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‘Multaka: Connecting Threads’, at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum

Members of a migrant-volunteer programme in Oxford are behind a new display of textiles at the Pitt Rivers Museum. ‘Multaka: Connecting Threads’, which launched on Friday 5 April 2019, has been co-curated by a team of volunteers with Multaka-Oxford a two-year project, pioneered in Berlin, in which the Pitt Rivers Museum and the History of Science Museum are partnering with local community organisations to create volunteering opportunities for forced migrants.

Museum staff work with volunteers on mounting the textiles for the final display. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

Museum staff work with volunteers on mounting the textiles for the final display. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

Dr Jenny Balfour-Paul–a collector of worldwide textiles and a renowned expert in indigo dye–donated a collection of textiles from the Middle East and North Africa to the museum, which by a lucky confluence was used to seek the grant that has enabled the Multaka project to take place. A small selection of Jenny’s collection is currently on show at the exhibition, and there may be a bigger exhibition of her collection in future. Don’t miss out on a talk by Jenny at HALI London on 28 June 2019.

Volunteer Hussein and curator Andrew work on mounting a silk scarf from Damascus. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

Volunteer Hussein and curator Andrew work on mounting a silk scarf from Damascus. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

The five volunteers have been working with museum collections and exhibitions staff to research the collection and offer new perspectives using personal stories and observations.

Volunteer Nav lays out a dress from Saraqib in Syria.

Volunteer Nav lays out a dress from Saraqib in Syria. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

The display comprises textiles from the collection, supplemented with personal items and photos. A series of captions provide personal insights into the objects and narrate the personal histories of the volunteers. The different narratives serve to bring new perspectives to the collection and reveal the common threads that link us all.

Volunteer Nav lays out a dress from Saraqib in Syria. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

Volunteer Nav lays out a dress from Saraqib in Syria. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

For the volunteers, the opportunity to co-curate the display has enabled them to share their perspectives, expertise and memories as well as learn new skills. Hussein Ahmed, who worked in a textile factory in Syria to pay for his law studies, provided a photo of himself as an embroidery machinist to help illustrate the embroidery on a dress from Saraqib in Syria, which forms the centrepiece of the display.

A silk scarf from Damascus lent by volunteer Niran Altahhan.

A silk scarf from Damascus lent by volunteer Niran Altahhan. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

The ‘Multaka: Connecting Threads’ display runs in the Lower Gallery of the Pitt Rivers Museum until 30 September 2019. Visit as part of the HALI Tour, ‘Great British Collections’, 30 June – 7 July 2019.

Volunteers Niran and Hussein look at a scarf from Damascus owned by Niran.

Volunteers Niran and Hussein look at a scarf from Damascus owned by Niran. Photograph by Ian Wallman.

Front of a traditional woman's dress ('thōb) from Saraquib, Syria. Black cotton with hand embroidered decoration in silk. Donated by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Purchased by donor in Aleppo in 1985. ©Pitt Rivers Museum

Front of a traditional woman’s dress (‘thōb) from Saraquib, Syria. Black cotton with hand embroidered decoration in silk. Donated by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Purchased by donor in Aleppo in 1985. ©Pitt Rivers Museum

Back of a traditional woman's dress ('thōb) from Saraquib, Syria. Black cotton with hand embroidered decoration in silk. Donated by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Purchased by donor in Aleppo in 1985. ©Pitt Rivers Museum

Back of a traditional woman’s dress (‘thōb) from Saraquib, Syria. Black cotton with hand embroidered decoration in silk. Donated by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Purchased by donor in Aleppo in 1985. ©Pitt Rivers Museum

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