art, otherness and Israel - Palestine
Edited by Ethan Pierce
This book is published on the occassion of the annual thesis exhibition at Harvardâ€™s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, organized by James Voorhies. Editer & Designer: Ethan Pierce Design Assistants: Sam Rashba, Luke Fieweger, Alistair Debling. ÂŠ 2015 BBP Inc. All Rights Reserved
Cover: Lines traced from the 1947 partition map, as disigned by the United Nations. Hand embossed at the Adams Bow & Arrow Press by Ethan Pierce, Rebecca Rosen and Ted Ollier.
Published by BBP Publications www.bbpgallerie.com Printed by BookMobile First Edition
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written premission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews.
Every reasonable attempt has been made to to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.
6 14 Project Introduction 30 Critical Essays Preface
Acknoledgements // Preface
Project Overview // Project Timeline
Chen Tamir // Jackson Davidow // Josh Ascherman // Reina Gattuso
70 Artist Residents
Aithan Shapira // Alistair Debling // Awais Hussain // Azedeh Tajpour // Delfina Martinez-Pandiani // Delphine Rodrik // Efe Murad // Ege Yumusak // Josh Ascherman-// Julia Rooney & Qais Assali // Kythe Heller & Meghan McNealy // Leila Pribay // Rossi Lamont Walter // Tasha Chemel & Virginia Marshal
16 Project Overview 32 A Report on the Cultural Boycott of Israel Chen Tamir
48 Notes on Peace/Process/Art
AITHAN SHAPIRA 67
Up Against The Wall! ALISTAIR DEBLING 70 Untitled AWAIS HUSSAIN 74
Point of view of the Drone
55 Judaism, Zionism and Personal Value Negociation 58 The Immature Politics of Friendship Reina Gattuso
AZADEH TAJPOUR 76
DELFINA MARTINEZ-PANDIANI 80
Street Talk DELPHINE RODRIK 85 Amman Tapes EFE MURAD 88
Halva: A case study in Earth and Plexi EGE YUMUSAK 90
JOSH ASCHERMAN 92
JULIA ROONEY // QAIS ASSALI 94
The Sacrifice of Language
KYTHE HELLER // MEGHAN MCNEALY 100
Reconcile LEILA PIRBAY 106
Questions for a Foriegner ROSSI LAMONT WALTER 108
TASHA CHEMEL // VIRGINIA MARSHAL 114
Acknowledgments This project is indebted to the inumerable individuals whose patience, thoughtfulness and constant contructive criticism have kept me on my toes and “here, without” in a state of constant, necessary, self-reflexive change.
First and foremost I want to thank the fourty-two brave souls who put their faith in me last spring as we jointly launched “here, without” then, “Silence” - into the world. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with this incredible cast of creatives over the past eleven months, and I am deeply grateful for the amazing amount of thought and energy that has been put towards making “here, without” an incredible collaborative learning framework.
This project has grown out of my senior thesis at Harvard University, and I want to pass on my deepest thanks to the many individuals who have helped to facilitate this body of creative work. First, thank you to my thesis advisor Annette Lemieux and my thesis committee, Amie Seigel, Matt Saunders and Stephen Prina for their continued support, encouragement, insights and advice. I am also grateful for the support of Katarina Burin and Sara Stern, and for the insightful feedback given to me by Gloria Sutton, Taylor Davis and Fernanda Fragatiero. Finally, 7
I want to thank the staff and administration of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and the Visual and Environmental Studies department for their support and feedback, particularly Paula Soares for her open office, Mary Parks and Mary Kenny for their constant contact, and James Voorhies for his many curatorial insights.
For financially supporting the initial research phase of this project, I want to extend my deepest thanks to the Harvard College Research Program, especially Meg Brooks Swift, and the Mitchell Institute for their generous Mitchell Fellowship. My heartful thanks to Meg Baxter, Senator George Mitchell, Mary Mitchell Friedman, Jared Cash and Lisa Plimpton. Finally, thank you to Jeff Tarr and his wonderful family for their generous Tarr Scholarship, which has made my studies possible. Additionally, I want to thank the Harvard Office for the Arts and Council on the Arts for their generous Artist Development Fellowship which allowed me to spend two months in Israel - Palestine doing on the ground research and artist interviews. In particular, I want to thank Stephanie Trousi, Jack Megan, and Lynn Weigel for their incredible support.
For their help in faciliting our week-long “here, without” conference exploring Israel - Palestine through contemporary art, I want to thank Clare Putnam and Naor Ben-Yehoyada at the Harvard Weatherhead Center, and Nishin Nathwani, Max Kennedy and Michael Gellman at the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative. I am particularly grateful to Francesca Brewer and the Harvard Art Museums for the use of their materials lab, and to Charles O’Brien at Harvard Real Estate for allowing us to use the former Sackler Museum as an exhibition space. During the week of the conference we screened artists films in the evenings. Many thanks to Nir Evron, Avi Morgabi, Yael Bartana and Nira Pereg for allowing us to screen their works.
