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The New Dress as a Counter-Cartography of Resistance

Project leader:
Nour Shantout

30 months

Funded by:
Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW)

led by Nour Shantout, Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies
Duration: 1.9.2023 – 28.2.2026


The New Dress as a Counter-Cartography of Resistance looks at Palestinian embroidery in Shatila, a Palestinian camp in Lebanon. It explores how embroidery is influenced by the migration of Syrian Palestinian and Syrian women who took refuge there after the 2011 Syrian revolution and the subsequent war in Syria. Moreover, it focuses on the ‘imperfect commodification’ and the NGO-ization of embroidery as a post-war practice, and a practice which turns from ‘Labour of Love’ to ‘Labour’ in times of crisis. The ‘Camp Dress’ or the ‘New Dress’ is a Palestinian embroidered dress which emerged when women from all over Palestine were suddenly mixed within camps in the neighboring countries, namely Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, during the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba. The researcher, collector and historian Widad Kamel Kawar named the ‘New Dress’, which was “born of camp life and resistance”.

The project examines how the NGO-ization of Palestinian embroidery in Shatila camp prevents the emergence of a new incarnation of the ‘New Dress’ or ‘Revolution Dress,’ since the embroiderers who works with the NGOs do not decide what to stitch. This project encompasses a comparison between different Palestinian embroidery economies in Shatila camp, namely those introduced by Local NGO’s, international ones, and small commercial businesses. Moreover, it focuses on the different methods of teaching embroidery and the ideology underpinning them. For instance, local Palestinian NGOs apply a theoretical and a practical method to teach embroidery. While NGOs such as Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an example of an NGO that accompanied the arrival of Syrian women in Lebanon, only focus on practice.

The project asks if the sudden mixing of Syrian and Palestinian embroiderers and their embroidery traditions in the camp becomes visible in their produced work? Do the pieces reflect the socio-political and the economic changes in the embroiderers’ life after the Syrian revolution, the siege of the Yarmouk camp, and the economic crisis in Lebanon? What role do the NGOs play in the depoliticization of Palestinian embroidery?

Keywords: Palestinian embroidery, indigenous knowledge, textile work, feminist practice, counter-history.

Short biography

Nour Shantout is an artist and researcher. She was born in Damascus, and she is based in Vienna since 2015. She got her diploma of fine arts at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (Textual Sculpture, Prof. Heimo Zobernig) in 2020, she is currently pursuing her doctorate studies of Philosophy at the same Academy and she is a visiting a lecturer at IZK the Institute for Contemporary Art, Architecture Faculty of the Graz University of Technology, and at the institute for Transcultural Studies, Angewandte. She showed her work in Vienna and internationally; in 2022 she had her solo exhibition 'Searching for the New Dress' at Minuseins Offspace (Vienna) and it traveled to Stroboskop Art Space (Warsaw). Her articles have appeared in JEEM, ALjumhuriya and elsewhere. She works around subjugated heritage, counter-memory, counter-history, labour and alienation, from a post-colonial feminist perspective.