Director outlines vision for new Palestinian Museum
Jack Persekian emphasises giving a voice to local history, as foundation stones are laid
By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 14 May 2013
Jack Persekian, the director of the new Palestinian Museum scheduled to open in Birzeit late next year, strikes a note of caution when discussing the political significance of the planned institution. “The Palestinian Museum is a political symbol only in so far that it celebrates the accomplishments of the Palestinian people in arts and culture, and that it affirms the presence of Palestinians as a people who have agency, who are productive, who shape their own histories,” he tells The Art Newspaper.
The creation of Israel in 1948 will be explored along with the Palestinian Nakba, described by a museum spokeswoman as the “dispossession of Palestinians” after that time, as well as aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “[The museum] is political in the sense that it provides spaces and opportunities for Palestinians to shape their own historical narrative and to engage with it,” Persekian says.
Foundation stones were laid in April for the $11m building, designed by the Dublin-based architectural firm Heneghan Peng, in the West Bank town of Birzeit, north of Ramallah. Phase one involves constructing a 3,000 sq. m space encompassing a gallery and amphitheatre. The museum will expand to 9,000 sq. m during the second stage, with extra galleries and permanent display areas to be completed within ten years.
Reaching out to the diaspora online is also a priority for Persekian. “Our virtual presence is definitely as important as our physical presence. One might argue that it is even more important given the Palestinians’ diaspora, but also given the fact that even for Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza, travel to Birzeit can be quite difficult and sometimes impossible because of geopolitical realities,” he says.
The museum is not without cross-border support. “The project seems viable and important for the creation of a Palestinian cultural identity,” says Sergio Edelsztein, the director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. “I hope one day I’ll be able to visit this institution, presenting a passport in a proper border-crossing.”
The museum is a flagship project of the Welfare Association, a London-based non-profit organisation, which describes its aim on its website as “the reduction of poverty for marginalised Palestinian communities”. The charity provides the current operational costs for the new museum.
“In the future, our intent is to have our operational costs entirely funded through private donations, sponsorships and granting agencies,” Persekian says. However, the museum’s construction costs are funded entirely through private contributions, from mostly Palestinian donors.
The museum’s collection, consisting of works dating from the 19th century to today, will be built through acquisitions and donations, Persekian adds. “We hope to have a specific budget for acquisitions, but this will have to wait for some time,” he says. In the meantime, the museum will reallocate existing funds to acquire essential items. Contemporary artists will be commissioned to create pieces.
Palestinian artists broadly welcomed the museum’s creation. Khaled Hourani says that the institution is an important addition to Palestinian culture. A spokeswoman for Larissa Sansour says: “Much of the work of Palestinian artists attempt in one way or another to record and archive Palestinian history, and this museum will undoubtedly become a very significant institution for Palestine.”
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