Embroidery is more than just a craft. It is a form of expression, a way of preserving culture, and a means of resistance. For Palestinian women, embroidery has been a vital part of their identity and heritage for centuries, reflecting their social, political, and economic realities.
A new exhibition at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, titled Material Power: Palestinian Embroidery, showcases the historical life and contemporary significance of this ancient and beautiful practice. The exhibition, which runs from 8 July to 29 October 2023, is the first major display of Palestinian embroidery in the UK for over 30 years, with more than 40 dresses and embroidery objects on loan from important private collections in Jordan and Palestine.
The exhibition is curated by Rachel Dedman, an independent curator, and writer based in Beirut, who has been researching Palestinian embroidery since 2014. She explains that embroidery is not only a form of art but also a form of power. "Embroidery is a material that has the capacity to tell stories, to communicate histories, to embody female labour and resilience, and to make manifest pivotal moments in Palestine's recent history", she says.
The exhibition also features artworks by five contemporary artists who engage with embroidery in different ways: Mona Hatoum, Jumana Emil Abboud, Jordan Nassar, Emily Jacir, and Larissa Sansour. Their works explore themes such as memory, identity, diaspora, and belonging, using embroidery as a medium or a reference.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is a series of films that show embroiderers from different regions of Palestine speaking about their work and their lives. The films were produced by the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, which collaborated with Dedman on her 2016 book At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery. The book, which is available to purchase in the Kettle's Yard shop, provides a comprehensive overview of the history and significance of embroidery in Palestine.
Material Power: Palestinian Embroidery is organized by Kettle's Yard in collaboration with the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, where it will travel from 24 November 2023 to 7 April 2024. The exhibition is generously supported by The Orange Tree Trust and the Material Power: Palestinian Embroidery Supporters Circle.
The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see and learn about this rich and diverse cultural material that has survived and thrived despite decades of conflict and oppression. It is also a tribute to the skill and creativity of Palestinian women who have used embroidery as a tool for empowerment and expression.
For more information and to book free tickets, visit Kettle's Yard website.