UNESCO announced it will include the craft on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) added the art of Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez in Arabic, to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Palestinians welcomed the listing, which was announced during the 16th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, an annual gathering of governments, NGOs and cultural institutions.
The craft, which dates back more than 3,000 years, is a traditional form of cross-stitch embroidery originally made and worn in rural areas, known for its coloured threads and unique patterns. The colours used symbolise different stages of life, and different shades of the same colour denote regional differences.
Over time, the art has also taken on a meaning of resistance as it continues to play a key role in Palestinian cultural and even economic life.
Here’s how tatreez became a potent cultural symbol of ‘resistance,’ intertwined with Palestine’s political history.
After the Nakba: identity and displacement
After the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, when more than 700,000 people were expelled from their homes across historic Palestine, the art became a symbol of that displacement. Women wore their thobes (traditional embroidered dresses) or carried them on their backs as a statement of the very ‘existence’ of the villages they had been expelled from.
The ‘intifada dress’
During the first Intifada from 1987 to 1993, tatreez became an even more important symbol of defiance and what Palestinians would describe as “steadfastness”. As the Israeli authorities confiscated the Palestinian flags and other symbols, Palestinian women created what is known as the “Intifada dress”, embroidered with flags, maps of Palestine and other national symbols. The dress openly challenged the Israeli ban on public displays of Palestinian nationalism.
Over the years, it also became an important source of income for the diaspora, particularly in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where Palestinians are barred from over seventy professions.
Appropriation and reappropriation
Tatreez has been at the centre of controversies for the ways it has been appropriated or co-opted. Among others, critics say that international NGOs in Palestine have contributed to the commodification and simultaneous depoliticisation of the art. In 2017, a group of Palestinian Bedouin women from the Negev desert said they had been “deceived” by an Israeli fashion designer who had asked them to create an embroidered dress that went on to be used in a fundraiser for a group supporting Jewish settlement in the Negev.
The art still plays an important role in the Palestinian diaspora, as fashion designers and artists seek to keep the tradition alive, or reinvent it altogether.