Palestinian Heritage Foundation 

Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
  Volume 15,  No. 1                           March, 2009      

نشرة مؤسسة التراث الفلسطيني

PHF Participates in ARABESQUE at Kennedy Center

On Monday, February 23, the Kennedy Center, in cooperation with the League of Arab States dedicated ARABESQUE: Arts from the Arab World, an international festival showcasing the varied cultures of the 22 Arab nations that represent the Arab World.

The three-week festival brought together artists, many of whom are making their US debut, in performances of music, dance, and theater, as well as exhibitions featuring art instillations, fashion, cuisine, a souk (market), and much more.

One aspect of this festival is the costume show “Brides of the Arab World”, featuring 48 traditional bridal outfits from all 22 member countries of the Arab League.  The colorful exhibit was on display at the Hall of Nations and the Hall of States of the Kennedy Center and is a fascinating display of rich textiles, embroidery and intricate jewelry.

The Palestinian Heritage Foundation presented five costumes from Palestine representing Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Al-Khalil and Asduud, as well as other costumes from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Tunis. The costumes from Lebanon and Tunis come from the collection of the late Dr. Hala Salaam Maksoud, donated by her family to PHF. 

The Festival remained open to the public through March 15, 2009.

Kindly note the articles below by Ellen McCarthy of the Washington Post, and Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute .




       Dr. James J. Zogby (c)
Arab American Institute

March 2, 2009

Last Friday, the “Weekend” section of the Washington Post featured a cover story on “Arabesque: Art of the Arab World,” the Kennedy Center’s three-week-long festival of Arab arts and culture. There is no better way to begin a reflection on the program, than to quote the opening lines of the marvelous “Weekend” review by Ellen McCarthy. She wrote:

“The residents of Washington might not know it yet, but something extraordinary is about to take place on the banks of their Potomac. Something that has never happened here – or anywhere, really.”

McCarthy was so right. From the moment the curtains opened on “Arabesque’s” first night, I knew something quite remarkable was occurring, and I was, quite simply, overwhelmed.

“Arabesque” is a wonder. Negotiating the logistics and politics necessary to assemble the festival was monumental. Locating the talent, securing visas, transporting sets, costumes and works of art was, itself, a remarkable undertaking, a tribute to the foresight and vision of the Kennedy Center’s Director, Michael Kaiser, and the determination and the commitment of his staff to see the project to fruition.

Five years in the making, the Director and staff of Washington’s prestigious Kennedy Center, traveled across the Arab world to assemble a wide range of artists from all 22 Arab countries. Eight hundred performers, in all, have come to the U.S., from the traditional (Berber singers from Morocco), to the more avant-garde (Marcel Khalife, or Debbie Allen’s remarkable “Omani Dancers”). There were musicians, singers and dancers, poets and painters, story-tellers, artists and craftsmen represented in the group.

“Arabesque” provides Americans and Arabs alike with a profound learning experience. As Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, noted, never before have artists from all 22 Arab countries been represented under one roof in one festival. As the festival unfolds over its three-week run, tens of thousands of Americans will see the richness and diversity of Arab culture, in all its many exquisite forms.

On each day of the program, there are multiple events taking place on the Kennedy Center’s many stages. On one night, for example, there were Syrian dervish dancers, a performance by a Palestinian theater troupe, and a Somali hip-hop group. At the same time, the Kennedy Center’s interior has been transformed. There are exhibits of Arab bridal dresses and examples of Arabic architecture. And the basement of the Kennedy Center has become a veritable Arab souk, displaying crafts from Morocco to Iraq, for appreciation by and sale to the thousands of tourists who visit the Kennedy Center each day.

Arabs, too, will learn. As I have come to note, not only do Americans (and even Arab Americans) not know the richness and diversity of Arab culture; but Arabs, too, have not been exposed to the variety of cultural expression across their broad region. We “know of” each other, but do not always “know” each other. But, here we are, thanks to the Kennedy Center, all under one roof.

The experience of “Arabesque” will shatter stereotypes, and put new definition to the meaning of being Arab. For too many Americans, Arabs exist only as one-dimensional political beings, lacking hearts or souls.

