Peoples Museum in Birzeit, Palestine
Peoples Museum is an art project initiated by the Danish artists in
collaboration with Palestinian artists.
The idea is to create a “from bottom up” museum, which
represents a collection of items, histories and memories of the residents
in a specific locality in Palestine. The form, the site and the collected
items are decided upon through a dialogue between the local residents,
local grassroots organisations, art students and artists with connection
to the specific locality and the Danish artist groups Parfyme-YNKB.
This project is a new, different approach to the concept of a museum.
It is about how people want to represent themselves.
The Artifacts as well as the idea of the museum is to be developed
through a continuous dialogue between artists and students and the
residents in Birzeit. That is that artists by different means comes
into close contacts with the residents of Birzeit and together decides
on what is meaningful, what should be remembered in Peoples Museum.
We want to stress that we do not intend to create an art museum or
a historical museum (on the other hand we necessarily don’t
want to exclude art or historic objects), but we consider the project
“Peoples Museum” as an art project in the realm of newer
art notions such as “Dialogical art”1 or “Relational
The role of the artists in the project is to open up the discussion
with local residents about what is important in their existence and
how to memorize, and retain collective and individual identity. How
does people identify themselves? In which way, and through what kinds
of objects? The goal of the museum is to collect the history of people,
and show it in a museum context, as a tool for healing wounds and
We believe that artists have developed a sensibility for seeing new
meanings in ordinary and daily life, and to see the valuable and meaningful
in what otherwise could be considered useless.
We firmly believe that art and culture should be situated in the
middle of the people and that it belongs to the people. Peoples Museum
could be anywhere, but it has a specific meaning to do it in Birzeit
in occupied Palestine.
We believe that this project will not only be highlighting the local
peoples daily life, which is lived in spite of 60 years of constant
sufferings under an unjust occupation but also empowering them, and
telling the world other stories than the constant images of war and
conflict being launched through the world media.
Peoples Museum is the Museum for and of the people of Birzeit.
Peoples Museum Birzeit collects family memories, artefacts, everything,
that tells about life in Birzeit now and then: Photos, films, diaries,
tools, handcraft, clothes, texts, books, stories, songs, drawings,
dreams, ideas etc
It don’t necessarily to be valuable historical items, which
of course also is welcome, it can be a funny stone, an object you
carved with your knife, a pen, with which you signed a significant
The useless are useful, maybe even more useful than the useful
Everything will be cared for and saved and archived.
Who is behind?
Peoples Museum is an art project initiated by the Danish artists,
from the art group Parfyme: Pelle Brage, Laurids Sonne, and from the
art group YNKB: Kirsten Dufour and Finn Thybo Andersen in collaboration
with the Palestinian artists Majdi Hadid, Hosni Radwan and Haneen
The main partner of Peoples Museum is IAAP – International Art
Academy Palestine (Ramallah) and Al-Rozana in Birzeit.
Al Rozana is a local organization in Birzeit working for restoration
of the old village and its revival.
IAAP International Art Academy of Palestine http://www.artacademy.ps
is the Art Academy of Palestine. It is situated in Ramallah. It started
with the first class in September 2007
Peoples Museum has a backing committee with representatives from Al-Rozana,
IAAP, Al-Hoash, Al Ma’mal, Virtual Galley and RIWAQ.
The Municipalicy of Birzeith, Johoud
Al Hoash, based in Jerusalem, is a center for preservation, advancement
and a exhibition space of Palestinian art. http://www.alhoashgallery.org/
Al Ma’mal, based in Jerusalem, is an art galley for Palestinian
The Virtual Gallery offers a gateway to work of Palestinian artists
in the West-Bank, Gaza, within Israel and the rest of the world. The
idea came in reaction to lengthily imposed closures and heavy restrictions
on travel imposed on the Palestinian population.
RIWAQ, established in (1991) is a Ramallah based organization, whose
main aim is the protection and development of architectural heritage
in Palestine. http://www.riwaq.org/
Johoud promotes local Palestinian development by giving disadvantaged
community members the skills and resources they need to become economically
Peoples Museum in Birzeit is funded for two years 2008-2009 by the
Danish Center for Culture and Development (DCCD) and the Danish Representation
The Town of Birzeit was chosen as the site for Peoples Museum because
we found the old village very beautiful and in the organization Al-Rozana
we found a perfect partner for realizing Peoples Museum. Al Rozana
on their side invited us to realize Peoples Museum in Birzeit.
Birzeit is a village 20 km north of Ramallah and sits 780 meters above
sea level. The population is estimated in 2008 to be 7764.
The historical area goes back to the Mamluk era originating in Egypt
around 1250 AD.
The name Bir Zeit literally translates to “well of oil”;
referring to the wells in which its inhabitants historically stored
virgin-pressed olive oil.
The topology of the town consists of hills and sloping terrains with
its highest point known by locals as “al-Khirbeh”, or “the
ruin”, with ruins from the Roman and Byzantine era. Much of the
surrounding land consists of olive trees, which historically was a
source of sustenance for what was primarily an agrarian society. Today,
BirZeit is a college town known for the flagship of Palestinian institutions,
The old village of Birzeit consists of farmhouses build during the
Ottoman period, (19th century) although there are building elements,
that dates back to earlier periods. The traditional farmhouse is build
of limestone with domes. It has two stores, the upper storey for human
residents, the basement for animals.
The village of Birzeit consists of five families, – four Christians
and one Muslim, but they live together without any problems. Traditionally,
families have lived together with their houses grouped around a yard.
This is called al-Hoash. There are several examples of them in the
old village of Birzeit.
Most of the houses in the old village are empty, and many of the beautiful
old houses are in ruins. Many former residents have moved into modern
houses in Birzeit. The residents in the old town are mostly refugees
and students from the university.
The local organization Al-Rozana is working for restoration of the
old village and its revival. A few of the old houses are already restored.
At the moment a great restoration of the old city of Birzeit is taken
place, managed by RIWAQ, The municipality of Berzeit, Birzeit University
The official opening of Peoples Museum is planned to be in summer/autemn
Since the first project in Palestine by Parfyme and YNKB: ”Cinema,
realized in Bethlehem in cooperation with Dar Al Kalima Documentary
film school, march 2007, Parfyme and YNKB together with Palestinian
Artist Majdi Hadid has developed the project: ”Peoples Museum”.
In January 2008 the project was funded for two years by The Danish
Center for Culture and Development
Peoples Museum was decided to be established in the old town of Birzeit,
a beautiful village from the ottoman period with traditional farmers
houses. Unfortunately many of the villagers have left the old city
for to move into more modern houses. A local organization: Al-Rozana
wants to stop this, and together with the organization RIWAQ they
are working on restoring the beautiful historical houses and bringing
back life to the old village.
Peoples Museum see it self as part of this and want to join forces
with the efforts of Al –Rozana, who on their part bid the project
of Peoples Museum welcome in the old city of Birzeit.
In May 2008, the first step was taken for realizing Peoples Museum.
Al-Rozana offered a restored empty house for the Peoples Museum: AL-Kailes
During Parfyme and YNKB stay in Birzeit we made a presentation of
the project and the house in Birzeit for the students, artists and
residents of Birzeit on Tuesday may 6.
In the week before Parfyme and YNKB had a workshop in IAAP, introducing
the students for the idea and prepared them for working on the Peoples
Parfyme and YNKB also made contacts to the local Latin Patriarchate
High School, an elder center (Fr. Anton Buzo Senior Citizen Center
– Birzeit), the Roman Catholic Church, as well as establishing
contacts to local artists (Al-Maht-a), who all enthusiastically agreed
to cooperate in creating Peoples Museum in Birzeit.
Peoples Musum has a supporting Committee with representatives from
Al-Hoash, Al-Manal, IAAP, RIWAQ,Al-Rozana and virtual Gallery
The next step in creating Peoples Museum was to present peoples Museum
to the citizens of Birzeit at the Birzeit Summer Festival organized
by Al-Rozana to make contacts with the citizens and in this way create
interest for the project.
Birzeit Heritage Week, July 13-19, 2008, is an annual Festival to
revitalize the old village. There are all kinds of activities, : old
handcrafts, art, performances, singing, cinema, exhibitions,and dances.
Birzeit Heritage Week was attended by 20.000 visitors.
The Museum was opened every day and different installations was on
show: A model of Birzeit old village with photo of inhabitants, Cinema
with interviews with local citizens, Photos, Artefacts donated to
the Collection of the Museum, works by Palestinian artists and students
In preparing our presentation we worked together with students from
IAAC, Palestinian artists Majdi Hadid and Hoshi Radwan, students from
the local Latin School, and the local pharmacist Moussa Alloush, who
also is a local historian. We also received great and enthusiastic
help from the neighbors of Peoples Museum.
