Exhibition view.
Exhibition view.
Exhibition view.
Exhibition view.
Exhibition view.
Exhibition view.
Invitation card, front.
Invitation card, back.
Exhibition opening, October 2001.
The Memory of Silk
Works from the Private Collection of Widad Kawar

20 October – 22 November 2001

"Many years ago I was given two traditional costumes as a present. I was then already interested in the textiles and jewelry, but I never thought that one day this present would grow to be the largest collection of costumes from Palestine and Jordan.

I grew up in Bethlehem and studied in Ramallah, both of these cities were treasures of heritage and traditional styles. Both were weaving and embroidery centers and sold their products to the women of other villages.

I continued my studies at the American University in Beirut where Mrs. P. Sutton, a teacher of English, had already carried out a research on Ramallah embroidery and made some of us work on samples of traditional patterns. Back home I saw and felt the influence of the Arab - Israeli war of 1948-49 on the people. The beautiful picture I had of the village women dressed up in their best costumes coming in groups to the market in Bethlehem had vanished. Their village had been occupied and these women and their families were settled in refugee camps - facing a new style of life and a new 'camp culture'.

This situation made me put an effort in collecting some costumes with the information about them from their owners. After the war of 1967, I faced a new reality - all villages in Palestine were now occupied and I had to double my work in collecting the genuine pieces before they are influenced by the refugee camp styles. With the costumes I had to collect the accessories such as jewelry, head covers, the belts and items that women prepared for the weddings - these included cushions and home embroideries.

Living in Amman I became attracted to the interesting Jordanian costumes, the grand costume of Salt, with its Syrian woven silk called "Asbe", the variety of woman's costumes in Northern Jordan, and the most colorful costumes of Ma'an. The Bedouin costumes all intrigued me, especially the embroidered Adwan costumes. In general the costumes in Jordan were infesting, unique and spectacular and were disappearing from use very quickly. I started collecting samples available and information. Besides the vast collection by Mrs. Sa'adeyeh El Tell at The Jordan Folklore Museum of costumes and jewelry, there is no other collection. I learned a lot from Mrs. Tell on both Jordanian and Arab city culture and the museum she created in the Amphitheatre is the best of its kind in the Arab world.

To follow up research on the textiles I made many visits to Syria where the silks, belts and some head shawls were woven especially for woman in Palestine and Jordan. It was a disappointment, as the beautiful textile world of Syria was changing and the hand weaving techniques were being replaced by mechanical looms.

Through my interviews with the women of my country whether from village or the city, I got to know the women well and got to know her position in the family, her changing role in a fast changing world, her attachment to her heritage and her patience and endurance under all kinds of stress, in order to keep their families together. The women whose heritage I collected remained my inspiration. They have honoured me by sharing their sad and happy memories of the past with me, they inspired me to pass on their rich culture to future generations." Widad Kawar

"The largest and most complete collection of embroidered Palestinian costumes in private hands is the expression of one woman's dedication to preserving a dazzling "Falahi" art and the reality of a land that much of the world was prepared to forget. A passionate collector, Widad Kawar has also been a generous mentor to writers researchers and museums interested in this beautiful embroidery. Her collection has delighted viewers at exhibitions worldwide and can be appreciated by the sophisticate lover of abstract art and those who simply enjoy its happy color." Inea Bushnac, Author of "Arab Folktales", New York

"Inspecting Widad Kawar's collection of embroidered Palestinian and other Arab dresses is like sugar for a child. I sink into a painfully rich nostalgia as I intellectually examine the patterns and their meaning. There is marvelous visual history in this art. There is a language of signs and symbols formulated over centuries of collective thinking. These dresses contain our history and are part of how we attended births and weddings, how we worked, and how we grieved for our dead. Some of the dresses also have embroidered expressions of our resistance to liberate ourselves from Israeli aggression. This last fills the complement of a unique collection and bears witness to a consummate lover and collector." Samia A. Halaby, Palestinian Artist