A new position at The Palestinian Museum combines MAAS alum’s professional and personal passions.
By Isabel Roemer
In September, MAAS alum Dr. Adila Laïdi-Hanieh (’92) became Director General of The Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, Palestine—a position she says brings together her academic and artistic loves. “I was always interested in the interaction between artistic-cultural practice and political engagement,” says Laïdi-Hanieh. “So I’m happy to combine both pursuits in my job at The Palestinian Museum.”
“Initially as a student, I thought I would pursue a career in diplomacy and public affairs, and keep my interest in the arts and culture a private pursuit. I was lucky to have formative experiences in the arts, having a mother who is a well-know Algerian novelist and writer, then meeting the great Turkish-Jordanian artist Fahrelnissa Zeid, who took me on as one of her art students when I was a teenager.” After graduating from MAAS and working in international relations, however, life took Laïdi-Hanieh to Palestine, where she had the opportunity to rethink her initial career goals.
In 1996, Laïdi-Hanieh became founding director of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, a nonprofit in Ramallah that promotes Palestinian arts and culture. A decade later she began teaching at Birzeit University, including courses on modern Arab intellectual history and the university’s first course on Palestinian arts. She also published Palestine. Rien ne nous manque ici, the first cultural review of contemporary Palestine. During that period, Laïdi-Hanieh also helped to found two pan-Arab cultural initiatives: the Al-Mawred al-Thaqafy Foundation in Cairo, and AFAC, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in Amman. She then decided to resume her academic studies, obtaining a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her PhD in Cultural Studies from George Mason University near Washington, D.C. Her latest publication is Fahrelnissa Zeid: Painter of Inner Worlds, a 2017 biography of the artist who had been Laïdi-Hanieh’s teenage mentor as well as the object of a posthumous rediscovery by the international art world.
Laïdi-Hanieh’s academic and professional work, particularly her expertise in Palestinian cultural history, have prepared her well for her latest endeavor. The Palestinian Museum, which opened in May 2016, emphasizes a diversity of perspectives on Palestinian history, society, culture, and aims—through its exhibitions and community programming—to “support an open and dynamic Palestinian culture, and strengthen a sense of unifying national identity.”
“Palestine being a country which has been dispossessed for much of its recent history, Palestine and Palestinians’ cultural expression and artistic practice necessarily have to engage with dispossession and with the yearning for freedom and for liberation,” says Laïdi-Hanieh. “The Palestinian Museum sees itself very much as a transnational, trans-border museum. This is so that we can address people who are interested in the Palestinian cause, and reach Palestinians in the diaspora.”
The Palestinian Museum, an independent institution offering spaces for creative ventures, educational programs, digital collections, and research, is a flagship project of Taawon-Welfare Association.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine.