Thursday, February 15, 2007

Resistance through Powerful Symbols

Palestinian Resistance to the Zionist Occupation is expressed through traditional arts as well as political acts of Resistance. Here is a powerful image of the Intifada created in the form of embroidery. The ancient Tree of Life is central. Its roots draw strength from words embodying the principles of Resistance. Doves, another very ancient symbol of Palestine, are sheltered within the tree and banners in the form of the Palestinian flag appear either to issue from or are carried in their beaks. As is the case with many political Palestinian statements in the form of visual art, the women of Palestine are acknowledged to be as vital to the Resistance as the men. The men are armed only with slingshots here, showing the realities of the Palestinian population who, with rocks and slingshots alone, defied the heavily-armed Zionist Occupation and continue steadfastly to struggle against the obliteration of the Palestinian identity and the ongoing theft of the homeland.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Qabbeh from Gaza

Here is a photograph of the qabbeh of an old thob from Gaza. Compared to the example shown below, it is far more heavily-embroidered, and actually is more typical of the style of embroidery on old traditional thobs. Colours and patterns often were chosen not so much for aesthetic purposes as for their significance. The rather austere Western custom of using a single colour combination and pattern repeatedly is not typical of Palestinian embroidery. In many cases, embroidery of a thob was an ongoing project, and additional embroidery was added through the years.

Every district of Palestine had its own unique styles of embroidery. Often a girl who travelled to another district might bring home 'foreign' patterns and ideas to embellish her own work, but for the most part, a woman's district could be identified by the thob she wore. Headgear and shawls differed from district to district as well.

Palestinian embroidery patterns

This is a photograph of a hand-embroidered 'qabbeh', a design comprised of different patterns of embroidery that is used to decorate the 'breastplate' of a traditional Palestinian 'thob' or gown. The arch or 'mihrab' clearly can be seen. The primary embroidery pattern within the frame of the qabbeh is a 'qamr' or moon pattern. The little 'amulets' that depend from the main section of the 'breastplate' are nakleh or palms.

The palm is an extremely ancient symbol of life and indeed is a symbol of life, death and rebirth.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Symbolism in Domestic Arts

At the most primitive level, ancient symbolism probably represented the most basic elements of human existence and these elements were reduced to the simplest of forms. Thus, a straight line would represent the earth or land and an arch, made up of two lines ascending to meet in the middle, would represent the sky or heavens. Combined, one would have the shape of the triangle, representing the sky over the earth, or heaven above earth. The triangle might represent shelter as well, in the form of a tent or cave and later, a dwelling place made of brick, wood, stone or mud. Initially, however, the triangle was a potent symbol of the marriage or synthesis of heaven and earth. To the devout, it would symbolise the protection of heaven above and for those who dwelt on earth. Ancient Egyptian art (much later than primitive rock art certainly) showed heaven in the form of a female goddess, outstretched over Earth, in the form of a male god.

Early weaving, restricted to straight lines, reduced symbols to angular forms similar to those found in primitive rock paintings and carvings. Thus, straight lines symbolised Earth or land, the arch represented the sky or heaven, triangles represented the meeting of heaven and earth, tents, caves or other dwellings, and wavy lines represented water, either in the form of rain, of lightning or of waves. The sun was represented by an equal-armed cross, and the earth could be represented by a square, its corners symbolising the four quarters or directions.

All these symbols are seen in the traditional domestic arts of Palestine, and can be found in profusion in embroidery patterns worked on thobs (gowns), pillows and hangings.