Faisal Saleh ’70 opened Palestine Museum US, a new US-based museum dedicated to researching and preserving Palestinian history, art and culture, in his hometown of Woodbridge, Connecticut in April 2018.
The 5,000-square-foot museum celebrates Palestinian arts and culture through paintings, sculpture, photography (most from before 1948, with some dating to the mid-19th century), art installations, historic documents, and lots of embroidery and vintage clothing.
“Featured works at the museum include the abstract compositions of globally renowned New York-based artist Samia Halaby, the boldly expressionistic art of Mohamed Saleh Khalil, the, calligraphic mixed media of Manal Deeb, and the visceral portraits of emerging talent Malak Mattar—a self-taught, eighteen-year-old artist from Gaza,” reported the Institute for Middle East Understanding. In addition to spotlighting visual artists, the museum showcases “historical artifacts and apparel, literary arts, historic and new photography, digital media, and live performance.”
There is not enough space to display everything and Faisal’s goal is to have exhibits travel and to attract outside funding to create satellite museums in other US cities with significant Palestinian populations. Music and dance events and book and poetry readings are also planned.
“There is a media vacuum about Palestine from an artistic and cultural point of view, though there is a lot about the political aspect,” Faisal explained. Americans tend to know little about Palestine, and what they do know, he feels, comes from a mainstream media that “often paints Palestinians in a negative light. There was a need to recast them as human. This is an opportunity to change that perception.”
In addition to westerners, the museum’s main audience is Palestinians themselves. “It’s a way to strengthen Palestinian identity and make them feel at home,” said Faisal. “It is the first time they have had anything that is theirs.”
Since opening, the museum has attracted a steady stream of visitors as well as attention from the international press. It is only open on Sundays, since those involved in starting and running it, including Faisal, are volunteers.
Though it took less than a year to open the museum, in many ways it has taken much of Faisal’s life to get here. As he puts it, “Every part of your life is related.”
Born in Ramallah, he followed his brother Muhammad ’64 to George School when he received a scholarship for his senior year. “I liked going to George School,” said Faisal. “I like the Quaker lifestyle and outlook on life.”
After a BA from Oberlin College, a MBA from the University of Connecticut, and a successful career in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur, Faisal realized it was time to give back. His way of doing that is to teach about the people of his first home to those who live in his second one.