Art under occupation: The challenges facing Palestinian artists and cultural institutions

After two years, we ask if the Palestinian Museum and other artistic centres can ever connect a population under siege
Next month the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, just north of Ramallah, will mark its two-year anniversary. Back in 2016 when it opened to the public for the first time, it had no artwork or pieces to show – just its impressive architectural space and the promise of exhibitions to come. The empty space was a pronouncement of the extraordinary challenges of constructing such a building and institution in Palestine under the Israeli occupation.
Last August, as reported in Weekend, its sole exhibition space was filled with the museum’s inaugural exhibition, Tahyah Al Quds (“Jerusalem Lives”), curated by Reem Fadda. Last month, the second exhibition “Labour of Love: New Approaches to Palestinian Embroidery”, curated by Rachel Dedman, launched. It runs until August 25. The exhibition provides a highly informative, accessible, unique and at times fascinating way of exploring decades of Palestinian history, from pre-Nakba to the present, through embroidery produced and worn by Palestinian women.
A key challenge for a quasi-national institution that calls itself the Palestinian Museum is for it to be relevant and accessible to all Palestinians: those inside the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, living under Israeli occupation; the indigenous Palestinian minority inside Israel; and the millions living in the diaspora. Each group has different travel documents and access restrictions into and within historical Palestine (ie the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel), which affect audiences and artists alike.
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