Special thanks to Tom Morgan and Liz Dean with Harvard College Theater and John Rybicki and Christopher Danforth with Harvard VES for
helping us creatively light the exhibition hall on short notice.
This project would never have reached its potential without the many mentors who have provided their advice and support along the way. My deepest thanks go out to Jen Mergel, who opened the door to curation, and to Carrie Lambert-Beatty, for giving me the opportunity to study curatorial theory. Special thanks to Benjamin Buchloh for introducing me to new ways of thinking, and for encouraging me to pursue this project. Thank you to Doris Sommer for giving me the opportunity to activate cultural agency. Thank you to Allison Smith, who showed me organizatiosn as a form of making, and for reminding me of my respnsibilites as an organizer. Thank you to Yo-Yo Ma for teaching me to think like an artist and an entrepreneur, and for introducing me to Tyme Khleifi, whose early advice on this project was truly invaluable. My heartfelt thanks also goes out to Lawrence Weschler, for reminding me of the world beyond the academy. A special thanks to Catherine Lord for her continued support and mentorship and for giving me my first taste of collaborative inquery; I will never forget Flush. My deepest thanks to Saâ€™ed Atshan for his patience, mentorship, and for his continued support of â€œhere, withoutâ€? and its ever-changing structure and nomenclature.
This project was developed after several of the participants when on a ten-day trek to Israel faciliated by five Harvard students. Many thanks to trek leaders Yoav Schaefer and Zaki Djemal for all of their passion and energy, and for putting up with my many, many questions.
My personal research for this project has been a long and winding road, with many pit stops. Thank you to Nella Magen Castoto and John Coffey for introducing me to contemporary art in Israel - Palestine. A special thanks to Tali Cherizli and Yael Reinharz at Artis and to Adi Hollander for their many introductions and early advice. Finally, my deepest 9
thanks to the dozens and dozens of artists and thinkers who opened my mind over coffee or in the studio during my travels. Many of these artists became mentors for the Harvard and MIT participants in their project, and I am incredibly greatful for depth, talent and experience that they have brought to the project. In particular I want to thank Dr. Rona Sela, Eyal Danon, Ronen Eidelman, The Sala-Manca Group, Gaston Zwi Ickowicz, David Reeb, Miki Kratsman, Avi Mograbi, Scandar Copti, Dor Guez, Aim Duelle Luski, Nicola Trezzi, Adi Gura, Ilit Azoulay, Yochai Avrahami, the staff at Gordon Gallery, Gal Weinstein, Myriam Vanneschi, Nira Pereg, Nat Muller, Sharif Waked, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Nir Evron, Scandar Copti, Leah Abir, Khaled Hourani, Hadas Kedar, Nimrod Levin, Eitan Ben-Mosche, Tamar Hirschfeld and Emily Jacir. My sincere thanks to Rhoda Rosen and Gannit Ankori for their thoughts and support and for their incredible work on the region. Throughout the year we have supported programming for project participants and the general public examining Israel - Palestine through contemporary art. My deepest thanks to the many artists and scholars who have participated in these events, including Runo Isaksen, Sarah Schulman, Qais Assali, Alexandra Chen, Sa’ed Atshan, Shaima’ Ziara, Meir Gal, Anthony Downey, Hrag Vartanian, Yael Reinharz, Inbal Abergil, Jill Godmillow, Jackson Davidow, Sa’ed Atshan, Eyal Danon, Nella Magen Cassouto, Omer Krieger, Galit Eilat, Julia Rooney, Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Yusef Audeh, Kythe Heller, Jen Mergel.
Thank you to Hadas Kedar, the artistic director of the Arad Art & Architecture Residency for facilitating residency opportunities for “here, without” artist-residents in Arad. Many thanks to Sam Rashba, Luke Fieweger and Alistair Debling for their help with the design of this publication, and to Ted Ollier, the mastermind behind the Adams Bow & Arrow Press and Rebecca Rosen for their help in making the handprinted covers a reality. 10
For their help making participant projects possible, I want to thank Faye Yan Zhang, Angie Jo and Yigit Ergecen.
