In an exclusive interview with Selections, Chair of the Palestinian Museum, Zina Jardaneh, explains the background of a recently launched digital archive, and the importance of art and culture in building bridges and creating intercultural dialogues.

The Palestinian Museum, established in 2016, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Palestinian people. Recently, the museum launched The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive, which encompasses documentation and photos taken from the personal collections of Palestinian individuals and families, collections from institutions, such as unions and associations, and collections from specialists such as photographers and collectors.

Moreover, the museum recently launched The Palestinian Journeys platform, consisting of two parts: “Stories,” produced by the Palestinian Museum, and “Timeline,” an original creation of the Institute for Palestine Studies, one of the most preeminent institutions in the region dedicated to research and preservation of important historical materials and documents.

Dorian Batycka: The Palestinian Museum recently made available a beta archive of digitalised art, history and culture. Where did some of the photographs and stories come from?

Zina Jardaneh: The Museum relied on its production of stories on research sources documented on the platform. Secondary sources such as photos and videos are also used in the production of such stories; such images are taken from specific institutions after obtaining the rights from the respective source or open sources like the Arab Image Foundation, the Library of Congress or AP archive…etc. These stories were collected by researchers from the Museum’s staff who proposed these stories and worked on them by searching various written sources, archival images, conducting oral interviews and so on. The research published in the Timeline is prepared by the Institute for Palestine Studies, which commissioned researchers to work on it.

DB: Which photographs in the archive do you find most interesting? Why?

ZJ: The archive contains images from many important collections. Examples include the Palestine Red Crescent Society collection, the collection of the French photographer Joss Dray, who documented events in Palestine and refugee camps in Lebanon between 1987 and 2007 and the collection of the former Palestinian Ambassador to Australia, Ali Qazaq, which contains some works of art, posters and postcards, many document the worldwide solidarity movement with Palestine. We are very excited about the collection of poet Samih al-Qasim, that will soon be available online.

Personally, I am fascinated by the images that document the feminist movement in Palestine, a cause that is close to my heart; the women’s unions and personal archives of all the incredible woman who have given so much to their communities throughout.

DB: In “Labour of Love”, an exhibition currently on view produced by the Palestinian Museum, there’s one dress that contains a patch from a sack of UNRWA flour, the UN emergency aid agency in charge of distributing food and medicine and supplies to the Palestinians, whose funding was recently slashed nearly in half by the Trump administration earlier this year. Can you comment on what the cuts mean to the museum and the Palestinian people at large?

ZJ: No doubt there will be serious implication on health services and education. The culture sector by and large, will be affected as funding is channeled to compensate for these cuts. However, I am confident that the Palestinians are resilient and will find creative means and alternative resources.

Detail of an embroidered dress, photograph by Kayane Antreassian for the Palestinian Museum
Detail of an embroidered dress, photograph by Kayane Antreassian for the Palestinian Museum

DB: Finally, what role do art and culture have in preserving Palestinian identity abroad? Can you comment on the importance of partnerships with outside institutions in Europe and the US? What role they may have in helping to preserve Palestinian identity abroad?

ZJ: Definitely! Palestinian art, cinema, literature and poetry has had a huge impact on preserving Palestinian culture and identity abroad. My feeling is that this role will grow, especially with the continued failure of the political process. Partnerships, travelling exhibitions, satellites and digital platforms are in the core of our strategy. We are to develop these and are working on opportunities in Europe, the US and in our region as well.