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Dar El-Nimer for Arts & Culture Provides Unique Insight Into Palestinian and Levantine Heritage
The adage, tell me what you wear and I tell you who you are, takes on a different meaning when it comes to traditional Palestinian robes, known as “thobe”.
The ancient craft of Palestinian embroidery has been passed on over generations and has even survived the ruptures of the Nakba, strife, occupation and displacement. One of its key characteristics have always been regional particularities. Dresses made in Ramallah, for example, would be stitched on white fabric. In Gaza it would be black. The threads were of specific hues too. As were the motifs, of course. It hence became like a physical alphabet, like Braille text that one can decipher.
Over the last six decades, this art of embroidery, known as “tatreez”, also came to reflect political realities, notably during the intifada.
It is then not surprising that the opening exhibition of Dar el Nimer for Arts & Culture, does so with At the Seams, a splendid exhibition curated by Rachel Dedman, on the art of Palestinian embroidery.
“The research has unfolded from the understanding that textiles sensitively reflect the changes in the social and political landscape in which they are produced. Taking material that is little documented and rarely exhibited, the exhibition will place historic Palestinian dresses from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in conversation with photography, painting, archival material and contemporary design. A newly-commissioned film from artist Maeve Brennan gives space to the women across Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan who continue to embroider today, and whose voices are rarely heard within this discourse,” Dedman elaborated in her press release.
The first exhibition also leans on a regional and international network comprising of institutions such as Tiraz in Amman, run by Widad Kawar, who has a seminal collection of 2000 “thobes”. It also effectively transcends impenetrable borders and marks the first satellite exhibition of the newly opened Palestine Museum in Bir Zeit.
The brainchild of Rami El-Nimer, who was born in Nablus and has been collecting art rooted in Palestine for 40 years, is greatly enriching Beirut’s budding cultural scene. Besides focusing on historical, modern and contemporary cultural productions from Palestine, the Levant and beyond, the foundation also intends to create bridges between Lebanese and Palestinians. In the words of El-Nimer, it aims “to restore recognition of Palestinian heritage, past and present, and to play a role in contributing to a better, more inclusive vision of the Palestinian future.”
Housed inside the Villa Salem, Dar el-Nimer for Arts & Culture is on the corner of Justinian and America Street in Clemenceau, the Trad Hospital next to its entrance. Lucien Cavro was the architect in charge of the house built in the 1930s. Cavro, who spent a life-time in the Middle East, was also responsible for the transformation of Henry Pharaon’s neo-gothic palace – where now the Robert Mouawad Private Museum is housed.
Cavro took inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Dom-ino, a housing prototype consisting of horizontal slabs and pilotis that reduced the building to its minimum for the Villa Salem. Never has architecture been stripped so bare. The system – an acronym that combined domus and innovation – never saw production but became an emblematic project of twentieth-century architecture and a precursor to one of the most widespread building systems: the concrete structural frame.