Work by the British-Lebanese textile artist Nour Hage will go on display at Leighton House in London later this month showcasing the tradition of elaborate embroidery from the Middle East.
The show, called Kheit, will run from April 28 to July 16 at the Arab Hall in Leighton House, the recently reopened home of Victorian artist Frederic Leighton.
It was inspired by Leighton House’s newly acquired antique textile collection that features Syrian clothing, Ottoman hangings and runners, and Iranian carpets, all of which bring the house’s interiors closer to how they were in Leighton’s time.
Kheit is a collaboration between Leighton House and The Arab British Centre as part of its Arab Britain programming theme that sets out to explore and document the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain.
Following a research period within the house in 2022, Hage drew inspiration from the tradition in the Levant, specifically in Palestine, where women from one family or community embroider and stitch together a wedding trousseau which the bride keeps her entire life.
Each person who has contributed to the making of the trousseau leaves their mark for the bride to carry memories along with her matrilineal lineage.
As a result, Hage has created a piece based on visual symbolisms from the Syrian and Turkish tiles as well as mosaics found within the Arab Hall at Leighton House.
Frederic Leighton lavishly decorated parts of his property in a Middle East style with artefacts collected from his travels in the region.
A collaborative embroidery project co-produced with a group of local Kensington and Chelsea residents will also be displayed.
Kheit is being funded by the Barakat Trust’s Hands on Islamic Art grant, which enables organisations to work with heritage collections of art and material pertaining to the Islamic world with the aim of making them more accessible to the public.
Daniel Robbins, senior curator at Leighton House, said that Kheit was a celebration of the skill and the artistry of textiles.
"Leighton himself loved and appreciated textiles, which he collected and displayed throughout his home," Mr Robbins says. "The threads of textiles can stand as a metaphor for the fusion, creativity, collaboration and exchange which run throughout this project.”
Amani Hassan, programme director at the Arab British Centre explained that the historic houses provided fertile ground for exploration into the influence and presence of Arab culture in Britain over the centuries.
"Leighton House is a visual testament to the painter’s fascination with the Middle East and North Africa, but it is not widely known that Arabs were also traveling to, working and settling in Britain at the time," she says. "Through Kheit, meaning thread in Arabic, we aim to use textiles and craft as a springboard for wider conversations around this largely overlooked aspect of British history.”
The artwork will be complemented by digital resources, including a short film and an extensive events programme exploring the threads connecting Britain and the Arab world from the 19th century to the present day.
Earlier this year, King Charles III toured Leighton's home, the centrepiece of which is the Arab Hall, which was designed to display the Victorian artist’s priceless collection of more than a thousand medieval Islamic tiles, mostly brought back from Damascus.