Embroidery artist Joanna Barakat with the embroidery threds at her studio. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Starting on September 8, art hub Tashkeel will be hosting a series of workshops in Dubai, beginning with a free Calligraphy Basics session taught by Majid Al Yousef at Youth x Hub in Emirates Towers.

The workshops, ranging in price from Dh272-Dh347 for a single session, to Dh924-Dh1,381 for multi-week courses, will cover everything from etching and embroidery to the meaning of art. Aside from the kick-off session, they will take place at Tashkeel’s headquarters in Nad Al Sheba.

Palestinian-American artist Joanna Barakat, 37, co-founder of the Tatreez Circle and daughter of abstract artist and gallery owner Fayez Barakat, will wrap up the month with her Palestinian Embroidery (tatreez) workshop on September 29. She tells Gulf News tabloid! how the cultural art form came into her world, and why even beginners can easily pick up the basic cross-stitch skill.

When did you first find yourself interested in tatreez, and why?

Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez, has always appealed to me. Aside from the beauty of the colours and motifs, I’ve always loved the feeling of connectedness with Palestine that it gave me. My fascination with alternative forms of media also led me to appreciate the way tatreez is used as a subtle form of communication between women in Palestine. Growing up, we had a few cushions embroidered by my aunt and some antique pillowcases from Khalil [Hebron] that served as a nostalgic reminder of life in Palestine even when we lived so far away. My sister-in-law Ghada showed me how to cross-stitch and I was finally able to incorporate it into my artwork.

Briefly, what are some of the significances that tatreez holds?

Tatreez has always been a tool for communicating Palestinian identity. Before 1948, along with their jewellery and headdress, cross-stich and couching embroidery stitched onto cotton, linen and silk dresses of the farm and village women denoted various aspects of their localised identity and environment to each other. Just by looking at a woman’s dress, you were able to identify what village she came from, her socioeconomic status and her marital status. After the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians, the tatreez that emerged from the refugee camps changed the way we understand and interpret Palestinian embroidery. Women no longer had access to the weaving centres in Palestine and to imported Syrian fabrics, resulting in the use of inferior quality fabrics for their dresses. The cross-stich motifs that signified the different villages blended together to create a new symbol for Palestinian identity and resistance. Tatreez also served as a tool for empowerment for Palestinian women, giving them a means to support their families by selling all sorts of embroidered goods.

With your father being an abstract artist, what is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learnt from him?

My father taught me that being an artist is a way of life. He instilled a deep appreciation for art, culture, history, philosophy and spirituality in me. Growing up and having worked in his ancient art gallery played an essential role in shaping my worldview and my visual language.

Do you find your creativity to be similar or dissimilar to that of your father’s?

When you watch my father paint, he transfers his state of being at the moment, whether it is a playful joy or an intense contemplation, out of him onto his canvases. For me, my messages are more intentional. I express different ideas, symbols and metaphors using figurative forms with a specific interpretation or story in mind.

Is tatreez something that beginners could learn? Or is it an advanced art? Where would you recommend people begin?

Beginners can easily pick up tatreez since it is a basic cross-stitch. Like with any skill, it takes practice to build a rhythm that will make the stitching faster and easier to complete. Traditionally, motifs are copied from older designs, but when the embroiderer is confident in their skill and understanding of the motifs, they can choose to be more creative with the arrangement of the motifs and the colour combinations. Taking a workshop like the one I teach is a great place to start, both in understanding the meaning behind the motifs, the historical significance that they hold and in learning to stitch a basic motif on Aida cross-stitching fabric. Later, they can use removable waste canvas as a guideline to stitch on nearly anything.

Do you think art as activism is an important concept?

I find that art activism is crucial in all societies… It is our role to interpret and to communicate the human condition through various mediums. The voice of the indigenous population of Palestine is heard and recorded through our art, whether it be fine art, film, music, tatreez, poetry, literature, food, dance, street art and so on. I feel that many Palestinian artists, myself included, are playing a role in exposing, exploring and hopefully reversing the damage created from the dehumanisation of the Palestinians.

At what age did you move from Palestine to California, and where are you based now?

I was a year old when we moved to Los Angeles from Jerusalem. I lived in to London during my years at university and shortly after, and am currently living in Abu Dhabi.

As an American Palestinian artist, how do you navigate your cultural identity in the diaspora?

Navigating cultural identity for anyone living in diaspora means living in two different worlds simultaneously. Living in diaspora produces a sense of empathy and tolerance by being able to relate to how another culture understands the world, even though there is always a feeling of longing and attachment to where you originally come from.

Finally, who have been your biggest inspirations, artistically?

I draw inspiration from so many places. Every experience or encounter leads to being inspired… I love street art and graffiti and have so much respect for the mastery of the mediums used to create public works of art. I find myself drawn to artists that have social or political commentary in their work.___

The cost to attend Joanna Barakat’s workshop at Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba is Dh267.02.