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Palestinian Embroidery, Collective Memory and Land Ownership

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Every nation portrays its heritage with the color of its soil

As I sat at the dinner table in a Christian Palestinian home in Beit Jala, a town on the outskirts of Bethlehem, my eyes fell upon a poster on traditional Palestinian dresses published by the Palestinian Heritage Center. The center, established in 1991 with the aim of reviving and documenting Palestinian cultural heritage, is known for spreading cultural awareness as a form of activism on behalf of the Palestinian struggle through museum exhibits and posters as well as shows and replicas of original pieces. This specific poster I found in the house of a man who, despite having the credentials to obtain a well-paid public accountancy job, decided to dedicate his life to teaching foreigners about the Holy Land, guiding them through its cities, villages, checkpoints and landmarks, focused on one of Palestines oldest art forms: tatreez, or embroidery. Featuring a map of Palestine with examples of the various regional versions of traditional Palestinian embroidered dresses, the poster read: Its woven fabrics, motifs and colors tell the story of the village or city it belongs to. Each dress also shows the history and myths associated with the land, nature and beliefs.

Various Forms of Tatreez

Throughout history, cultural heritage has served as proof of land ownership and belonging, and the specific case of Palestinian tatreez perfectly exemplifies the natural transformation of a cultural tradition into a form of political engagement and resistance, an artistic political statement that very loudly voices the determination of a people not to be erased.

In the period preceding 1948, Palestinian dress embroidery very heavily featured stylistic regional differences, reflecting the different characteristics of villages and also expressing the wearer's status, wealth and geographic origin. Such stylistic differences in color, patterns, stitches and embroidery placement were...