We are incredibly honoured to have partaken in the Palestinian Museum's first exhibition, 'At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery’, symbolically stamping us into the timeline of such a beautiful tradition. Showcased at Dar el Nimer for Arts in Culture in Clemenceau in Beirut, the exhibition closes this week and we wanted to share our perspective.
Rachel Dedman, curator of the exhibition, gives context into the traditional dress and its function, opening the display with a note:
As a form of material history, embroidery sensitively reflects the social and political landscape in which it is produced.
Beginning with the earlier styles, more distinct because of the difficulty of movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the famously opulent thoab malak are hung (without cases) along inside-out everyday dresses that were kept for housework and would normally never be seen in public. It is clear that an underlying theme of the exhibition is an intimate look, noticing telling details others would typically disregard. While there has been a lot of documentation to preserve the traditional thoub and its heritage in the pre-Nakba styles, which our capsule collections have and will be based upon, this exhibition goes further in the timeline.
Showing off new riches that came from living and working in the Gulf post-Nakba, with an 8-point cross-stitch that consumed more thread than any other style. Comparing the intifada thoub and the laboriousness of their creation to wear to urgent events such as protests as literal embodiments of the somoud or steadfastness. Questioning NGO incentives to mass market and circulate embroidery. Exploring how women would be empowered with statements that their “place behind the machine being no less important than behind the gun.” Showcasing other up-and-coming designers such as Sasha Nassar, who used literal interpretations of places to design embroidery, and Ibra wa Khayt that upcycled parts of old thoab. An incredible span of different initiatives was on display with a depth that has not been seen before.
One of the core concepts we struggle with at Taita Leila is that, though we are staying true and in our view paying respect to our heritage, we do not want to be limited by it. Clothing and customs are fluid and a reflection of a changing society, which Dedman cleverly observed in our reinterpretation.
We have always thought of ourselves as the embodiment of naughty children who, accidentally stumbling upon a large trousseau of the most incredible clothes and materials left in storage, rip off bits and assimilate them into in a bite-size story appropriate for the modern day attention span and wardrobe.