General information about the Archive

"[Archive exhibitions] reveal a humbling display of awesome knowledge, plus a sensitivity to the beauties of the Palestinian past and present - well researched and beautifully displayed" Dr C Asmar, AMESA, Sydney, 1995

"I commend you on the brilliant work the Palestine Costume Archive has done" Iman Irhimeh, Melbourne, 2002

With the destruction of traditional Palestinian society in 1948, much of Palestinian culture ceased to exist. As Edward Said noted, to write of Palestinian culture is to write of dispossession and exile. Many Palestinians exist today in a form of ethnic isolation, deprived of access to cultural heritage and becoming distanced from the meaning system behind that heritage, as few museums acquire Palestinian material and even less museums display it.  

The Palestine Costume Archive is a non profit research centre, established for safety in Canberra, Australia, in the early 1980s, and dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Palestinian and Middle Eastern costume and cultural heritage through long term research projects, a worldwide museum quality travelling exhibition program, publications and in depth educational and public programs.  The Archive now holds a significant collection of Palestinian and Middle Eastern costumes and textiles, as well as several thousand publications of direct reference material.  The current director of the Archive is Jeni Allenby, formally a curator at the National Gallery of Australia, who has worked extensively with Middle Eastern textile collections, and holds two post graduate research degrees on Palestinian regional costume.

Over the years the Archive has established an international reputation for its research and cultural preservation projects.  Recently the Archive has presented papers on Palestinian heritage at several international conferences, including the 6th Women in Asia conference at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (reviewed as "a marvellous presentation [of] a fascinating paper') the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Mainz,  Germany, and the 8th Symposium of the Textile Society of America in the USA, and has monographs on Palestinian embroidery and Palestinian cultural heritage since 1948 forthcoming with American and European publishers.  The Archive also provides assistance to any museum or collection of Palestinian costume or cultural material, identifying and dating objects, providing collection cataloguing worksheets and object photographic records, preserving archival material, and furthering documentation and research of each collection.  We continue to provide assistance to not only major international museums seeking to identify material in their collections, but also small museums and collections within the Palestinian region and out in the communities of the international diaspora.  The Archive also handles research enquiries daily from Palestinians interested in learning of their cultural heritage and unable to access information, as well as from academic scholars, museum studies students and those fascinated by Middle Eastern heritage.

"thank you so much for your wonderful work [at] the Palestine Costume Archive, and for sending the information and photos...especially the one of the Beitunia "women at the well" ceremony.  My mom was so happy to find her aunt in that group of women"  Aida Hasan, California, 2001

The Archive began its travelling exhibition program in 1995 with the internationally acclaimed  Portraits without names: Palestinian costume exhibition, which features over two hundred years of Palestinian design and examines how traditional costume and embroidery has long reflected the culture and identity of the Palestinian people.  The title of this exhibition is drawn from a quote of Edward Said’s: " to write of Palestine is to write of exile, and exile is a series of portraits without names, without contexts" (1986) and it remains the only exhibition of Palestinian cultural heritage available on the international museum travelling exhibition circuit.  Portraits without names will be touring the United States and Canada in late 2004-2005.  Please contact us for further details.

"Fascinating" Art Monthly 1996

"Truly beautiful" The Australian 1996

"[we] believe this exhibition has raised our self esteem and confidence and developed our sense of identity as a small community in Australia.  As the exhibition [tours] it will continue to raise and reinforce the identity of...Palestinian communities" M Mansour, Sydney, 1996

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Panel from a Hebron wedding thob 1930s
Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait

The Archive’s second exhibition, Secret Splendours: women’s costume from the Arab world began touring in 1997 and was curated to examine and redress Western misconceptions regarding Arab and Muslim women. 

"Magnificent.  Exhibitions like this help to dispel the stereotyped view of the Arab woman" Julie Bentley, Sydney, 1997

"Inspiring and enlightening" Melbourne 2002

"a truly great exhibition.  Absolutely beautiful.  History would be made just in the process of making garments like these" Sydney 1997

The Archive now has five exhibitions touring internationally, including Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948 which was recently displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Germany.  For further information on Archive exhibitions, click here.

All Archive exhibitions are accompanied by a variety of educational and public programs focusing on Palestinian and Middle Eastern cultural issues. Archive Educational Officers are scattered all over the world and can provide excellent educational programs from primary and secondary school level talks to "hands on" seminars for special interest groups and "touch" seminars for the blind.  A variety of Palestinian and Middle Eastern cultural and women's issues films and videos are also available.  At a recent display of two Archive exhibitions in Melbourne, free public exhibition tours organised by Archive staff averaged between 50 and 80 visitors per tour, with several tours a day during the last weeks of the exhibitions, revealing that if museums will only display Palestinian and Middle Eastern material the public reaction is overwhelmingly supportive.

The Archive also works with over thirty Palestinian village and refugee camp embroidery projects (most recently as a guest of the Palestine Red Crescent Society in the Gaza Strip) and other Middle Eastern women's self help handicraft projects, promoting their products through our exhibitions and website, and acting as an international distributor for their products and publications.  Please contact us for a list of items currently available, or refer to our newsletters regarding new consignments.

In over twenty years the Archive has received no formal funding, with any sponsorship usually linked to exhibition venue related events such as exhibition openings.  We rely on private donations (both financial and to our collections and library), and monies raised from the sale of publications, postcards, posters, etc, together with Archive Friends fees, and would be most grateful for your support.  Please see our Donations/how to help? page for further details.

The events of this last year have shown how important the dissemination of correct cultural information is, in regard to Palestinian and Middle Eastern societies and issues.  Now, more than ever, the Archive's travelling exhibitions and educational programs must reach as many people as possible, so that we can continue with work so important that the Arab Times (December 1994, Kuwaiti edition) headlined the Archive's research, exhibitions and projects as "restoring the fabric of a [nation's] social soul".


Archive exhibitions available for loan        Other services offered by the Archive    FAQ        Donations/ how to help?

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