For their unending support, I want to thank the many members of the Lowell House community that have supported this project. Thank you to Beth Terry, Robert Sammonds, Diana Eck, Dorothy Austin and Caitlin Casey for supporting my many space requests, including the transformation of the old building squash courts into participant studios, among many other kindnesses. Thank you to the many members of the Senior Common Room, including Steve Coit and Kitty Pechet, for believing in me and my projects. Lastly, a special thanks to Susanna Mierau for her endless hours of fellowship advising, and for so many cups of delicious tea; I couldn’t have done this without you. This project is indebted to the artists and curators of the Liminal Spaces project which took place between 2006 - 2009 in Israel - Palestine. In particular, I want to thank Khaled Hourani, Eyal Danon and Galit Eilat (part of the original curatorial team) for their advice, support and criticism as I developed “here, without.” For their constant support, advice and friendship, I want to thank Christopher Wankel, Katherine Agard, Marina Connolly, Noritaka Minami and Jennifer Cloutier. For keeping me sane and organized, I want to thank Eleanor Reagan, Hannah Milem, Rebecca Maddalo and Keith Martinez.
Finally, thank you to Steve and Robin Leeman, Jan and Nathan Strout and Elizabeth Pierce for your continued love and support.
Ethan Pierce // Preface
Coming from a secular Protestant farming family in Maine, I had no easily apparent connection to Israel – Palestine when I first traveled to the region in March 2014. Catalyzed by this deeply challenging foray, I developed “here, without” to fill a personal need for an alternative structure at Harvard to work through my own fraught relationship with the region. Like many projects on Israel – Palestine, “here, without” launched in April 2014 with a group of passionately curious “outsiders” selected from an open call. Coming from disparate backgrounds and with varying familiarities with the Middle East, we embarked together: naively hoping to find answers - and perhaps - create change, through art. From my vantage point today, I find the beginnings of “here, without” to be problematic. As Jackson Davidow problematizes in his essay Notes on Peace/Process/Art, the project’s early well-intentioned attempts to create a neutral discursive platform conversely implied a false and unethical symmetry between two sides.
With time and distance, I am sure that I will come to question many of the decisions that I made as the facilitator of this project. But in equal measure, I have come to realize the strength of this project has been its focus on process: the emphasis on listening; a willingness to continually change shape, structure, and nomenclature; and a knowledge that through its continual reorientation, this act of collaborative making would generate tangible learning for each participant.
Like this project, “here, without: art, otherness and Israel – Palestine” emphasizes questions over answers. Each essay and work of art provides a tightly condensed archive of one or more individuals struggle to come to place themselves in relation to one of the most contentious global issues.
The goal of this publication is offer readers an opportunity to engage in similar self-reflection, with each piece acting as a point of departure for a new line of inquiry. 13
ct Outline 15
Project Overview Collaborative Inquiry is used here to define a group research practice where all participants (including the organizers) are involved in research decisions as co-researchers.
“Here, without: art, otherness and Israel – Palestine” is an experimental pedagogical framework that seeks to create an alternative architecture for the discussion of issues such as otherness, neocolonialism, receptiveness, ethics and cross-cultural exchange. A large-scale collaborative inquiry1 project spanning a full calendar year and involving over eighty artistic collaborators from around the world, “here, without” sits at the intersection of art making, education, curation and socially engaged artistic practice. As the project facilitator, my role is to create a conceptual framework for the responsible exploration of a foreign culture – and in this case, a culture of conflict – through the research and production of contemporary art. Working within the context of Israel – Palestine adds a further layer of complexity to this role. In addition to negotiating power asymmetries, the baggage of the ivory tower, and cultural colonialism, comes the practical concerns of an active cultural boycott of the State of Israel. From the start of the project, I was faced difficult decisions of nomenclature – West Bank // Occupied Territories // Palestine // Eretz Israel – and affiliation. With each such decision, the hand of the curator (my hand) – already super visible – became even more apparent. I quickly learned that “neutrality” was both impractical and ethically questionable; my challenge, then, was to embrace this intermediary role, and to focus on a subset of the Israeli – Palestinian discourse that would allow project participants to develop a rich, in-depth understanding of the region. 17
Manifesta Since its launch in April, 2014 “here, without” has manifested in various forms: an international academic conference, an artresearch residency for thirty-five Harvard and MIT affiliates, a traveling library, two publications, and many performances, presentations, exhibitions, and international research trips.
Coming from a diverse range of academic, geographic and cultural backgrounds, with varying familiarity with Israel - Palestine, the artists-residents make up the core of this project. One of my biggest joys with “here, without” – and most serious challenges – has been working with each participant to help him or her find a medium, method and voice through which to explore the region. The structure of “making” cultural works (ranging from poetry and prose to studio art and film projects) was designed to force participants to think critically about the ethical implications of representing a foreign culture in a creative work.
