Wafa Ghnaim is an American-born Palestinian businesswoman, writer, and artist. Wafa began learning Palestinian embroidery from her mother when she was two years old. Throughout her life, Wafa traveled alongside her mother for various exhibitions, lectures and demonstrations around the U.S. from folklore festivals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to elementary schools in southeast Portland, Oregon. She assisted her mother by preparing materials for lectures, modeling embroidery outfits created by her mother, demonstrating needlework techniques at large-scale festivals, and curating exhibits.
Wafa was awarded a two-year apprenticeship opportunity through the Oregon Folklife Network and the University of Oregon in 1993 through 1995 with her older sister, Fida. Throughout the apprenticeship, they assisted their mother in the completion of a Palestinian dress titled “The Gardens”, which was displayed in the Oregon State Capitol as “the dress of a million stitches”.
She has traveled to Syria and Jordan many times throughout her life for personal, professional and academic pursuits, witnessing major events that have rippled throughout the region; from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to various Israeli invasions and wars against Palestinians in the occupied territories to the Arab Uprisings. The last time she visited Damascus was February 11, 2011, the day that former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, resigned amidst popular unrest. That day was arguably the first day of the Syrian revolution and subsequent war. These experiences were very influential in her life, sparking her aspirations to preserve the oral history, storytelling, and folk art of Palestine.
Wafa decided to pursue her and her mother’s lifelong dream of writing a book about Palestinian embroidery designs, meanings, and traditions in 2015. Tatreez & Tea has been a dream of her mother’s since the early 1980’s when she first came to the United States and a dream of Wafa’s since she was a little girl. With funding from the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition, Regional Arts & Culture Council and the Brooklyn Arts Council, the first edition of the book was digitally published in November 2016, and the print edition in June 2018.
Tatreez & Tea has grown into an initiative that provides ongoing arts education programming on Palestinian embroidery across the United States and Canada. Wafa teaches various curricula that is centered on traditional Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery in order to keep the traditional art alive in the Palestinian diaspora.
In 2018, Wafa was awarded a New York State Council on the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship in the folk arts discipline. The NYSCA/NYFA fellowship is a highly competitive program, awarded to an artist once in their lifetime. Wafa joins the ranks of award-winning alumni fellows who earned this award early in their career, including Spike Lee, Shirin Neshat, Mira Nair and Tony Kushner.
Wafa, her husband and their son Malik currently reside in Brooklyn, New York.