A Palestinian embroidered thobe from Bethlehem, 1920-1939.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Palestinian Museum (PM) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) have announced their first collaboration on a new project to develop the capacities of the PM collections department, including establishing the first textile conservation studio in Palestine, and to document and conserve Palestinian material heritage endangered by conflict, particularly traditional embroidered dresses (thobes). The project will be implemented between January 2022 and December 2023, and is funded by the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH) with a grant of USD 4,84,298.
The project will begin with the establishment of the conservation studio in Palestine at the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, drawing on expertise from the V&A. In parallel, PM conservators will travel to the V&A in London for specialised textile conservation and collections management training. The Museum aspires for this studio to be the first local and regional hub of excellence to meet textile conservation needs and to provide best practices training to institutional and private Palestinian collectors. It will enable the PM to document and preserve the Museum’s permanent collection as well as other institutional and individual collections of traditional embroidered dresses and accessories.
The PM collection items were donated by Palestinian and Arab-American women from the Committee for the Preservation of Palestinian Heritage (CPPH) in the United States, as well as from a collector in France. As part of the project, the Museum designed an educational and public programme, to raise awareness of best practices to protect Palestinian material cultural heritage. It includes specialised workshops, lectures, guided tours, and discussions. Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, Director General of the Palestinian Museum, expressed her happiness with the grant from the ALIPH Foundation and the start of the partnership with the V&A.
“This grant is an important support to the Palestinian Museum’s methodical work in preserving Palestinian heritage,” she said. “It is also timely, in light of UNESCO’s recent addition of the art of Palestinian embroidery to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. “We pay great attention to embroidery and its artistic, material and historical significance as a crucial component of Palestinian cultural heritage. “The Museum has developed over the years several original exhibitions and projects on embroidery. Developing professional and sustainable in-house care capacities for this material heritage, as well as in our communities, is a natural next step for the Museum.
This grant will allow us to pioneer textiles preservation in Palestine.”Kate Parsons, Director of Conservation, Collections Care and Access at the V&A, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with the Palestinian Museum to share knowledge and develop expertise in textile conservation and wider collections management practice. “We look forward to welcoming their team to the V&A in London, and to support the Palestinian Museum in the planning and development of their facilities as part of this valuable project that will work to safeguard Palestinian material cultural heritage.” One of the most identifiable dresses in Palestine is the thobe, which is a traditional embroidered dress handmade and worn for centuries by Palestinian women; it is the bedrock of Palestinian textile artistry.
Hence, many Palestinians consider this as a heritage, an instrument with which to defend history and identity. Thobes display distinctive motifs, colours and styles, across the various villages of old Palestine, showing the ability to draw the culture of their region in the dresses. It is hard to find any national Palestinian event and also weddings and special occasions, without the traditional Palestinian dress. It is a folk art that the Palestinians have inherited from generation after generation, and whose wool yarns narrate the story of a city, town or village. It also depicts an identity that has undergone many changes, since 3,000 years ago, to the Canaanite era. PM is run by a Non-Governmental Association dedicated to supporting an open and dynamic Palestinian culture nationally and internationally.
The Museum presents and engages with new perspectives on Palestinian history, society and culture. It also offers spaces for creative ventures, educational programmes and innovative research. Located on a terraced hill, the Museum building overlooks the Mediterranean. With a design inspired by the surrounding rural landscape, it integrates seamlessly into its environment. Its facade is made of local limestone and its cascading gardens represent the history of Palestinian vegetation and agriculture.
It was a winner of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. V&A is the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity, spanning 5,000 years of human creativity. It was established in 1852 to make works of art available to all and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. Today, its purpose is to champion creative industry, inspire the next generation, and spark everyone’s imagination.
ALIPH Foundation, the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is the only global fund exclusively dedicated to the protection and rehabilitation of cultural heritage in conflict zones and post-conflict areas. It was founded in 2017 in response to the massive destruction in recent years of outstanding, often ancient, cultural heritage, particularly in the Middle East and the Sahel region. The Foundation has the status of an international organisation. As of 2021, it is supporting nearly 150 projects in 30 countries.
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