Exhibition at the Former Sackler Museum
By facilitating opportunities for these works to enter the public sphere, I created the impetus for a series of conversations about art making, audience reception, and the ethics of representation. “Here, without: work in progress,” our January exhibition in the former Sackler Museum, offered the public an opportunity to engage in this discourse, and provided participants feedback on their projects-in-progress.
ations Academic Conference
Equally important was the creation of a platform for a rich conversation at Harvard lead by academic and cultural experts on the region. During Harvard’s January 2015 Wintersession, I organized a weeklong conference examining Israel – Palestine through contemporary artistic production, including lectures, seminars, studio workshops and nightly film screenings. Opening with a panel discussion titled “What does Activism in the Arts Mean Today? The Middle East as Case Study” featuring Anthony Downey (Ibraaz), Hrag Vartanian (Hyperallergic) and Yael Reinharz (Artis), speakers productively called into question the very framework of artist-as-activist, and raised difficult questions regarding the role of culture and the cultural producer in relation to Israel – Palestine. Later in the week we heard from contemporary artists and curators from the region, including Eyal Danon (curator, Israeli Center for Digital Art), Galit Eilat (independent curator), Meir Gal and Inbar Abergil (Arab artists), along with US based scholars Sarah Schulman (author of Israel Palestine and the Queer International) and Jackson Davidow (and MIT based cultural theorist), among others. Like these lectures and discussions, nightly film screenings and community conversations were aimed at creating alternative discursive spaces within the context of the University. 19
Creating an opportunity for the artist-residents to have a significant engagement with highly articulate creative voices from the region was a fundamental facet of “here, without.” Launched over the summer of 2014, the “Traveling Library” was one of the primary vehicles for this exploration. An ever-growing compendium ranging from historical surveys of the region to artist monographs and critical theory, this collection of printed matter was offered to participants as a resource for research and exploration. Through an online portal, project participants could “check out” books from the library and have them shipped to them anywhere in the world. Participants were encouraged to make the books – and the library – their own, adding footnotes to the texts, or requesting new volumes.
Image credit: Harry Choi 20
One of the most exciting – and challenging – components of the project was the mentorship program. Over the course of six weeks during the fall of 2014, I traveled between Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Holon, Hebron and various small villages and settlements in the West Bank, conducting over 35 studio visits and interviews with artists and curators throughout Israel – Palestine. From this group of artists and scholars I developed a core group of project mentors, each of whom was paired with one of the artist-residents. Through a series of Skype and email exchanges, mentors were asked to serve as a sounding board as participants struggled to develop their projects conceptually. While many components of the project focused on a breadth of exploration and exposure, the cultural mentorship program was specifically designed to give project participants the opportunity to delve in depth into one specific artists work, and to familiarize themselves with one particular perspective on Israel – Palestine.
To document this yearlong collaboration we have produced two artists books that document the project, feature participant works, and include essays that critically reflect on art and otherness in relation to Israel – Palestine. “here, without: art, otherness and Israel - Palestine” acts as a document of the project, including a curatorial essay, an essay on the cultural boycott of Israel by CCA Curator Chen Tamir, and essays by project participants. Additionally, each participant working on a studio project within the context of “here, without” has have a page dedicated to his or her work. “here, without: questions for a foreigner” is a small poetry publication featuring participants who have primarily been working with words over the course of the year. Both of these publications are be professionally printed, and bound in a hand-printed, double-embossed cover, made by project participants at Harvard’s Adams Bow & Arrow Press.
here, without: work in progress “Modeled after the Liminal Spaces project from 2006 - 2009, it seems almost apt that this exhibition would find itself a home in the liminality of Harvard’s ever changing architectural landscape.
Occupying the the transitive space created by the opening of the new Harvard Art Museums and the closing of the former Sackler Art Museum, here, without: work in progress rejects the conventional premise of displaying or exhibiting ‘completed’ work. In the context of solidarity to global networks of oppression, the goal of here, without seeks to refocus energy on the conversations that have developed in the creation of these works on Israel - Palestine, rather than seeing them as an endpoint, solution or fixed response to the conflict.
If there is a product at all, the product is the change in the participants; the change in the framing. This open event seeks to make visible these changes in framing and context. We hope that visitors will engage in transformative conversation with participants, and seek to consider their own work and lives in the context of some of the issues being presented in the Sackler.”
Wall text from “here, without” at the former Sacker Museum 25
March 2014 Harvard College Israel Trek June 12, 2014 The deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Frenkel
July 2, 2014 The death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir
July 8, 2014 Operation Protective Edge also known as the 2014 Gaza Massacre, begins
April 2014 Call for applications
Project Tim May 2014 First meeting
October 2014 Research Trip to Israel Palestine
August 26, 2014 Ceasefire announced
September 2014 Trip to NYC
January 17 - 24, 2015 “here, without” conference at Harvard University
November 2014 A Coversation with Runo Isaksen
January 24, 2015 “here, without: work in progress” at the former Sackler Musuem
April 19, 2015 “here, without” at Open Engagement in Pittsburg
May 1, 2015 “here, without” at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
June 2015 Participant research trip to Israel – Palestine
cal Essays 31
Chen Tamir // A Report on the Cultural Boycott of Israel Introduction
[i] I am grateful to my conference collaborators, Leah Abir, Hila Cohen-Schneiderman, Udi Edelman, Omer Krieger, Avi Lubin, and Joshua Simon, who also translated this text to Hebrew. This group also maintains a website with links to many resources on the cultural boycott of Israel and other boycotts in the contemporary art world.
