On 30 November 2018, the Middle East Centre (MEC) at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, hosted the Oxford launch of the Palestinian History Tapestry (PHT). The Tapestry has been 6 years in the making and is probably the largest embroidered collection of illustrative work ever produced by Palestinian embroiderers. It illustrates the history of the Land of Palestine, from the Neolithic Era to the present, and the peoples who have lived in it.
About a third of the embroidered panels that make up the current length of the Tapestry (which is about 70 metres) were displayed in the dramatic approach to Zaha Hadid’s Investcorp Auditorium, where a capacity audience was treated to four brief presentations by panellists chaired by Eugene Rogan, Director of MEC.
Shelagh Weir (former Middle East curator for the British Museum) spoke about the continually evolving 200-year history of Palestinian embroidery, and the wide variety of influences on it from within the Middle East and further afield.
Jan Chalmers (founder of the PHT Project), explained how a combination of experience working as a nurse in Gaza and involvement in the creation of a history tapestry of the Xhosa people in South Africa had led to the Palestinian History Tapestry Project.
Do’aa Hammoudeh, a DPhil candidate at St Antony’s College and PHT committee member, drew on women’s experiences in working on the Tapestry and discussed the meanings they ascribed to their work. She focused on the ways in which the Tapestry has contributed to the continuation and development of an embroidery tradition that preserves and provides an outlet for expressing Palestinian identity and history.
Karl Sabbagh (a British Palestinian documentary maker and writer) reviewed some of the themes reflected in the Tapestry, particularly the extraordinary steadfastness (sumud) of a people faced with determined, ongoing attempts to destroy it.
Questions and comments from the audience suggests that the creation of the Palestinian History Tapestry seems likely to be seen as yet another expression of the steadfastness of the people of Palestine.
The exhibition remained open for public viewing throughout the day after the seminar.
Photographic Giclée print images of the whole Palestinian History Tapestry will be displayed at the P21 Gallery, 21 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD from 11 to 22 December.
Iain Chalmers, 4th December 2018