The highly acclaimed travelling exhibitions of the Palestine Costume Archive have been displayed in Europe, Australia, Asia and the United States since 1995, with five museum quality exhibitions touring worldwide. The most popular of these is "Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" which last year was displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies in Germany and this year was to have been displayed in the United States at the MESA 2003 (Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America) conference in Anchorage and the Arab Festival in Seattle, with sponsorship provided by the Alaska Humanities Forum (Anchorage), Humanities WA (Seattle), MESA and Saudi Aramco World.
However on 1 November 2003 the exhibition (which was being couriered over to MESA 2003 by the Archive's director) was taken for a security check/ x ray at Los Angeles airport's Terminal 4 and has not been seen since. All attempts by the Palestine Costume Archive, Qantas, Alaskan Airlines and MESA to locate the exhibition over the last three weeks have totally failed and the search has now been abandoned.
The "loss" of this exhibition under such circumstances raises major concerns for all museums and curators worldwide currently proposing to tour Middle Eastern exhibitions to the United States and is a matter that should be further investigated before other such "losses" of Arab or Islamic cultural material occur. For the non profit, volunteer run Palestine Costume Archive - the only museum to make exhibitions of Palestinian cultural material available on the international museum travelling exhibition circuit - the loss is devastating and certainly puts in doubt the proposed 2005 tour to the United States and Canada of another popular Archive exhibition, "Portraits without names: Palestinian costume", which contains a great many rare and irreplaceable 19th and early 20th century Palestinian costumes on loan from international museums and private collections.
To withdraw availability of Palestinian cultural exhibitions to American museums and conference venues such as MESA at this time is against everything the Palestine Costume Archive works for. It is therefore extremely important to the Archive to not only quickly re-curate "Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948" but to do so in a form that can be risked in the United States, where the exhibition has several venues confirmed in 2004. To achieve this the Archive proposes to re-curate "Symbolic defiance" in two separate display packages: one with a costume and textile component (as displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies, which will tour to all countries excluding the US) and a second graphics only exhibition, which will continue to tour the United States and thus be replaceable if such an incident of "loss" occurs again. The Archive (which received no regular funding) is seeking emergency funding to undertake this. If anyone can assist in any way, please contact the Archive (details below) or help the Archive by forwarding this message on to anyone on your mailing list who might find this matter of interest.
Thank you for your support in this matter.
And also from 3 December 2003:
Since this went out there has been no news and as over a month has passed now since the exhibition was "lost" at LAX it doesn't look hopeful. We have not heard from Alaska Airlines since 6 November, when the lost luggage file was transferred from Anchorage airport (my final destination for the MESA 2003 conference where the exhibition was reported missing) to the airline's central baggage office in Seattle. That same day the Seattle office faxed us a Statement of Loss and all indications are that no search was conducted after that point, that the file was simply handed over to the claims department (the Alaska Airline's website confirms we will eventually be offered $600, which doesn't even cover the cost of replacing the graphic component of the exhibition). We've not heard from either department since despite numerous and frantic calls, emails and faxes. For us the most important thing is to keep searching as so much of the contents of the exhibition is not replaceable and we have even written to the CEO of the airline trying to get further action. The silence remains deafening.
Of our five travelling exhibitions this was the most popular (it should already have opened at its next venue by now) and its loss is heart breaking to our museum. Like most Palestinian cultural institutions our museum exists on a knife edge financially, undertaking our many projects (which include the five museum quality travelling exhibitions - well, four now!, ongoing and acquisition of Palestinian and Middle Eastern cultural heritage of all kinds, working with various diaspora Palestinian communities worldwide to redress increasing loss of cultural awareness, supporting over 30 Palestinian refugee handicraft projects, and trying to get three major publications for international publishers finished on various aspects of Palestinian cultural heritage before 2005) with no regular funding. Finding the funding to replace the exhibition is totally beyond us, so your help in letting others know of our plight - and that this kind of situation is now occurring, which raises serious concerns for Palestinian and Middle Eastern heritage in the US - would be most gratefully received. Please let us know if we can provide any further information. You will also find our museum's website at www.palestinecostumearchive.org.
With our sincere thanks and all best wishes,
Dr Jeni Allenby