The following report surveys the pressing topic of the cultural boycott of Israel, focusing specifically on contemporary visual art. Without taking sides, this document synthesizes information on the current trend to boycott and includes summaries of notable recent incidents around the world of boycotts of contemporary art projects, some boycotting Israel while others calling attention to other causes. This is not a complete survey, but rather focuses on issues of note in an effort to trace the general contours of this growing phenomenon. This report was first written for Artis, a nonprofit organization that promotes artists from Israel, for internal purposes, and also published on Hyperallergic in February 2015. However, the more I was asked about the boycott, the more I realized the need for such information to be condensed and presented in depth. A Hebrew version of this document was also published in January 2015 and served as the opening keynote for a conference I organized in Tel Aviv on the topic with six other curators.[i] (This group also maintains a website with links to many resources on the cultural boycott of Israel and other boycotts in the contemporary art world.)
The cultural boycott is part of a larger call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) meant to raise international awareness of the Israeli 33
[ii] Boycott calls had appeared as early as the 1980s. A distinction should be made between BDS and other boycotts, especially ones within Israel directed specifically at the Occupied Territories. For example, a group of nearly 60 stage actors, writers, and directors in 2010 released a statement declaring they would not perform in the new theatre in Ariel, a large settlement, or any of the albeit few cultural institutions outside the 1967 border.
[iii] PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel (Revised July 2014).
[iv] “Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion. Mere affiliation of Israeli cultural workers to an Israeli cultural institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott. If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution, or is commissioned/ recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for.” [Accessed October 2014]
occupation of Palestine and other human rights violations against Palestinians, and consequently generate pressure on Israel to end them. Within the boycott category are four calls: academic, cultural, military (weapons embargo) and economic (boycotting Israeli products or companies, or those specifically from the Occupied Territories). Divestment, similar to the economic boycott, calls for investors to remove their funds from Israeli investments; and sanctions refer to political and juridical penalties against Israel. This past year, the BDS movement has reached its highest profile yet, with members of the Israeli government now concerned over its impact, especially the economic boycott and divestment and how they may affect the economy.
The BDS campaign was formed in 2004 (though other boycott calls emerged much earlier[ii]) A short while later, in 2005, the Israeli Ministy of Foreign Affairs launched “Brand Israel,” a massive PR initiative aimed at improving the country’s image abroad. The BDS call is generally understood to pertain to all of Israel, but other boycott calls are directed only at Jewish settlements outside the 1967 border. The distinction is less important when it comes to culture, especially international contemporary art and the cases cited below, but it can be crucial in negotiating boycotts within Israel. (The Palestinian Authority, for example, supports boycotting products from the settlements, but not all Israeli goods.)
The academic and cultural boycotts are jointly led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and operate in similar ways, but this document focuses exclusively on culture, specifically contemporary art, for the sake of brevity and focus, but also because academia and the art world operate in different ways: The art world is far less structured, is regulated mostly by social contract rather than official protocol, and its funding structures are more complex and informal than the university system – to the point where even PACBI states in its guidelines that “many of these events and projects fall into an uncertain, grey area that is challenging to appraise”. [iii] However, both the academic and the cultural boycotts target institutions, and not individuals (except in cases in which an individual is representing an institution or acting in an official capacity).[iv]
The cultural boycott calls specifically against international programs that are funded by or presented in alliance with an official Israeli body, i.e. “government ministry, municipality, embassy, consulate, state or other public film fund,” or that functions as a mouthpiece for the State [v] PACBI Guidelines for the Inter- of Israel.[v] PACBI has crafted guidelines and general principles and national Cultural Boycott of Israel can be approached to determine the “boycottability” of a specific proj(Revised July 2014) [Accessed ect, institution, or event, based on its general tenet: October 2014]
In general, PACBI urges international cultural workers (e.g. artists, writers, filmmakers) and cultural organizations […] to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel, its lobby groups or its cultural institutions, or that [vii] International cultural work- otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global cultural ers who fail to heed the call for sphere, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinboycott, crossing the BDS “picket ian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.[vi]
[vi] PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel (Revised July 2014) [Accessed October 2014]
line,” and then attempting to visit Palestinian institutions or groups in a “balancing” gesture, contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized. Palestinians believe that solidarity entails respecting the boycott call, which is an authoritative call of the oppressed, and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions or groups with activities with boycottable Israeli institutions. International visitors who insist on including Israeli cultural institutions in their itinerary, as a form of “fig-leafing”, should not expect to be welcomed by Palestinian cultural institutions. [Accessed October 2014] [viii] One recent report estimated the boycott has cost Israel $30 million so far. See: Report: Boycott has cost Israel 30mln dollars so far, i24 News, March 8, 2014 [Accessed October 2014]
