Thursday 30 June 2011

Threads of Identity

I was totally bowled over by two newish books on the block - not to mention the title of one of the works - Threads of Identity. Having seen how women in prisoner of war camps continued stitching, one can understand how this special activity of ours allows stitchers in sometimes the worst of circumstances to cling to the last shreds of their identities, to keep hold of the thread of who they are, what life is and what life is meant to be. (I suppose it equates in some bizarre way to my father's first thought on reaching dry land after his ship had been torpedoed. Standing in little more than the rags he asked where he could get a proper shave. And again, tales of the unemployed in the bleakest of past times would always involve getting up, having a shave and dressing carefully.) And so Threads of Identity is a history of Palestinian women told through aspects of stitching, rug-making and costume. The interviews with women who lived through the traumas and changes of the 20th century are a contribution to oral history, augmenting standard historical accounts. While most writing about the Middle East concentrates on politics, Widad Kawar's book focuses on the dignity of ordinary people, and women in particular, bridging the gap between the major events of history and everyday life. With this book Widad Kamel Kawar pays homage to Palestinian women - she is known as Umm ‘l-ibas al falastini - Mother of the Palestinian dress. Her world-acclaimed collection is the largest in the Middle East and has been exhibited in Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Scotland, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

Margarita Skinner lived in the Middle East for over twenty years and during that time volunteered in several Palestinian women’s projects in Jordan, Gaza Strip, West Bank and for over five years she supervised embroidery production by over 300 ladies in a self-supporting programme in the Gaza Strip. Her 1998 book Between Despair and Hope: Windows on my Middle East Journey 1967-1992 gives some details of this endeavour. Margarita met Widad Kawar when they both worked in the refugee camps of Jordan after the 1967 war. Her book Palestinian Embroidery Motifs 1850 – 1950: A Treasury of Stitches, is the first to document all the different motifs by origin and names used on the old dresses.

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating... Thank you for sharing and providing some deserved attention to this on your blog. I probably would not have seen it elsewhere. The stitching work is extraordinary.