Interview: Dina Asfour, Founder of Palestinian Tatreez Workshops
Dina is a force of nature! We met through a mutual friend and the spark was immediate. When I found out that she hosted workshops on the Palestinian art of tatreez I was so excited to attend one. Her knowledge and passion was so infectious and I had the most magical afternoon. It was a great pleasure have her share some more information about herself and the workshops below.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your heritage?
I am Spanish-Palestinian and very Palestinian in my heart and soul. My dad is from the famous knafeh city, Nablus, and my mum is from sunny Spain.
I was born in Toledo, a very romantic city with a lot of Arab influence in the architecture. I always wondered if this helped my dad to feel a bit more at home after becoming a refugee, having to leave his family, city, and life behind.
I spent a few years in Toledo but shortly after the whole family moved to a small village in the south of Spain, and what the chances, we found a Palestinian community that became like family for us. I grew up in this environment with gatherings at home, long nights drinking tea and listening to ‘’Dalouna’’ while my parents talked about the situation back home.
Palestine was always at the heart of my life. Ever since I can remember I have always felt Palestinian and my dad remembers every day what it means to be Palestinian: endurance, kindness, and resilience.
Due to the economic situation in Spain, I decided to try my luck in London, and I have always believed that thanks to my "Palestinian-ness" I was able to overcome the obstacles that I found as an immigrant in this country. I have found great friends and a community where I feel close to my roots.
Being Palestinian for me has two faces, on the one hand, it has given me a great understanding of those who are a minority and in need – helping them is my motivation in life. At the same time, now as an adult, I also feel resentment towards the world that is letting my people down. However, I would not have it any other way.
Could you please share a bit more about why you decided to create your workshops and what you teach at them?
During lockdown I started feeling a sort of identity crisis. Palestine felt so far from me despite my daily practice of activities such as cooking Palestinian food, learning the language, or watching movies on Netflix about Palestine. I couldn't find the words to express what I was feeling, the feeling of powerlessness after seeing the news in May 2020 about Gaza, Silwan, and Sheikh Jarrah (once again).
I have always been a very creative person that loves doing things with my hands, so I decided I was going to learn tatreez and after various attempts, I got my first decent piece. I understood the deeper meaning of tatreez as a way to understand our identity and preserve the Palestinian identity, at the same time it was a way to calm me down and create something that reflects my identity, something that nobody could take away from me.
I had the idea to start the workshops to pass this art onto others as a way of legacy of my Palestinian identity, I believe that this is an artform that when you grow up in the diaspora can easily get lost, for me is very important to pass this to others because every motif tells a story and is a written proof of our existence.
My workshop is for everyone interested in learning tatreez and Palestinian history, I teach the basic technique and share tips and motifs history with others. Recently I and a friend started a tatreez circle that runs once a month.
What books would you recommend to learn more about beautiful Palestinian art, culture, politics?
I really recommend reading “Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora” by Yasie Suleiman. This book helped me understand all the feelings that I have about my identity and to understand what is to be Palestinian. It is a compilation of testimonies from other Palestinians about what it means for them to be Palestinian.
What item of stationery could you not live without?
I could not live without sticky notes. I had 1000 thoughts a day and I love to write notes and stick them on my desk. I usually write just one word without much explanation, but I know I will understand what it means, like a sort of coding.
What is your favourite Palestinian dish?
I love a very particular food called akkub which is a cardoon that grows in the mountains of Palestine and is also very famous in Nablus. It is part of a very special meal made with yoghurt and lamb, and of course, you will eat it with rice. It is delicious!
How can people sign up and attend your workshops?
At the moment I am taking orders and organising workshops through Instagram, and people interested can message me @zaytun_es.