Monday, November 30, 2020

New museum will craft ‘alternative‘ Palestinian narrative

By Cath And - September 14, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Videos] [Features]
Tags: [birzeit] [museum] [Nakba]

Video by Jordan Woodgate.

Between the rolling hills of Birzeit, a university town just north of Ramallah, construction is underway on the Palestinian Museum, a project spearheaded by the Welfare Association (WA), an independent Palestinian non-profit which provides funding for development and humanitarian causes in Palestine.  

Though its cornerstone was laid in 2013, the idea for a museum to commemorate Palestinian culture and history was first voiced in the late 1990s.  

In the original plans for the museum, the curatorial focus was to be the 1948 displacement of Palestinians, otherwise known as the nakba.  However, over time it became clear to to Jack Persekian, the Director and Head Curator of the museum, that it was important to have a wider focus to establish “a much more comprehensive look” at the history of Palestine, rather than narrowing in on one key event.  

 A video created to announce the start of the project stated that “the idea of Palestine remains powerful, but its means of self-expression has often been suppressed.”  The aim of the museum is to reach out to Palestinians across the world and to offer a space for celebration and discussion of their shared culture and history.

 With its opening date recently revealed as 15th May 2016, the Palestinian Museum is now in its final stages of becoming a space to celebrate, research, and educate on “one of the most influential cultures the world has ever seen,” the video continues.

 Museum Communications and Public Relations Manager Rana Anani, believes the museum is important for Palestinians both in Palestine and the diaspora, as their common identity and heritage is being gradually erased.

 Anani told the Palestine Monitor that the museum will be an important means of preserving this shared identity as well as establishing more realistic narratives on Palestine through “focussing on the human side of the Palestinian story, rather than what is being said by politicians or politics, or what we are used to in the media.”

 The team behind the museum is acutely aware that many Palestinians in the diaspora will be unable to access the museum itself in its 10 acre site in Birzeit.  

 Consequently, one of the primary aims of the museum is to extend its outreach beyond the West Bank, and to create an online museum which can be accessed across the world.  

 Persekian,  the Director and Head Curator, explains that the museum will use two main avenues to reach out to the diaspora.  Firstly, through an online platform, they will use the internet and social media to create channels through which people can connect with the museum.  

 The avenue Persekian is most excited about, however, is their physical means of reaching out across the world through partnerships and projects in selected cities.  

 The team at the museum is in the process of setting up links with cities such as Haifa, Gaza, Beirut, Santiago and London, all of which were selected for their large Palestinian populations.  From these links, alongside the establishment of Friends of the Palestinian Museum Groups globally, they hope to bring exhibitions about Palestine to a larger audience.


Video by Jordan Woodgate

The museum plans to use these links to curate “satellite exhibitions,” the first of which will be an exhibition on Palestinian embroidery, opening in Beirut in 2016.


Another dimension of the museum’s outreach programme involves an archival project entitled “The Family Album: Your Pictures, Your Memory, Our History”.  

Over 2000 pictures have been collected, and more than 60 interviews conducted with Palestinians both in Palestine and the diaspora. From this documentation, a digital archive has been created which tells the story of Palestine through a personal lens.

Also included in the museum’s interactive archive will be “The Palestine Historical Timeline”, which will detail the most significant moments in Palestine’s history through photos, videos, maps, and audio. The interactive component of the museum can be accessed both in the museum itself and remotely.  

The first exhibition after the museum opens will be entitled “Never Part” which is a showcase of personal objects which individual Palestinians have committed to never part with. Palestinians across the world have been invited to donate objects along with a description of the item’s significance to contributors.  

The objects which have been collected so far include a love letter, a rock, a comb and a pair of earrings, each with special meaning for the Palestinians who donated them.  Through collecting these objects, the Palestinian Museum are seeking to examine Palestinian culture and society from a personal and relatable angle and, according to the museum’s website, to “ultimately craft an alternative yet familiar narrative of 20th and 21st century Palestinian history.”    

The team’s focus on reaching out to individuals and inviting them to share their experiences and memories is building a museum which offers a personal take on Palestinian history and society.  

The museum has approached the project from the angle that “every Palestinian counts,” no matter their age, gender, religious affiliation or location - each and every Palestinian has a story to tell and is equally capable of contributing to a collective narrative.

Asked about the opening of the new museum, Zahran Jaghab, founder of the Dar Zahran Heritage Building in Ramallah, questioned why there have not been further efforts to return the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem to Palestinian hands rather than opening up a new museum in Birzeit.

He explained that The Rockefeller Museum, formerly known as the Palestine Archaeological Museum, was captured by Israeli forces in 1967, and renamed. This has led Zahran to believe that opening a new museum outside of Jerusalem may divert attention away from the occupation.

Photo by Catherine Anderson

Dublin-based Heneghan Peng Architects were selected through an international competition to design the Palestinian Museum’s building. Whilst most members of the Welfare Association and the museum’s team, “would have dreamt of having a museum in Jerusalem,” an inability to get a permit, as well as other complications, meant that the site was chosen instead in Birzeit.  

Inspired by the local landscape, the blueprints for the site show a building blending into the surrounding hills, constructed from Palestinian limestone. The building is open and welcoming, reflecting the vision behind the museum itself, which will be free to access for all visitors.    

The surrounding gardens are constructed on platforms descending the hill on top of which the museum is built, and are filled with pomegranate and olive trees, and other plants native to the local area. It was important for the museum team that the building blended with the local surroundings, and a site was created which is “integrated rather than imposed” on the surrounding area.

According to Persekian, the central idea behind the Palestinian Museum is to “connect Palestinians around the world.”  Whilst “everything is being done to fragment Palestinians”, the museum describes its key goal as providing a platform for a discussion about Palestinian collective identity to take place.  They intend to reach out to Palestinians and act as “an invitation to every Palestinian, wherever they are, to contribute to a new narrative of engagement, education, humanity and hope.”

Construction is due to finish on the site by the end of the year, and the museum will officially open its doors on May 15 2016.

Photo by Catherine Anderson



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