On Sunday, April 29, the first Palestinian museum in the Americas will open its doors in Woodbridge, Connecticut. The independent, not-for-profit museum is managed and curated exclusively by individuals of Palestinian heritage. Its founder, Faisal Saleh, who serves as the museum’s executive director, decided to establish the museum after forty years in the corporate world. In a conversation with Muftah, Saleh expressed his belief that it is time for Palestinian art to “stand on its own.”
The youngest of eleven children, Saleh was born in 1951 to a refugee family in El Bireh, Palestine, located between Nablus and Jerusalem. Saleh’s family is originally from Salama, a former Palestinian village near Jaffa. His family was forced to flee the village after fighting broke out with invading, proto-Israeli forces in 1948. Years later, Saleh moved to the United States after receiving a high school scholarship. He remained in the United States, pursued higher education, married, and raised a family. After working as an entrepreneur, Saleh decided to create a safe and vibrant space for Palestinian artists around the world.
Saleh hopes Palestine Museum US will become a key institution in a wider movement to give voice to Palestinians around the world. As he describes it, the museum is meant to support an “artistic intifada.” While mainstream museums sometimes claim to be friendly to Palestinian artists, Saleh says, they often do not display Palestinian art for fear of possible financial and political backlash. Emphasizing the importance of free speech in the United States, Saleh emphasizes that the work exhibited at the museum will not “shy away from the Palestinian issue,” and will be “bold and provocative.”
One of the museum’s main goals is to raise awareness about Palestine in the United States, outside of the Palestinian/Diaspora community, and to foster the exchange of cultures, ideas, and conversations between Palestinians and Americans through artistic expression. Palestine Museum US will also help elevate the work of Palestinian artists in the West Bank and Gaza who have difficulty shipping their work outside of the occupied Palestinian territories.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum will host events, including, but not limited to, lectures, embroidery lessons, poetry readings, and musical performances. Though excited about the future, Saleh feels some pressure in undertaking this self-funded endeavor, saying it is a “tremendous responsibility, yet a unique opportunity to make this museum succeed; failure is not an option.” The museum has already gained a substantial following online, amassing over 4,000 followers on its Facebook page. Betting on its continued popularity, Saleh is optimistic the museum will move to a larger metropolitan city, such as New York City or Washington, D.C., within a year.
At the core of its mission, Palestine Museum US aims to tell the Palestinian story while celebrating and preserving Palestinian history. Twenty artists will be featured at its opening, including Samia Halaby, Mohamed Saleh Khalil, Manal Deeb, and Malak Mattar. The museum will be open every Sunday from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, as well as by appointment. Palestinian artists interested in exhibiting their work can contact Palestine Museum US here.