WHEN BSHARA NASSAR moved to the United States in 2011, he quickly noticed that something was missing. “There was no place for our story to be told,” said Nassar, a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem and raised in Bethlehem. (“My family has been Christian for 2,000 years,” Nassar told Sojourners. “We didn’t convert — the faith was born here!”) But he felt the story of the Palestinian people “was always being distorted or minimized — it was always about either ‘victims’ or ‘violence.’” So, in 2015, Nassar started visiting universities, churches, and community centers with a “traveling exhibit” of only two pieces, focused on refugees from Palestine. “It took a while to build momentum,” Nassar said.
Nassar is now director of the Museum of the Palestinian People, situated in a rowhouse near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Through the museum, Nassar said, “We want to share our story from our perspective — who we are, where we come from. For too long our stories have been told by others, who portray us in often negative stereotypes. We want to share with the world who Palestinians truly are.”
The museum’s latest exhibition focuses on tatreez, the art of Palestinian embroidery, and looks at the role of “material culture and art history in preserving a nation’s identity,” according to exhibit curator Wafa Ghnaim. For Ghnaim, the first Palestinian embroidery instructor at the Smithsonian Museum and now a senior research fellow for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibit is about addressing the question, “How do we reclaim our heritage?” The exhibit includes embroidered dresses from before and after 1948—the year of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, when according to the Institute for Palestine Studies, two-thirds of the Palestinian population was uprooted as the State of Israel was created. “The dresses created before 1948 reflect a village identity,” Ghnaim, an expert in Palestinian traditional dress, told Sojourners, “while dresses created after 1948 reflect a national identity.”