Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


While the historical importance and visual beauty of Middle Eastern textiles have long been acknowledged, their contemporary role as a vehicle for political and nationalist expression has rarely been studied.

How has nationalism been transfigured into historical and contemporary Middle Eastern textile traditions? What new forms of textiles have developed from nationalist/political origins and what other cultures influenced their design and media? To whom was their political message addressed (were these textiles produced for local or foreign markets or as a means of symbolic private protest?) and has their creation altered traditional gender and/or social roles? What specific changes and revivals have occurred to traditional costume styles and domestic textiles due to nationalism, war and/or occupation. What influence have these conditions had on the development of modern forms of dress, such as hijab (contemporary Islamic modesty dress)?

How far can the definition of “traditional” be pushed in relation to contemporary textile handicrafts with nationalist content (such as Afghani “war rugs” or Palestinian and Afghani refugee camp embroidery project products)? And finally, what of textiles appropriated from other cultures and re-created entirely for nationalistic purposes (such as the kaffiya headscarf, which is now regarded worldwide as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and cultural identity)?

In its examination of these questions this paper explores a wide range of rarely seen textile examples drawn from traditional (oasis, village, bedouin and urban) and contemporary (including refugee) Middle Eastern societies. Illustrative material includes 19th and early 20th century North African textiles featuring Islamic calligraphy and nationalist symbolism, “war rugs” from Afghanistan, children’s Gulf War “flag” dresses from Kuwait, political embroideries from Palestinian refugee camps, and political beadwork from the Sinai Desert.