I remember what was, for me, a profoundly hurtful moment: on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, hearing comments by them-Prime Minister Golda Meir, who observed that she felt “so sad” for the “other side” (read: “Arabs”). We (read: “Israelis”) are a joyful people, who laugh, make art, and love beauty. They, on the other hand, know only how to be angry and make war. This, of course, was but an elaboration of a theme developed by Chaim Weizmann in the 1930s , when he characterized the conflict that was unfolding in the region as being between “the forces of civilization and the barbarism of the desert.” This was later given artistic form on the book and film “Exodus,” which portrayed Israelis as fully human, and Arabs as one-dimensional war-like figures, without value.

During the next three weeks, this caricature of Arabs will be destroyed.

And so, when the curtain rose on the opening night of Arabesque, and I saw 140 Syrian children of the Al-Farah Choir, I was, in fact overwhelmed. Thankful, that after thirty years of combating negative stereotypes and defending my heritage, I would see the day when, in my nation’s premier cultural center there would be a celebration of Arab arts and letters. The culture of my people was being recognized. I looked at the smiles and joyful movements of those youngsters and felt pride in their accomplishment. They are our little ambassadors. They, and the hundreds of others on the program who traveled thousands of miles to join the festival, were defining, better than any politicians, what it means to be an Arab, using the universal language of art.

There are lessons to be learned from “Arabesque.” It should be repeated. The seeds that have been planted by this festival will grow on their own – but how much better if they are nurtured and cultivated? The lesson here is that, not only is the Arab past glorious, but that the present and future are, as well. All of us owe thanks to the Kennedy Center for reminding us of that, and challenging us to do better at remembering it.


For more media coverage of  Arabesque: Arts from the Arab World go to the links below

Culture in Context: A Tapestry of Expression

Culture in Context: A Tapestry of Expression presented by the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, New Jersey during 2008 came to a close February 2009. The exhibit consisted of various sections, each representing a different ethnic group residing in New Jersey. The Palestinian section of the exhibit was represented by the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and included Palestinian traditional costumes from Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with art and crafts from Palestine.

As part of the museum’s cultural activities series to celebrate this exhibit, Hanan Munayyer was invited to speak to school children and museum visitors on December 11 and December 18, 2008. The lecture  included history of traditional Middle Eastern embroidery and crafts with live demonstrations of embroidered costumes and crafts from Palestine.

Culture in Context was co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and New Jersey Network Public Television and Radio.

Betty Sams Donates Antique Garments to Foundation

Mrs. Betty Sams donated three Syrian and two Palestinian dresses along with several children abaye to the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. The Syrian dresses come from the Sarakeb region and the Golan, while the Palestinian garments are from the Naqab area. The Foundation would like to thank Mrs. Sams for her generosity and Dr. Clovis Maksoud for being instrumental in introducing Mrs. Sams to PHF.

Martha Wilson Donates Palestinian Dress to PHF

Ms. Martha Wilson, a friend of PHF, has recently donated a Palestinian embroidered traditional dress to the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. The dress, made of green and red striped silk fabric (known as Janneh-wa nar) and adorned with Bethlehem style couching embroidery on the sleeves, side panel and chestpiece, was worn in the Jerusalem area villages.  The dress was bought in Jerusalem in the 1960s by the late Mrs. Leila Wilson (Martha’s mother) whose husband the late Evan Wilson served as the American Consul General in Jerusalem in the mid 1960s.                                                       

Sadly, Mrs. Leila Wilson passed away last April 2008 at the age of ninety six. Martha who inherited the dress from her mother was kind to donate it to the Foundation. The Foundation would like to thank Martha for her kind gesture and generosity.

Emily and Stephen Ward Donate Palestinian and Syrian Garments to PHF

Emily and Stephen Ward  have recently donated two Palestinian embroidered dresses and two Syrian embroidered coats to the Foundation. These garments were acquired by the Wards in the late 1960s while Mr. Ward was serving as the United States Vice Consul to Syria and Jerusalem.     

The Munayyers and the Wards first met in Jerusalem in 1970, and kept in touch through the years. They met again in Washington DC when their daughter was studying at Georgetown university in 1996. At that get-together, Emily told the Munayyers of the Palestinian and Syrian garments that she owns, images of which she sent at a later date. 

In March , 2009  both families met again at the Kennedy Center Arabesque Festival,  and the Wards donated their Palestinian and Syrian garments to the Foundation.                                                                                                                                                                                              
The Foundation would like to thank Emily and Steve Ward for their gesture and generous donation.


Palestinian Costumes & Embroidery: A Precious Legacy
Available in VHS and DVD formats
A Review By Shira
For the review by Shira click the link below: