Textile town Stroud, Gloucestershire, ‘wowed’ by Palestinian History Tapestry
Between 17 and 23 February 2020 the Lansdown Hall and Gallery in the textile town of Stroud in Gloucestershire, UK, hosted an exhibition of 40 panels from the Palestinian History Tapestry (PHT) grouped by themes – history, women, life, home, food, art and religion. The exhibition was visited by over 500 people, some from as far afield as France, London, Totnes, Derby, Edinburgh and Manchester.
The conceptualisation, promotion and realisation of the exhibition was the brainchild of Robin Layfield, webmaster of the PHT Project’s website.
Another Stroud resident, Mark Epton designed the printed promotional material for the Project.
Robin Layfield introduced the speakers at the opening event on 17 February. Stroud’s deputy mayor, Margaret Poulton, welcomed and formally opened the exhibition. Jan Chalmers, co-chair of the PHT Project, went on to give an account of the PHT Project’s development since its initiation in 2012, inspired initially by other examples of histories illustrated with stitch, such as the Bayeux and Keiskamma tapestries.
The Tapestry is currently composed of nearly 100 panels, which, together, measure nearly 80 metres. Jan drew attention to Stroud’s longstanding production of red and blue fabric for the British army and navy with Gaza’s production of fabric for Palestinian dresses (thobes) and carpets. Jan showed contemporary examples of embroidered cushion covers made in Stroud and Gaza and the dramatic contrast between the rural panorama of Stroud and the devastation of Gaza resulting from repeated military assaults and the siege implemented by Israel and Egypt since 2006.
The family of the second speaker, Haya Awad Abdalhadi, has been in Gaza since the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe). Her grandmother was forced to leave her village (Al Khisas) in Northern Palestine, and eventually ended up in Gaza where she met and married Haya’s grandfather.
Haya is a 26-year-old English Language and Literature graduate who has been working in the humanitarian field, initially as a volunteer with Première Urgence Internationale, then, after graduation, with Médecins du Monde–France, International Medical Corps, and Aisha Association for Woman and Child Protection. She has experienced at first hand the drastic effects on daily life caused by the siege of Gaza, and she witnessed the results of the devastating assaults on the Gaza Strip in 2008/9, 2012, and 2014. She is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes University.
Gill Yudkin, one of the Patrons of the PHT Project, was the last speaker at the Stroud Exhibition’s opening event. She is a retired general practitioner, who worked in inner London before retirement. Her work in the charitable sector began in Tanzania in the 1960s and continued after she retired from general practice. A visit to Israel/Palestine in 2008 under the aegis of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions confirmed Gill’s determination to support Palestinian people “living under the yoke of the Israeli occupation”. She joined a small, secular Jewish grant-giving charity – the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST – www.bsst.org.uk), which she has chaired since 2009.
BSST makes small grants to grassroots projects that that challenge oppression and disadvantage within Israel and Palestine – for example, the Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza , and the Arteam Garden Library, South Tel Aviv’s only community centre for asylum-seeking and migrant workers’ children and their parents (see illustration).
The opening event of the Stroud exhibition concluded with a session for questions and a stream of appreciative comments. This augured well for the six following days of the exhibition, which made clear that the hard, preparatory work had achieved more than anyone had dared hope for.
UNRWA at 70
UNRWA at 70
The Palestinian History Tapestry was exhibited at an all-day meeting at the British Library in London on 30 November 2019 marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). The event was supported by the Palestine Return Centre, the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, and the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. A star-studded programme of speakers included two PHT Patrons – Ghada Karmi and Ilan Pappé. A looped slide show was used to display on a large (LB) screen very high definition images of the 97 panels that currently constitute the Palestinian History Tapestry. The original stitched panel marking the foundation of UNRWA was also displayed.
PHT featured at Memo 8th Palestine Book Awards
Middle East Monitor launched the 8th Palestine Book Awards season in front of a packed gathering in London earlier this month. For the first time in the award’s history, each of the shortlisted books was twinned with a panel or a collection of panels from the Palestinian History Tapestry which were on display during the award’s pre-launch discussion with the authors. Some of the beautifully crafted tapestries by Palestinian women from within and outside the occupied territory created a setting befitting any celebration of art and literature.
The evening was kicked off by journalist and author, Victoria Brittain, who is also a trustee of Palestine Book Awards. Her remarks expressed delight not only at the award’s success, which since its launch in 2012 has morphed into one of the most anticipated events of the year related to Palestine, but also at the display of beautiful Palestinian embroidery corresponding with each of the shortlisted books.
Following the successful partnership, the Palestinian History Tapestry project is now set to become an annual feature of the Palestine Book Awards.
Palestine 4000 years of history
PALEXPO Olympia London 6-7 July 2019
All the current original, stitched Palestinian History Tapestry panels were displayed publicly for the first time at PALEXPO 2019, a celebration of Palestinian culture at Olympia on 6 & 7 July 2019, which was attended by over 10,000 visitors. Several thousand people of all ages visited the Tapestry, which covered both sides of 100 metres of free-standing display boards.
We were told by Friends of al Aqsa (https://www.foa.org.uk/) – the organisers of PALEXPO 2019 – that there was a buzz of excitement about the Tapestry among visitors.
Many visitors took pictures, and some filmed the Tapestry. One of the first visitors was Swee Ang, the trauma surgeon who has worked tirelessly in Gaza. Although she was amazed by the Tapestry, she was not surprised by the quality of the beautiful stitching, for which Palestinian embroiderers are well-known.
All the visitors with whom we spoke were complimentary about the Tapestry, and many of the Palestinian visitors were visibly moved by it and expressed gratitude to the designers, stitchers and other contributors to PHT Project. We distributed business cards with the Project’s website and email addresses, and urged those visitors with suggestions for modifying some panel narratives to send their comments to the PHT Project’s email.
Mounting, monitoring, and dismantling the Tapestry was hard work for our small PHT team, but we were glad to have taken advantage of Friends of Al Aqsa’s invitation to exhibit the Tapestry at PALEXPO 2019. A measure of the success of our contribution is that FOA have asked us to consider being a regular feature at future PALEXPOs.