A conservator works on a Palestinian embroidered thobe from Bir al-Sabi’. (Hareth Yousef © The Palestinian Museum)

The Palestinian Museum (PM) will establish the first textile conservation studio in the country, part of a new partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. The PM opened in 2016 next to the Birzeit University campus, seven miles north of the Palestinian capital of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The project is funded by a $480,000 grant from the Aliph Foundation, dedicated to salvaging cultural heritage threatened by war and conflict. Announced last December, and coinciding with the addition of Palestinian embroidery to UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the initiative will help document and preserve Palestinian embroidered dresses known as thobes housed in the PM’s permanent collection and elsewhere.

The first stage in the collaboration will take shape this month, with three Palestinian conservators set to travel to the V&A for textile preservation and collections management training. Conservation work at the PM will begin in the fall, complemented by a series of workshops and outreach programs to engage local communities.

Thobes are characterized by intricate, handmade cross-stitch embroidery designs known as tatreez that date back thousands of years. Originating in the 19th century, thobes took on a special significance after the first intifada in 1987, during Palestinians’ peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation. The dresses, sometimes embroidered with the four colors of the Palestinian flag (black, white, red, and green) in defiance of Israeli censorship, became symbols of Palestinian liberation. Around 100 thobes were recently donated to the PM by Palestinian and Arab-American women from the Committee for the Preservation of Palestinian Heritage in the United States and by a collector based in France, according to the Art Newspaper.

Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, director general of the Palestinian Museum, said the grant would allow the institution to “pioneer textiles preservation in Palestine.”

“We pay great attention to embroidery and its artistic, material, and historical significance as a crucial component of Palestinian cultural heritage,” Laïdi-Hanieh said in a statement. “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.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...