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Thobes

The Cross-point of Palestinian Identities

By Taisir Masrieh Hasbun

Part of the uniqueness of the exhibition Thobes: The Cross-point of Palestinian Identities lies in the fact that it is a traveling exhibition, a modular structure with innovative elements that help highlight the originality and traditionality of Palestinian embroidery. This flexible structure facilitates the exhibition’s journey from one city to another and from one country to another in order to meet and pique the interest and curiosity of varied audiences.

Another interesting aspect is the use of multimedia techniques that showcase images printed on glass panels of hundred-year-old ceremonial dresses along with the original fabric thobes from the same period. This display is accompanied by projections of historical photos of women proudly wearing their own handsewn and embroidered thobes before the Nakba as well as those women who carried the tradition with them into the diaspora. Finally, women’s traditional ceremonial songs are played, creating an evocative soundtrack that permeates the entire exhibition space, expressing joy and lightheartedness in one moment and fortitude and resilience in another.

In Italy first and then in Germany, the exhibition has attracted and addressed a new audience as it recounts the social, economic, and political history of Palestinian women. The exhibition has become a hub for the agency of Palestinian women who, for centuries, have expressed their identity through embroidered stitches, motifs, symbols, and colors. Moreover, through this art, they have communicated the history of Palestine and its people.

From the opening ceremony in Follonica, Italy, March 2023

Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour has contributed to the exhibition prints of several paintings in which he depicts Palestinian women proudly wearing the embroidered dress of their village or city.

Thobe images are from the collections of Bank of Palestine, Maha Abu Shusheh, George Al Ama, and Maha Saca. The original thobes are from Widad Qawar’s Tiraz collection. Accessories come from Suraya Hoffmann and Tiraz.

During the upcoming tour, two European artists who have found that Palestinian embroidery greatly enriches their art will join the exhibition: the Austrian photographer Tabea Kerschbaumer and the French musician Alexis Paul, who will talk about their experiences below. Their contribution is a testimony to the artistic, social, and political richness of Palestinian embroidery that acts as a medium for the expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Thobes: Cross-points of Palestinian Identities is an initiative promoted by This Week in Palestine. We thank Bank of Palestine and Net Tours for their support, as well as the Embassy of Palestine to the Holy See, Assopace Palestina, and SG Italy.




48 Stitches

By Tabea Kerschbaumer

The collaborative documentary photo project deals with the identity and culture of first- and second-generation Palestinian women living in the diaspora. The women were portrayed in their traditional Palestinian dresses (thobes) and created texts about their personal histories, experiences, and commitment. The project is a celebration of the culture and creativity of Palestinian women and aims to preserve this culture through pictures and texts while at the same time pointing to the ongoing Middle East conflict.

Testimonies by Young Palestinian Women

“The dress I’m wearing belongs to my mother. She bought it in Jordan because she had never been to Palestine herself. My mother wears the dress on special occasions such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve. When I wear my mother’s thobe, I feel very connected to Palestine. I feel that my identity is confirmed: ‘I am a real Palestinian.’”

Fairouz

 

“The thobe is a part of Palestinian culture and symbolizes, in my eyes, the defense and resistance of the people. When I wear my thobe, I feel stronger; when I wear it in exile, I forget the alienation. In the future, I wish to wear my thobe in a free Palestine.”

Rahaf

“When I wear my thobe, I feel connected to my home. It’s also a means of resistance. Being Palestinian is an obligation and sometimes also a burden. At the same time, I want not only to show the world how proud I am of my land and my identity, but also to affirm that we Palestinians will never give up our homeland.”

Meis

“Because our ancestors were sent to the diaspora, I am still learning a little more about our Palestinian culture every day. Discovering and reviving the old traditions gives me hope for the survival of the Palestinian people and strength to master the daily struggles of a Palestinian in Germany. To wear my thobe makes me proud – proud to be a part of this beautiful culture. There’s something majestic about it.”

Mariam


Tabea Kerschbaumer was born in 1995 in Vienna, Austria. In 2018, she went to Palestine where she created her first photo reportage about the occupied territories. After this trip, she decided to deal more intensively with photography. Since 2019, she has been studying visual journalism and documentary photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover, Germany. Her work focuses on collaborative approaches. In addition to personal work, she deals a lot with the topic of “being a woman” in its various facets.
She can be contacted at tabeamariekerschbaumer@gmail.com




Disornaments

By Alexis Paul

Since 2014, I have been leading a nomadic and poetic adventure around a revisited barrel organ. In this project, the street organ comes to the bedside of the world, to the test of creation, becoming a tribune and transmitter of culture, plunging into the infinity of forms and possibilities. By collecting stories from popular cultures, I reinvest them to extract, from a contemporary perspective, a sublime dimension.

In an approach that combines travel, composition, and various collaborations, I explore and renew the imagination of the barrel organ, a portable mechanical wind musical instrument born in Western Europe more than 300 years ago.

I am interested in sound, which I approach from diverse and multiple angles, as I like to reveal unexpected melodic potentials using my instrument. In my project Disornaments, I am interested in the possible links between textile and sound and the possibility of making embroidery “sing.” I was particularly interested in Palestinian embroideries due to their incredible richness, diversity, and narrative power.

A sound journey about palestinian ornaments.

To achieve the desired effect, I use special music cards, known as barrel organ punch cards, which I perforate by hand. I transform their traditional use by replacing musical notation with the diversity and repetition of the ornaments of Palestinian embroidery. To read these cards, I use what I call a “light organ,” a custom-made machine inspired by the traditional barrel organ. More precisely, it is a card reader that operates through optical sensors and allows any pattern to be transformed into digital information that is compatible with a digital sound language. This modern technique gives me the freedom to carry out unique experiments, thereby renewing the principle of the street organ, as this system is capable of reading the perforated ornaments and transforming the embroidery into soundtracks. In the void created by the perforation, ghostly and sonorous ornaments then appear.

The Disornaments project was supported by the French Institute of Paris in the form of a research grant, which led me to spend two months during the winter of 2023 in Palestine, where I received logistical support from Al Ma’mal Foundation and the French cultural institutes in Jerusalem and Ramallah.


Alexis Paul was born in 1987 in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. By collecting stories from popular cultures, Alexis reinvests them to extract a sublime dimension, applying a contemporary perspective. Alexis Paul is also a guitarist, a composer for cinema, and the artistic director of several projects that include Voci Dal Mondo Reale, Orgue-paysage, Le Salon Volant, and Disornaments (sound project around embroidery). He is currently in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. He can be contacted at alexis@alexispaul.com

  • Taisir Masrieh Hasbun is the cofounder and art director of This Week in Palestine. He is also the curator and project manager of the multimedia traveling exhibitions titled Thobes: The Cross-point of Palestinian Identities and Bethlehem Reborn: The Wonders of the Nativity, which have been touring Europe since 2019.

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