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Embroidery in Shatila © Aaron Lapeirre

Stitching Memories: Embroidery in Shatila

The new miniseries of the Justice Visions podcast focuses on the current debates and discussions surrounding memory and memorialization. In this second episode of these miniseries, we shed a light on memorialization efforts through embroidery practices in Shatila camp in Beirut. Since the increasing repression by the Assad regime and the war in Syria, there has been a large influx of refugees into Shatila, originally a Palestinian refugee camp.

Our colleague Sofie Verclyte recently defended her PhD project ‘Migrating heritage’, and developed a co-creative project with women in Shatila. In that project, she explored the role of embroidery practices in the context of conflict and displacement. Tine De Strooper and Brigitte Herremans spoke to Sofie about the practice of embroidery, and how it has been used in the Syrian context, as a way to remember, and an important element in the broader struggle for justice.

While embroidery might not seem directly reconcilable with a struggle for justice, it has a long history of narrating lived experiences. There are many instances where practitioners use their skill to remember and transmit lived experiences of harm. As Sofie highlights: “this is also the case in Shatila, where embroidery, rooted in the region’s rich textile tradition, plays a central role in the lives of makers, typically women.” Traditionally, these women often passed down their craft through intergenerational mentorship, often as a form of storytelling. As such, embroidery is a way to transmit knowledge, to express lived experiences, and therefore a way to transmit memories and to prevent forgetting.

As Boushra, one of the artists with whom Sofie worked states: “For me, embroidery is a revival of memory. It prevents me from forgetting the experiences I went through, such as war, displacement and being a refugee. Often experiences are harsh, whether due to war, displacement, or life circumstances.” Boushra emphasizes that she sees embroidery as a form of communication, a language for sharing experiences. This perspective highlights the significance of nonverbal practices in capturing and conveying experiences of harm.

In a context where formal memorialization initiatives are absent because of the ongoing injustices and the context of the entrenched non-transition, informal memorialization efforts can be seen as a way to express, share, and resist memories of injustice. These private practices preserve unarchived and previously unrecorded memories, but also, and often simultaneously, they make it possible to imagine a more just future.

Copyright picture: Aaron Lapeirre


Sofie Verclyte is a researcher at the HOGENT School of Arts and Justice Visions. She obtained an interdisciplinary PhD in Law and Arts: Visual arts with her research Migrating Heritage. Her work, situated at the crossroads of design and legal anthropology, explores artistic and skilled practices in the context of conflict and displacement. Specifically, she examines the unique role of embroidery practices as a means of storytelling in the domain on (in)justice, and how artistic practices can be a way to engage about these topics. Prior to her research, she worked with refugee minors in an Orientation and Observation Centre of Fedasil and obtained a master’s degree in fashion design and a postgraduate master conflict and development studies.

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