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First US Museum Dedicated to Palestinian Art Opens

The first US museum of Palestinian art and culture has opened in Woodbridge, Connecticut. The small 4,000-square-foot space, located on the ground floor of an office building on Litchfield Turnpike, is just the start for founder Faisal Saleh, a sixty-six-year-old Palestinian entrepreneur who was born in the West Bank city of El Bireh, outside of Ramallah. He already has plans to move the institution to a bigger facility in a major city, but first he needs to secure financial backers. In the meantime, he will organize exhibitions, featuring contemporary as well as historical works, that celebrate Palestine’s rich heritage.

“This is a big event for Palestinians,” he told the New York Times. “We want to invite people to come and learn about Palestinian art and expression and are creating a space where it can be visible and conspicuous.”

An exhibition that includes paintings, textiles, photographs, and installations by twenty artists, many of whom currently live in the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, inaugurated the space on April 22. Among the artists featured in the show are Ayed Arafah, Manal Deeb, Samia Halaby, Mohamed Saleh Khalil, Malak Mattar, and Margaret Olin.

While there was some concern over whether there would be any pushback over the new museum due to the ongoing conflict between the stateless nation and Israel, the institution has been welcomed by the community so far. Although Saleh maintains that the self-funded museum is apolitical, the difficulties experienced by the 10.3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are addressed in the majority of the artworks displayed on its walls.

Saleh has been working to realize the project since last June. While the idea for the museum in part came from Saleh’s desire to share Palestinian culture, it was also sparked by US-based Palestinians’ growing need for a space that they could exhibit their work in without fear of repercussions. One example of such controversy is the 2003 “Made in Palestine” exhibition that was protested by politiicans who claimed that it glorified art that promoted terrorism.

“The Palestinians are our first audience,” Saleh told Cara Piraino of Palestine in America. “Whether they are in the US, or in Palestine, or in the diaspora, we want the Palestinians to have a place that they feel is their own, and that they can be proud of, and they can see it as a Palestinian institution that is excelling at showcasing the Palestinian arts.”

Saleh aspires for the Palestine Museum US to become a collecting institution that will present permanent exhibitions, as well as a roster of temporary shows.