Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive


You'll find a FAQ page about the Palestine Costume Archive on our website here. However because we currently have an older version of our website up online, we thought we'd create this FAQ page on the staff blog with more up to date info.  

On a recent trip to Canberra we trailed director / curator Jeni around for an hour, asking all the questions we could think of:


Official party at the opening of the Archive's two exhibitions
at Museum Victoria's Immigration Museum. Jeni is the
one in obviously the most beautiful dress :)

You've been with the Palestine Costume Archive since it began. What motivated you back then?
I was working at the National Gallery of Australia, starting in it's Research Library and ending up with ten years in it's curatorial departments. 
Jeni working with Dr Michael Brand at the National Gallery
in the early 1990s

I had also begun post graduate study on material culture under Professor Forge at the Australian National University. My thesis was on Palestinian costume.   My research was revealing how little Palestinian costume appeared to be held not only in museums worldwide, but in Palestinian diaspora communities.  
This was around the time the Palestine Research Center's entire eight stories of archives were looted in Beirut.  There was this dreadful fear that no Palestinian heritage would survive in the Palestinian region, and that heritage preserved elsewhere would be too fragmented around the planet for later generations of Palestinians to locate it.    
People concerned about these matters became aware of my research. Australia was seen as far away and possibly safe, and my professional mix of research, archive and museum expertise along with my academic interest in the subject made me seem someone who might be able to help.  The idea was to start something quietly and privately and stay under the radar.   
Originally the Archive was just a document archive. We started contacting museum worldwide to ask about their holdings. My profession as a museum curator meant most museums were happy to give me a bit of time and let me talk to curators who'd worked with their Palestinian collections.   
This was at a time when very few museums were displaying "Palestinian" material. However in the late 1980s Widad Kawar's private collection toured several European museums (resulting in Gisela Völger and Katharina Hackstein's excellent catalogue "Pracht und Geheimnis : Kleidung und Schmuck aus Palästina und Jordanien : Katalog der Sammlung Widad Kawar"), followed by the British Museum's "Palestinian costume" 1989-91, curated by Shelagh Weir.

British Museum's "Palestinian Costume" 1989-91

It was great to be on hand to see these well curated and beautifully installed exhibitions, which introduced an enormous number of people to Palestinian heritage, and made it possible for us at the Archive to finally in 1995 (via our traveling exhibition program) get that heritage on display in Australian museums" 

"Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"
installed at Grafton Regional Gallery

Can we see some photos of your exhibitions?
Absolutely.  Here's some installation photos from "Portraits without names: Palestinian costume"

My favorite installation was the eighteen months at The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.  Although it was only about half the usual exhibition space we re-curated it to include the story of Palestinian families living in Sydney. That brought everything we do together for me and made it very special indeed.

Here's some photos from "Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world"

It also had a few Palestinian costumes as you can see in the photo below.
We curated this gorgeous looking exhibition as a sneaky way of getting Palestinian costume shown in museums that usually refused Palestinian exhibitions :)
"Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948"
installed at WOCMES, Mainz, Germany
(First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies)

Is it true you lost an exhibition like these ones?
Yes we did. At LAX.  It was "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948", the first museum quality exhibition of just post 1948 material. 

It was a stunning exhibition, designed to tour and with a lovely range of refugee embroidery products both in the exhibition and available separately for sale. It had been a very popular exhibit at the first World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Mainz in Mainz, Germany in 2002 and we'd been invited to display it at MESA (Middle Eastern Studies Association) in 2003, where the Archive was also presenting a paper. 
Look! We found these at the back of our storage area the other day, talk about heartbreaking:

Let me see. What are they?
They're the two exhibition title stick on labels for "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" for the two venues where the exhibition was to be displayed after the MESA conference.   
It was terribly disheartening when it happened.  I'm just very glad I was the courier. I would have hated anyone else from the Archive to bear the responsibility.  Luckily the loans for the exhibition were in my hand luggage so at least those were not lost, but everything else was. 
After this we couldn't put any more cultural heritage at risk, so we cut down our traveling exhibition program and started advising people wanting an exhibition to think about creating their own, perhaps working with an Archive Education Officer.

Several Archive volunteers attended a conference on
Palestinian human rights at the Australian National
University last September.

What does the term Education Officer cover?
From the very start the Archive has had a global reach. Ours was the first website about Palestinian costume online, plus people become aware of us via our research at museums and in Palestinian diaspora communities as well as these days via our Facebook page. This means enquiries come in from all around the world.  Our Education Officers provide an the spot connection. 
Things Education Officers do:
  • we might get an email from a school group wanting someone to talk about Palestinian cultural heritage. We'll send you a powerpoint presentation (if you need a hand) and you present it, and can answer general questions about Palestine after
  • there might be a local conference we'd love someone at the Archive to attend and write up a report
  • or a local conference where we'd like Archive research presented but can't afford to travel from Australia
  • the local Palestinian diaspora community might need some onsite help with a cultural fashion parade
  • there might be a local museum with Palestinian costumes in their collection that we need you to check out
  • you may never get called or you may get called twice in one week
  • during times your own life is busy you just let us know and we make a note on your file for when you want to be on call again
If you think this might be fun just get in touch, either via Facebook or our email: (

Why do you have an old version of your website up?
Because new versions kept being hacked. Over the years we've lost domain names, email accounts etc.  We're working on it.

In the 1980s the Archive did a lot of one on one work with Palestinian refugee embroidery programs. Do you still do this?
The type of work we do with them has changed. Back then it was very hard to get information about these projects, so we were in a position to be able to help in terms of getting the word out.  These days they mostly have websites and Facebook pages - if you are looking for these projects you'll find a list on the right hand side of this blog. 
Now our work is more about documenting their work and acquiring the best of what they produce, because they have an enormous impact on contemporary trends in Palestinian "traditional" fashion. 
Jordan River Designs dolls

Do you still stock refugee embroidery project products?
We used to, because they were hard for people to find. These days connections worldwide are much better, so as long as we provide links sales can be done direct. We still get some stock in when our traveling exhibitions are at venues with small shops.

Do you still stock Archive exhibition catalogues, postcards etc?

We do, but supplies are getting a bit low. Especially of the "Portraits" catalogue.
Do you still work with Palestinian activist groups, etc.
Yes, we've done that for ages now.   We like to help any way we can. Here we are promoting Gaza Ark with James, in Canberra recently.

Finally what kinds of things do you all post about here on the staff blog?
We "keep you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research and the work of the Palestine Costume Archive".   Which means we post about
  • Palestinian costume in other museums
  • Palestinian art exhibitions
  • Palestinian films 
who was the most beautiful lady at the Oscars last year?
  • Palestinian film festivals
  • cultural displays 
Shawal dress displayed at the Brisbane
Palestinian film festival
Jeni posted about meeting Karl Schembri
at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival
  • new acquisitions
early 20th century postcard
Bethlehem women
  • embroidery pattern research
  • identify the costume games - oii! put cotton gloves on before you touch anything! 
Afghan costume in storage
Bahrain dress on loan, in storage
Sorry! You were saying: 
  •  interesting things relating to Palestinian costume
we've not posted about this amazing dress yet
but we will!

Thank you Jeni. Have you got time for morning tea, then?
Definitely. We've got cupcakes :)

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