Diaspora Storytelling: Embroidering Palestinian Memory By LAURA AL BAST

Displacement is no stranger to Clotilde Abudi. She crossed its path in 1948 en route from Jerusalem to Jordan, and again in 1990 while fleeing Kuwait to the United States. On spring mornings and winter afternoons, they have tea together and share silent stories. She stitches her memoirs on 11 count Aida fabric. One cross over and one cross under, she writes culture with maroon threads.

At 74, she embodies the curiosity of an aunt and the vibrancy of a teenager. Embroidery is part of who she is and where she comes from.

“I embroidered my entire life, since I was 11 years old,” Abudi says. “I still have pieces from the sixties that I have done.”

Embroidered Piece by Clotilde Abudi: Palestinian Wedding. Displayed at the temporary exhibit at the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, CT.

One of her pieces is draped on a wallboard at the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut. It represents scenes from a Palestinian wedding. A group of men and women dance the Dabke; the bride covered in a shawl rides a horse while accompanied by an elderly woman ululating in celebration; men sing a traditional ballad to the groom, its lyrics carefully embroidered at the bottom of the cloth.

“[My embroidery] says that there was a people that existed in Palestine,” Abudi explains. “I want the new generation to know [that] their ancestors were all in the homeland.”

Embroidered piece by Clotilde Abudi: Palestinian city names in Arabic. Displayed at the temporary exhibit at the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, CT.

Abudi’s husband comes from the West Bank. After they married, she lived with him in her hometown, Ein ‘Areek, in the West of Ramallah. In 1963, she moved to Kuwait with her husband for his work. They often took trips back to the West Bank to visit family, but after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, they temporarily lost that access. In 1979, the Abudi family decided to send its sons to the United States to study.

As food became scarce in Kuwaiti supermarkets as a result of the Iraqi invasion, Abudi realized that she would be reunited with her sons under forced circumstances.

“[I] went from one environment to another,” Abudi says. “No one asks about you [like] back home, it was very hard in 1990.”

Embroidered table piece by Clotilde Abudi displayed at the temporary exhibit at the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, CT.

Though language and location have been unstable in Abudi’s life, embroidery is a constant, a craft of village farmers turned into therapeutic art and prideful tradition. When she was 18 in Ein ‘Areek, she would join relatives and sit on the stairs of an old stone palace, embroidering and gossiping. As she resides in Florida today, the craft has become a way to preserve memories.

“I love to embroider!” she declares, but to ask her why sounds as absurd as questioning her identity.

Yusuf Abudi, 54, Clotilde Abudi’s second son, had set up a conference call with his mother and this reporter to tell her story. He says that everyone talks about Palestinians but do not necessarily ask them about themselves.

“And the narrative [is] always on the negative side of things, we’re either terrorists or bad people.” Yusuf says.

Speaking about displacement, Yusuf says that at each step along the way, someone takes a piece of your identity. He claims that his mother was not as engrossed in embroidery when they lived in Kuwait as she is now.

“I think it became a more important aspect of her life… one thing they cannot take away is your capacity to create.” He said.

Embroidery display by Clotilde Abudi at the temporary exhibit at the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, CT.

Yusuf lives in New Hampshire today; he is an entrepreneur, working in the fields of consultancy and photography. In his spare time, as a member of the board of directors, he helps manage the Palestine Museum in Connecticut.

The museum currently hosts a temporary embroidery exhibition of his mother’s work, centered before a wall of vintage pictures from Palestine.

“It’s a longstanding tradition and artwork that’s been around,” Yusuf explains. “I think that bringing it to an exhibition is almost like saying there were people there always and this is part of them; you’re trying to humanize the Palestinians.”

“We always preserve the memory [of Palestine] as if the country still exists as we remember it, but in reality, it doesn’t,” he explains. “I know that the village I grew up in and the mountain I used to sit on top of doesn’t exist to that extent anymore in that clean [and] undisturbed nature.”


A group of visitors were at the museum on December 9 attending a poetry reading. During the book signing, some toured the one floor museum that is housed in a commercial building. They had the chance to explore the embroidery exhibit.

Frank Crowley, 77, Professor Emeritus at Gateway Community College in New Haven, said that the mixing of colors caught his eye.

“The quality of art comes from the earth, from the work of the farmer and it’s really what makes the human creative instinct so absolutely special,” Crowley said. “[There’s] an intricate thrill of seeing that kind of detailed work.”

Layale Chaker, 28, a Palestinian violinist from New York, said that the embroidery pieces represent a history that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

“It’s also a mark of feminine artisanship,” Chaker said. “When I see a piece, I see the tradition being passed on [and] the craftsmanship that comes with it. It’s testimonial, basically.”

Hani Shihada, 59, a well-known sidewalk artist from New York City, said that the exhibit reminded him of his mother. He expressed his love for the symmetry, colors, and composition of the work.

“I used to watch my mom doing [embroidery], that’s what really inspired me to become an artist,” Shihada said. “When she was doing that, she was in trance, in another world… she was immersed in it and forgot all her problems.”

All pictures unless otherwise stated are taken on Dec. 9. First Row (left to right): Clotilde's mother-in-law's peasant traditional embroidered dress. Clotilde at 18 years old in embroidered traditions dress of the city of Ramallah. Embroidered wall piece displayed at the museum. Second Row (left to right): Embroidered wall piece displayed at the museum. Embroidered pillow case. Clotilde embroidering 'PEACE' on Aida fabric, picture taken by her neice in April, 2017. Third Row (left to right): Embroidered handbag on display at the museum. Section of embroidered table piece on display at the museum.

An Audio Interview with Clotilde Abudi can be found below where she talks about her first experience teaching embroidery, her work, and a touching piece she worked on.

(English subtitles are below the audio wave)

Music is performed by The Four Corners Quartet and arranged by Naseem Alatrash.


All pictures are taken by Laura Al Bast

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