200 little tiny factories that manufacture these fast changing lingerie models, from feathers to ringing mobiles to actual candies “embedded” into the panties. Stuff like this, pretty unique in its genre, at least for Western tastes standards"
'The Secret life of Syrian Lingerie'
source

Here's an article about the book by Susannah Tarbush:
"When Malu Halasa and Rana Salam visited the souqs and shops of Damascus and Aleppo during a visit a couple of years ago, they were surprised by the apparent contradiction between the unusually audacious and playful lingerie on display there and the relatively conservative society, in which so many women are veiled. Halasa and Salam soon decided to co-author a book, "The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design"...

"The colourful pages of the book are full of photographs of lingerie decorated with everything from birds, butterflies and feathers to fake scorpions, flowers and fur. Sequins, pearls, embroidery and tassels liberally adorn bra and panty sets. Some lingerie sets emit music, others vibrate or incorporate lights. Lingerie may be edible; in other cases it is hidden inside chocolates or eggs. There are crocheted one-piece body suits, and costumes influenced by belly-dancing gear. The lingerie often has a playfulness about it, with comic touches such as fake fur thongs which double as mobile phone holders.
'The Secret life of Syrian Lingerie'
source 
"​​In addition to photographs of the lingerie on display, the book has photographs of lingerie modelled by pale-skinned women, mostly East European. These pictures are from catalogues which are readily available in lingerie outlets, despite the taboo on the showing of explicit images of women in public....
'The Secret life of Syrian Lingerie'
source 
"Lingerie has become an essential part of the wedding trousseau: "If a groom doesn't buy the lingerie for his wife-to-be, the bride herself or her mother does, sometimes collecting up to thirty outfits for her wedding night." The essay is accompanied by Lebanese photographer Reine Mahfouz's photographs of lingerie factories, window displays and shops where veiled women buy lingerie from male assistants.
"Halasa asks Abdulhamid about Syria's reputation within the region for earthiness and raunchiness. He replies: "Syrian society tackles sexuality head-on and looks at it in a very direct manner, which some people might find strange because it is supposedly a conservative society." There is overt discussion of sexuality even in mixed gatherings of men and women. "Sometimes it doesn't matter whether the people are religious or not. Sexual jokes are common currency in Syrian society."
'The Secret life of Syrian Lingerie'
source 

​​"There is a double edge to his comments on the racy type of Syrian lingerie. On the one hand, "you're turning women into sex toys. They're not supposed to be sexually stimulating to other people, but at home, to the husband, they're supposed to provoke his sexuality and dress in the manner that will attract him and do whatever he says." But at the same time, "it gives women a lot of control. Women can use sexuality to manipulate men."  
"An idea stated by some of those quoted in the book is that a woman should entertain her husband at home, including dancing for him. Some claim that the Koran contains such an injunction. Abdulhamid says this is not the case, but that "thousands of prophetic traditions support these ideas about women." Certainly some Syrians consider that if a woman "entertains" her husband, this will keep him away from other women and prostitutes, and will reduce the risk that he will take a second wife...
​​"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" may itself attract such criticisms. Interviews with women are interspersed with photographs of lingerie by Lebanese photographer Gilbert Hage, but many women turned down the request to be interviewed, or became angry when they saw examples of the lingerie. A woman in her sixties who declined to be interviewed declared: "Damascenes are proud of their city and culture. No one will talk to you." Another said: "Lingerie is such an embarrassing issue for Syrian women to talk about, and that's probably why it's called 'the secret life'."
"One interviewee pointed out that the type of lingerie highlighted in the book is only a small part of Syria's overall lingerie output, and is linked only to a small category of people. "There are subcultures in Syria, and subcultures everywhere else in the world that would be interested in this kind of lingerie, starting from Le Lido or Moulin Rouge." But another interviewee thought the lingerie is "almost done in a naive sweet innocent way. It's not sick or perverted."
'The Secret life of Syrian Lingerie'
source
"The interviewees often associated the "exotic" lingerie with a certain class or religion. One said: "The underwear makes me laugh so much. It is not sexy at all!" She considers it mirrors "the very old fashioned ideas about sexuality in the less educated classes of Syria." Another said that for Christians, the underwear is "nothing but embarrassing, old-fashioned fun; for Muslims it is something very normal – they not only accept it but also enjoy it. The more religious an area is, the more risqué the underwear becomes. I think that Muslim women have less freedom on the outside so to compensate they have more freedom on the inside." 
"The Secret of Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design" is one of the most unusual, even bizarre, books you are likely to see on the Arab world. It is surely the first book to probe an Arab culture via the medium of its female undergarments, and looks certain to arouse debate and controversy."
If you'd like to learn more or read the book if you can either purchase a copy online or borrow the copy in the Archive's Research Library if you are in Australia.

Thanks so much to everyone who took part in this costume / textile identification skills practice and congrats again to those who got it right. We learned lots and are looking forward to the next one :)

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