Included in the boycott are independently-funded projects that present Israelis and Palestinians together, even when addressing the Occupation, unless they recognize Palestinian rights under international law and frame the joint project as opposed to violations of those rights. Otherwise, such projects promote “normalization,” i.e. the guise of two supposedly equal counterparts rather than the asymmetry of oppressor and victim or the invisibility of the latter in mainstream Israeli society. This extends to visits to the region, asking artists or other cultural producers not to combine a visit to Israel with a visit to Palestine, unless their visit includes a proactive anti-occupation component.[vii]
The BDS movement, particularly the boycotts, has gained traction steadily over the past few years, as evidenced by monetary estimates of the cost of the economic boycott.[viii] However, no measurable results to the academic and cultural boycott exist since measuring absence in culture and academia is more challenging; it’s virtually impossible to quantify or even illustrate what is not happening, which artists refuse to work in Israel, or what exhibitions or project could have taken place had the boycott not existed. However, in the field of contemporary art, a few instances in 2013 and 2014 that are examined below are notable examples and can perhaps predict what lies ahead. 35
Recent International Boycott Examples
Creative Time: 2012 Summit andd Living As Form
The most recent noted attempt at a collaborative exhibition with Israeli and Palestinian artists dealing directly with the local situation was to be held at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh in May 2014. Titled Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship, the show was part of a series of cultural exchanges between American and foreign artists, and was to involve five Israeli artists and three Palestinian artists. Guest curator Tavia La Follette had traveled to Israel and Palestine for research, but had a hard time finding Palestinians who would participate due to the boycott. The three Palestinian artists who did, as well as the Israelis, agreed to participate in the exhibition with the understanding that it was to directly address human rights violations, but after receiving critical pressure from the Arab world (via Facebook), combined with inflammatory coverage from pro-Israeli media, the Palestinian artists were concerned for their safety, and a potential loss of trust in their community once they returned home. Critics pointed to words such as “dialogue” and “collaboration” that appeared in the official descriptions of the exhibition, claiming they suggest normalization, and while the exhibition received no governmental funding from Israel, these pressures were enough to precipitate the withdraw of the Palestinian artists, and the cancelation of the exhibition. Two articles in the Pittsburgh City Paper reported the story, as did many Jewish newspapers, though it’s hard to assess how much impact it had in the international art community. However, it’s also difficult to imagine any similar serious exhibition featuring Israeli and Palestinian artists taking place today in any well-respected institution. This incident seems to have been the nail in the coffin of joint Israeli-Palestinian exhibitions. Creative Time is a New York based nonprofit that focuses on public and socially-engaged art. For the past several years they have organized an annual conference (“summit”). Just before the 2012 summit, Egyptian media collective Mosireen cancelled their participation in a statement citing Creative Time’s partnership with the Israeli Center for Digital Art (ICDA) on the summit. The ICDA was one of dozens of international bodies that were going to live stream the conference to their local audiences. Normally, the term “partners” refers to institutions that co-produce or fund an event, but Creative Time naively
misused this term, making for a possibly ambiguous relationship. The irony lies in the ICDA’s consistently progressive if not radical programming, having mounted many “political” exhibitions and projects (including “Liminal Spaces” mentioned below). Several participants in the summit opened their speeches with a statement supporting the boycott of Israel, or supporting Palestine in general. This generated a somewhat tense environment, suggesting that anyone who spoke against the boycott would be ostracized. However, no steps were taken on the part of Creative Time to address the nature of their partnerships with the organizations live-streaming the summit, nor did they use the opportunity to address the situation as a whole during the summit. Eventually, the ICDA issued a statement, followed much later by a statement by Creative Time, mostly explaining the nature of their partnerships and diplomatically stating support for freedom of speech. Again, notwithstanding the validity of the boycott, it was successful in garnering visibility for the BDS movement and its goals amongst a highly influential and politically engaged group of art world personalities. In 2013, despite the turmoil surrounding the previous year’s rendition, Artport, a new, privately-funded residency program in Tel Aviv that focuses on socially-engaged art, live-streamed Creative Time’s 2013 summit, and a few months later mounted Creative Time’s traveling exhibition, “Living As Form.” Circulated by Independent Curators International, the exhibition was first organized in New York in 2011 and surveyed social practice works from around the world. Both the Creative Time summit streaming and later the exhibition of the pared-down traveling version of “Living As Form” took place without incident. However, when a secondary installment of “Living As Form” was mounted a few months later at the Technion in Haifa, as originally planned, several artists withdrew their work and called for the show to be boycotted because the Technion receives state funding (like all Israeli universities, though it is also involved in military arms development). The installment at the Technion, like the one at Artport, was organized by ICI, who manage the traveling show. ICI does not have a policy in place of notifying artists before each rendition of the traveling project. It’s unclear if the artists would have boycotted the Artport installment of “Living As Form” had they known about it. Several statements were is37
The São Paulo Biennial 2014 [ix] A little-known boycott of the biennial took place in 1969 when international artists boycotted the event in protest of the censorship plaguing what at the time was a brutal military dictatorship. [Accessed October 2014]
[x] Liminal Spaces, Chen Tamir, “The Exhibitionist: Journal on Exhibition Making,” March 2014, No. 9. [Accessed October 2014]
sued by parties involved, mostly lamenting internal processes and how they should have notified artists earlier. The story was widely covered by Hyperallergic, with the organizations’ full statement on Art Fag City, and recapped in an article on Mondoweiss.
