Exhibits include a 1946 British Mandate passport, issued to Palestinians during the existence of Mandatory Palestine, from 1929 until the creation of Israel in 1948
Courtesy of James F. Saah and family
A week before the White House unveiled a $50bn economic plan aimed at kickstarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Museum of the Palestinian People (MPP) quietly opened in Washington, DC. The 800 sq. ft private museum, located three miles from Capitol Hill, was inaugurated on 15 June with a small gathering of attendees and no protests, according to a museum spokeswoman.
“When I first moved to Washington in 2011, there was simply no place to hear or see the stories of Palestinians,” says the museums founder and director Bshara Nassar, a Bethlehem-born Palestinian. “For too long our stories have been told by others, who portray us in often-negative stereotypes.” He had the idea for a permanent space after organising an exhibition about Palestinian culture that opened in Washington, DC, in 2015 and travelled to more than 50 locations in the US.
“There is certainly room for a more nuanced understanding of the Middle East in the US, and this museum and other similar initiatives can play a role in this regard,” says Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati lecturer in Middle Eastern art and politics and the founder of Sharjahs Barjeel Art Foundation.
Nassar says that “an American family who really cares about Palestinians having a voice in our nations capital” have lent the current space, and the museum raised an additional $200,000 of private funding. The MPP “has been supported over the last four years by thousands of American, Jewish, Palestinian and other international donors”, according to a press statement.
The permanent displays of gifts and long-term loans include everyday objects such as ceramics, archival materials from the 20th century including photographs and passports, and contemporary works by artists such as the New York-based abstract painter Samia Halaby. The small inaugural temporary show, Re-imagining a Future, on view until the end of the year, includes ten works by contemporary Palestinian artists from the US, Canada, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
The MPP was initially conceived as a commemoration of the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by Palestinians to describe the mass exodus from the region after Israel was founded in 1948. (Marking Nakba Day is a criminal offence in Israel.) Nassar says he later decided to “expand the story to show our culture and art, and not focus on one event in Palestinian history”, although a section of the museums displays is dedicated to the event.
We think it is very important to demonstrate Palestinian unity in the face of the challenges Palestinians face
Faisal Saleh, Palestinian-American entrepreneur
“One cant imagine that a museum focusing on Palestinian people would be doing its job without adequately capturing the Nakba as one of the most seismic moments in our modern history,” says Christopher Khoury, the son of the late Palestinian-American artist Sari Ibrahim Khoury, whose work is on view at the MPP. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, an Israel advocacy group, declined to comment on the opening of the museum and its use of the word Nakba.