The Yasser Barakat Collection of Palestinian Embroidery
Preserving Palestines Heritage and Art
ï»¿It takes non-stop efforts to guard and preserve something that a whole country is trying to conceal. Upon taking a closer look at the rare Palestinian embroidery pieces that Yasser Barakats art shop holds, one realizes the beauty and depth of Palestines heritage. Yasser, a native Jerusalemite, graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He returned to Palestine in 1972 and later established his business in his fathers shop, teaching mathematics at two of Jerusalems premier schools in the meantime. He started collecting Palestinian dresses and other art pieces when he was 19 years old, way before he started his own shop, amassing a beautiful collection of Palestinian dresses, cushions, hats and silver pieces by the time he went into business. Up until today, Yasser still looks for and buys old and unique Palestinian art wherever he can find it.
The shop offers a wide range of old Palestinian artwork. With time, Yasser realized how Palestinian heritage and artwork, especially embroidery, is being lost and neglected. He developed a studio that collected Palestinian dresses and jewellery and worked on safeguarding the history of Palestinian embroidery and artwork. Yasser and his team started to creatively design and offer those art pieces in a newer and preserved manner. All pieces done by Yasser are finished with the Manjal stitch around the borders which holds the embroidery and highlights its beauty. The embroidery used on the pieces comes from dresses and jewellery from all over Palestine. Old dresses that have been long neglected and are almost ruined are fixed up, worked on and preserved on newer fabrics and in unique framings. Each dress holds a story behind it. Yasser can spend hours in his small gallery in the Old City explaining the meaning behind each embroidery piece, what village from Palestine it came from, and what it is all about. Within its stitches and colours lie stories of a Palestinian that need to be propagated. When the embroidery uses green, for example, it is meant to symbolize growth. Yellow stands for harvest, brown for earth, blue against the evil eye, black for a widow, etc. Typically, Palestinian embroidery was done on either black or white linen dresses which had triangular sleeves and whose length reached the floor. The embroidered area included a square chest piece, front and back lower panels and side panels running down from the waist. The Bethlehem area acquired from the Crusaders the couching stitch and the fish bone stitch, while other areas used the cross-stitch and the half stitch. The Beit Dajan area was influenced by the Bethlehem stitches and became very distinct with its Jallayeh dress (a dress that has an open slit from the front waist down). The Jallayeh used the half stitch, the cross stitch and the Bethlehem stitch, creating very unique designs. The Ramallah area is famous for two of its dresses. One is done on white linen and the other on black linen. Both are called Rohbanee dresses. Aside from these two, Ramallah used to have a distinct Jallayeh of indigo linen that was done in a remarkable stitch that is precisely the same when looked at from the front and from the back. In coastal areas such as Jaffa, the embroidery and the dresses were somewhat different. Jaffa women would spend all their days in the fields and orchards in very hot weather. Thus they embroidered natural patterns from their daily lives, such as cypress trees. Every woman had the chance to express her creativity with her choice of colours, patterns and fabrics, but in general each area in Palestine had its own distinct embroidery rules.
Women all across Palestine accessorized their dresses with beautiful hats and headpieces (veils). Palestinian women in each area and village wore different hats. The Bethlehem hat was called Shatweh, the Hebron hat Iraqiyeh and the one from Ramallah Samdeh. Each hat had different stitches and silver coins, depending on how wealthy the woman was. Some even used gold coins to denote their wealth. Womens accessories also included bracelets, necklaces, nose rings and anklets. Jewellery often had names engraved on it and contained different artwork, depending on the area it came from. Yassers shop, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, next to the only water fountain in the Old City, the Lutheran Church and the Holy Sepulchre, has been in the family for over a hundred years. It attracts art lovers and collectors from all over the world.
Yasser is very attached to the Old City. His daily walks to and from his shop for more than thirty years now form a central part of his life. Through his shop he has formed lasting friendships with people from all around the world. Friends enjoy sitting in his shop, sipping coffee or tea, and talking about art, politics and philosophy. The shop has become a meeting place for friends and art lovers alike. Since the beginning of the second Intifada, however, life in the Old City changed drastically. The city has a sad atmosphere about it. One can no longer smell the candles of visitors to the Holy Sepulchre nor hear the different languages and accents of visitors from all around the world. Yasser, however, still maintains his daily routine. He still takes his daily walk through the citys arches as the sun sneaks in to touch the faces of those walking by. Jerusalems Old City will always be a special place for those who live and work in it.
Photos by: Steve Sabella