A new interactive encyclopedia traces the history of Palestinian art and culture
A new online encyclopedia has been launched in Beirut, offering a unique insight into Palestinian art and visual culture.
The platform Interactive encyclopedia of the Palestinian question was launched by the Institute of Palestinian Studies in Beirut and the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit in June. Its launch was timed for the 74th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba – the Arabic word for “disaster” used by Palestinians to describe the mass exodus from the region after the founding of Israel in 1948 – and the 55th commemoration of the war. Arab-Israeli of 1967.
Covering major events from the late Ottoman era to the present day, the resource includes comprehensive chapters on art, ranging from 18th century icon paintings to embroidery, photography and multimedia.
Camille Mansour, the project’s editor, says the encyclopedia’s goal is “to present Palestinians as they are – determined actors, not just victims, who build both successes and setbacks. their political, social and cultural institutions inside and outside Palestine”. .
The encyclopedia includes over 800,000 entries, in English and Arabic. The sections on culture offer a unique and detailed insight into the history of Palestinian art and how this history relates to the social and political realities of the Palestinian state.
The art segment is divided into four chapters, each of which documents four distinct periods in the history of Palestinian visual culture. It starts with the beginners (1795–1955)a chapter that explores how icon painting was developed as “one of the country’s earliest image-making traditions” and then “aborted when Palestinian society was uprooted in 1948”.
Next is Pathfinders (1955-1965), a chapter that details how “a new art was forged by pioneers, most of whom grew up as refugees”. The encyclopedia then moves on to explorers (1965-1995), which includes often heavily censored artwork created in exile and under occupation by artists such as Sliman Mansur and Taysir Barakat. It ends with Present Tense: New Directions (1995-2016), which documents a shift towards internationalized multimedia and conceptual art led by female artists like Mona Hatoum and Emily Jacir.
A key section of the encyclopedia focuses on Palestinian embroidery – added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage last December – which links the cultural heritage of Palestine to the experience of its people, especially after the Nakba. “Economic hardship and lack of access to old traditional market sources for fabric and yarn meant that few new dresses were made in the late 1940s and 1950s,” the entry reads, noting that, in the refugee camps of the 1960s that followed, a new art form emerged.
The appearance of “New Dress” was the first step in transforming embroidery from a vernacular that expressed village origins and social status into a symbol of Palestinian national identity, the entrance details. The dresses acted as “a reflection of the cultural exchange that occurs in the refugee camps”.
The most politicized manifestation of the new dress was the “Intifada dress”, made and worn during the popular uprising of the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which “women defied the Israeli ban on publicly fly the Palestinian flag by adorning new robes with crosses – stitched maps of Palestine, the acronym “PLO”, the word “Palestine” in English and Arabic and even flags using thread in all four colors – red , green, white and black – of the Palestinian flag”.
Other chapters focus on the presence of contemporary Palestinian photography. “Palestine was one of the first places outside of Europe where photography spread: it arrived in 1839, the same year French artist Louis Daguerre announced his invention,” reads one entry. Plus a section on poster art documents Palestinian use of graphic design – from the British Mandate to Tunis and beyond.