Palestinian museum exhibition “lost” by American Airport Security

Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948 travelling exhibition installation, showing intifada dresses designed by the ANAT Workshop, Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Syria, displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies, Mainz, Germany, 2002 (courtesy: Jeni Allenby)

The highly acclaimed traveling exhibitions of the Palestine Costume Archive have been displayed in Europe, Australia, Asia and the United States since 1995, with five museum-quality exhibitions touring worldwide. The most popular of these is Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948 which last year was displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Germany and this year was to have been displayed in the United States at the MESA 2003 (Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America) annual conference in Anchorage and the Arab Festival in Seattle, with sponsorship provided by the Alaska Humanities Forum (Anchorage), Humanities WA (Seattle), MESA and Saudi Aramco World.

However on 1 November 2003 the exhibition (which was being couriered over to MESA 2003 by the Archive’s director) was taken for a security check/ x-ray at Los Angeles airport’s Terminal 4 and has not been seen since. All attempts by the Palestine Costume Archive, Qantas, Alaskan Airlines and MESA to locate the exhibition over the last three weeks have totally failed and the search has now been abandoned.

The “loss” of this exhibition under such circumstances raises major concerns for all museums and curators worldwide currently proposing to tour Middle Eastern exhibitions to the United States and is a matter that should be further investigated before other such “losses” of Arab or Islamic cultural material occur. For the non-profit, volunteer-run Palestine Costume Archive - the only museum to make exhibitions of Palestinian cultural material available on the international museum traveling exhibition circuit - the loss is devastating and certainly puts in doubt the proposed 2005 tour to the United States and Canada of another popular Archive exhibition, Portraits without names: Palestinian costume, which contains a great many rare and irreplaceable 19th and early 20th century Palestinian costumes on loan from international museums and private collections.

To withdraw availability of Palestinian cultural exhibitions to American museums and conference venues such as MESA at this time is against everything the Palestine Costume Archive works for. It is therefore extremely important to the Archive to not only quickly re-curate Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948 but to do so in a form that can be risked in the United States, where the exhibition has several venues confirmed in 2004. To achieve this the Archive proposes to re-curate Symbolic defiance in two separate display packages: one with a costume and textile component (as displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies, which will tour to all countries excluding the US) and a second graphics only exhibition, which will continue to tour the United States and thus be replaceable if such an incident of “loss” occurs again. The Archive (which received no regular funding) is seeking emergency funding to undertake this. If anyone can assist in any way, please contact the Archive.

Palestine Costume Archive
PO Box 98 Lyneham, Canberra, ACT 2602, Australia
Tel/Fax: +61 2 62480114