Get hooked on traditional Palestinian embroidery

UAE-based artist Joanna Barakat is set to give a class on traditional stitching techniques. (Arab News)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Get hooked on traditional Palestinian embroidery

  • Joanna Barakat gives workshops on Palestinian embroidery
  • She talks about the significance and history of the craft

DUBAI: I just finished cross-stitching my first Gaza cypress tree motif, begun around the kitchen table of the UAE-based artist Joanna Barakat, who gives workshops on Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez. Next up: Motifs from Hebron, Ramallah and Jaffa.

Until I took her class, which she’ll be teaching at Tashkeel in Dubai next weekend, I hadn’t paid much attention to the stitches that adorn the region’s fabrics. Now, I read them like signposts for clues as to where they’re from.

Barakat, who was born in Jerusalem, begins with a talk on the history of tatreez, showing us photos from different regions before 1948 and passing around examples of her grandmother’s work.

We learn how embroidery was more elaborate for weddings, how women incorporated their environment in their work — Jaffa, for instance, has an orange motif — and how it reflected their status. Bedouin women stitched a blue hem on their dresses, adding red motifs if they remarried. “Each tribe had its own style and its own way of dressing to express their identity,” Barakat says.

The Nakba in 1948 almost killed off the tradition, as women lost access to the region’s textile factories. “Everybody was traumatized,” she says. “You had a good decade there where almost nothing came out.”

But their resilience resurfaced in their craft, earning them a living in refugee camps. “It became a symbol of resistance and empowerment.”

In that way, Barakat uses embroidery in her paintings: in one self-portrait, a needle punctures her chest on the canvas, “trying to stitch my own Palestinian identity into me,” she explains.

Her workshop may have stitched some of that into me as well. After giving us our own cross-stitch kits, with Aida fabric, green threads and cypress tree patterns, she shows us how to stitch, correcting us patiently as we go. As they might say in crochet class, I’m hooked.



Joanna Barakat’s workshops on Palestinian embroidery are at Tashkeel in Dubai on Sept. 29 and Dec. 8 for $73, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with a one-hour break, lunch included. Email [email protected] for more information.


HIGHLIGHTS from Amal Kenawy’s ‘Frozen Memory,’ at Sharjah Art Foundation

"The Purple Artificial Forest" by Amal Kenawy. (Supplied)
Updated 58 min 52 sec ago
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HIGHLIGHTS from Amal Kenawy’s ‘Frozen Memory,’ at Sharjah Art Foundation

DUBAI: “Frozen Memory” by Amal Kenawy will be displayed at the Sharjah Art Foundation until Jan.19.

“The Room” (2004)
“Frozen Memory” is the first retrospective of the hugely influential Egyptian visual artist Amal Kenawy since her death in 2012. Kenawy’s work covered a range of media, including sculpture, video, writing, drawing, animation and performance. This piece, a blend of video and performance in which Kenawy sewed beads onto a beating heart, featured in her first solo exhibition.

“The Purple Artificial Forest” (2005)
A series of animated drawings in which Kenawy explored her anxiety dreams. She included initial sketches and notes for the creatures that appear in the final video, showcasing the development of the work, which, typically for the award-winning artist, drew on themes of insecurity and powerlessness.

“Stop — You Will Be Killed” (2006)
Beginning with photographs of the bare walls of a military hospital she visited, Kenawy’s animated film goes on to explore her thoughts and feelings following the visit. Again, her vision is nightmarish, as a rat begins to gnaw at a lifeless female body (the artist used herself as the model), making the violence of war explicit.