For the Birzeit Heritage week Peoples Museum presented:
Model of the village.
To engage people in the project, we decided to build a model of the
old village in reused cardboard. The model was not finished during
our stay, but while there, we concentrated on the areas closest to
the Peoples Museum and houses of those we had contact with. The houses
were applied with photos of the residents and other details.
The audience showed great interest in the model, and people came and
told stories about the houses that they have lived in.
The House of Salameh Kaileh
People’s Museum is installed in the al-Kailed House, named after
The story of the house was written in Arabic and English and together
with a photo of Salameh Kaileh from 1931, placed on a panel in the
entrance of People’s Museum.
Students from the Art Academy, Reema Tamil and Avatef Romeigh presented
photographic work. Reema Tamil showed 2 photo collages with photos
from the old village, with signs and advertisements from Ramallah
added on. Avatef Romeigh showed photos of the inscription and signs
above the doors in the old city.
Haneen Masri and Kirsten showed a panel with photos of artefacts and
details from people’s homes.
The Palestinian artist, Hosni Radwan made a watercolour workshop in
the old village for art students. The watercolours were presented
in People’s museum during the heritage week.
The Palestinian artist Hosni Radwan made several works out of found
objects from the old city for People’s Museum.
People Museum Collection
On a shelf, the Beginning of the Collection was displayed, with items
and books given to People’s Museum by residents.
Among them rare and special pieces, which all together created the
beginning of the story of the site and the people: archaeological
objects found on “al-Khirbeh”, farmers tools and objects
from the households, books and pictures with relevance to the village.
A cinema was installed in the cellar.
The program consisted of video interviews with local citizens made
by Art Academy student Haneen Masri, together with YNKB/Parfyme.
These stories will be written down in Arabic and English for the peoples
Paper and colours were on a little table in the corner for children
and others. The drawings made were displayed.
Constructions and Reparations
The work of constructing chairs, shelves and signs and repairing windows
and doors was done by neighbors, students, Hosni Radwan, Parfyme and
New signs in English and Arabic.for People’s Museum were cut
out in plywood.
To announce the presentation of The Peoples Museum at the festival,
a student from the Latin school, Yaliano, made arrows, which she placed
at different points in the old town to guide visitors to the People’s
Palestinian farmers made watchtowers on their olive and grape fields.
They lived in the towers during the summer in order to take care of
their fields. The towers was build of limestone without using cement
and mortar. Only the exact placement of every single stone according
to its shape held the towers together. This tower was build by Moussa
Alloush’s father, Ibrahim Alloush, 90 years ago.
Autumn (November/december) 2008
Different initiatives was taken in restoring Al Kailes house so it
can meet the requirements of a museum.
First of all water and electricity was installed. In a small outhouse
a toilet and a small kitchen was installed. Windows and doors was
installed and painted and other necessary reparations in the house
were done for facilitating the museum in the house.
Several visits to local residents were done and new items was collected
for peoples Museum.
A Peoples Museum flyer was produced in Arabic and English with the
aim of informing the residents of Peoples Museum. (Download flyer)
Also a public meeting was arranged. One of the main issues discussed
was the future of Peoples Museum: who will take care of it and the
future economy after the funding from DCCD is stopped
It is also the objective of Peoples Museum to make representations
of Peoples Museum in other places: al-OUDS Capital of Arab Culture
2009 in Jerusalem and later in Denmark and Europe 2010.
Peoples Museum can only be realized by the support of the residents
of Birzeit, spread the idea, collect and archive, make shows and take
care and maintain the building, fundraising etc.
Please contact our representatives about how you want to contribute
with for the museum.
In order to do this we believe that it is important that a local commité
with Palestinian artists is formed.
An example of our experience in this way of working is the sculpture
installation “Ved tro skal vi sejre” on Hygum Kunstmuseum.
Documented in the booklet: “At en hel by kunne blive kriminel!”
(“That a whole town could become criminal!”) by YNKB.
Other examples, which has inspired Peoples Museum is a similar project
in South Africa: District Six Museum, South Africa and the City Reliquary
Museum and Civic Organization, in New York.
Artistic contexts and references
Tom Finkelpearl: Dialogues in Public Art. MIT press 2001.
Lucy R Lippard,: The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Mulitcentered
Society. New York: New Press, 1997.
Grant Kestler: Conversation Pieces. University of California Press.
Nicolas Bourriaud: Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel, Paris
Claire Bishop (Editor): Participation (Documents of Contemporary Art)
MIT press 2006