I had been researching, doing interviews and curating my tatreez exhibit for a long time. Tatreez is Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery which is very intricate and is often quite political. Having spent so much time and energy in the process of gathering information and putting up the exhibit (including translating and typing all text in Arabic), opening night, Friday June 5th, was very exciting.
The project began when I applied for a Leeway Grant for Art and Change around the art of tatreez, traditional Palestinian embroidery. My greatest motivation was Palestinian youth in Philadelphia who face discrimination everyday in school and on the street, and the possibility of complete loss of identity. I wanted to provide a model of something they could be proud of and a piece of their heritage that they could participate in.
The most common theme that appeared again and again in the interviews is the idea that by making tatreez an individual woman is contributing to the collective Palestinian identity and is therefore resisting. It is worthy to note that tatreez is also one of many Palestinian arts that Israel as a society has appropriated. At international fashion shows the Israelis would model Palestinian embroidery as theirs, and I even have a photo of Menachem Begin’s wife wearing a thob (traditional embroidered dress). Of course our arts (and not to mention our food) have been appropriated because Israel is a 61 year old state that does not have any concrete “Israeli” traditional arts, dances, music, foods, etc.
Given that background, and the fact that the creation of the Jewish State translated into our expulsion and continued efforts to deny that we even exist (I have been told many times that “there is no such thing as Palestinians”) the women I interviewed and whose work was exhibited are quite thrilled to be weaving Palestinian identity into being. I am grateful to all of them for their support and generosity in inviting myself and Sarah Green, the photographer, into their homes.
Opening night was wonderful. The gallery was full as people were coming in and out, marveling at the handmade work of seven local women, their stories and pride in their heritage.