The most recent large-scale manifestation of the cultural boycott of Israel took place at the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil in September 2014. [ix] The biennial was curated by Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, Oren Sagiv and associated advisors Benjamin Seroussi and Luiza Proença. Oren Sagiv and Galit Eilat are both Israeli, the latter being an outspoken supporter of the BDS campaign and a trailblazer within Israel of curating with a politically informed approach. She founded the Israeli Center for Digital Art in 2001, which had carried out projects like Liminal Spaces, an important research platform and exhibition series for Israeli, Palestinian, and international artists that took place from 2004 – 2006 (more info, including speculations by the organizers on why such a project could not take place today, in my article on the project in The Exhibitionist[x]). It is therefore surprising that the biennial sought and accepted funding from the Israeli consulate, sparking a visible call on behalf of the majority of the participating artists to refuse the funding on BDS grounds. The call was then supported by the curators themselves, who in their statement distanced themselves from the biennial administration that had sought the funding. The situation was resolved in the nick of time by a taped amendment to the sponsorship board that stated that each consulate involved was only supporting artists from their own countries. According to Eilat, she had initially warned the biennial administration staff and board not to approach the Israeli consulate for support, but that board members insisted to follow suit with their general policy of approaching all consulates in Brazil (even those without artists represented in the biennial). According to her, it was unclear until just before the opening whether the consulate would support the biennial. They had not given their answer until 10 days before the opening, probably due to political tensions between Israel and Brazil, who returned their ambassador to express their disapproval of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Only after the newly elected President of Israel called to apol-
ogize did the consulate award funding to the biennial, which promptly added their logo to all print material and wall credits. Once the funding was revealed, artists called for a boycott and pressured many other participating artists into signing the call, and nightly meetings were held to discuss the issue and possible strategies. The compromise that was ultimately reached of having a statement clarifying that each consulate only funds artists from their own country was a way of keeping the funds from the Israeli consulate without having artists pull out of the exhibition. Interestingly, some artists who might have pulled out as a result of not wanting to indirectly accept Israeli funding cited the dangers they might face in their home countries for ostensibly colluding with the State of Israel. (Critics of the boycott were quick to point to funding from the Brazilian government, which has various brutal practices in place, but was not put to question.) Regardless of the validity of the boycott or its compromise, a clear victory was won in terms of raising the international visibility of the BDS campaign as one assumes that other international biennials will likely consider this incident when planning their future exhibitions.
On October 22, 2014, an open letter was published in Spanish[xi] by South American artists, collectors, gallerists, and curators opposing the boycott and deploring the â€œsuppressionâ€? of Israeli funding representation at the Sao Paulo Biennial. The letter is poorly translated to English [xii] English translation follows and appears on a minor online publication called Arte al Dia published Spanish [Accessed October 2014] out of Miami.[xii]
Boycotts of Other Contemporary Art Projects
While the BDS movement is its most widespread and persistent manifestation, the boycott as a tactic to call attention to cultural complicity in systems of power that violate human rights, usually through corporate sponsorship or government funding, has become popular recently at a variety of large-scale contemporary art events around the world â€“ to a point where it might be mistaken as a new form of Institutional Critique. Below is a summary of the major non-Israel boycott events that have shaken the international art world. 39
Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island
Sydney Biennial 2014
[xiii] Sydney Biennale 2016: Belgiorno-Nettis family may be back as sponsors. By Steve Dow, December 2, 2014, The Guardian. [Accessed December 2014]
Abu Dhabi is currently developing Saadiyat Island, a large island off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates that is set to become a massive commercial, residential, and leisure center housing the Middle East’s largest cultural hub. Along with other large-scale initiatives, two major museum franchises are being built on the island, one by the Guggenheim Museum and the other by the Louvre. Both museums have faced criticism for “selling out” and arguably compromising their integrity by pursuing for-profit deals, but stronger criticism was lashed at them in 2011 when over 130 artists signed a boycott statement over the exploitation of the construction workers. In the circulated petition, the artists urged a boycott of both the Louvre and Guggenheim museums over concerns regarding the abuse and exploitation of construction workers employed to develop the complex, and said they would refuse to cooperate with the museums until they guarantee the workers fair conditions, including hiring an independent monitor who will publish their findings of the working conditions. The artists formed a group called GulfLabor, which has continued its work since 2011. However, to date, little has changed on the ground, save for the slight improvement of the working conditions of workers building these specific institutions versus the other construction projects on the island. In March 2014, the Sydney Biennial opened its 19th rendition, but just barely. Before its opening, a boycott by the biennial artists was called targeting its major sponsor, Transfield, a multinational corporation that, among other services such as waste management and public transport, is involved in building and managing Australia’s offshore detention centers for asylum seekers on two islands in Papua New Guinea. Illegal immigration from around the Pacific is one of Australia’s major controversies. Privatizing the detainment and management of such asylum seekers relinquishes the Australian government of culpability for its treatment of refugees while also being financially lucrative for the collaborative companies. The boycott of the 2014 Sydney Biennial began like most boycotts, with a statement by artists followed by much public debate. In fact, it even spread to boycotting the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia because of its ties to Transfield and the biennial. Eventually, the chairman of the board of the Sydney Biennial, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, who also was the CEO of Transfield, stepped down.
[xiv] In 1973, when Transfield established the Sydney biennial, another contemporary art event in Victoria was in chaos due to protesting artists. That same year, the “Mildura Sculpture Triennial was thrown into turmoil after participants, protesting French nuclear testing in the Pacific, objected to a touring exhibition of French artists that was due to visit the city at the same time. Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival continues more than a decade after Forestry Tasmania withdrew its $50,000 sponsorship of the event following a boycott, and the Tasmanian premier at the time, Jim Bacon, quit as chairman of the festival board. The loss of support from Forestry Tasmania occurred after the 2003 festival was boycotted by more than 50 artists, as well as a [...]
Funding from Transfield will be discontinued after the next biennial (they are on a 4-year contract until then), a serious blow for the biennial, which was initially founded by the Transfield founder and former CEO (Belgiorno-Nettis’ father). Like most boycotts, critics claim that the artists “bit the hand that feeds them” and maintain that the boycott will have virtually no effect on government policy towards asylum seekers while jeopardizing the future of the biennial entirely. However, the biennial did eventually find alternative private funding, and it’s speculated that Belgiorno-Nettis will return to the board since recently giving up his shares in Transfield.[xiii]
In 2012, the well-respected “roving European biennial of contemporary art” Manifesta announced that the 2014 edition will be held at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. A few months before the June 2014 opening, the Russian government passed anti-gay laws, including the forbidding of gay “propaganda,” the adoption of Russian children by foreign gay couples, and allowing for the arrest of suspected gay people, including tourists and foreigners. A petition was circulated lobbying Manifesta to relocate. At around this time, Russian forces were making maneuvers into Crimera and essentially initiating a takeover from the Ukraine. Another petition was circulated with the same goal of relocating Manifesta in protest of the Russian aggression against the Ukraine. Manifesta responded with a statement that it will continue as planned with the belief that “the Biennial acts as a catalyst for local and international artistic life, and activates those circles whose desire is to participate in an ongoing discursive platform for international cultural exchange. We believe cancelling the project plays directly into the
[...] result of writers such as Peter Carey Richard Flanagan arguing that forestry sponsorship was part of a logging propaganda campaign.” Biennale boycott is the latest in long line of political protest by artists, March 15, 2014 By Rea Andrew Taylor and Fiona Gruber, The Sunday Morning Herald. [Accessed October 2014]
What’s interesting about this boycott is not only its high international profile, but the question of what had made this year’s biennial, after over 40 years of being sponsored by Transfield, the one to be boycotted? Why did this happen now? Australia has a long history of political campaigns by artists, dating back at least to 1973.[xiv] But perhaps it’s other international boycotts occurring over the past two years that also helped galvanize the movement, especially considering the seeds sowed at the previous biennial through some critical artwork addressing the treatment of asylum seekers.
[xv] Manifesta 10 will stay in St Petersburg, Manifesta. [Accessed October 2014]
[xvi] Controversial Manifesta 10 Organizers Condemn Artists Boycotts, Coline Milliard, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, Artnews. [Accessed October 2014]
[xvii] For an interesting interview between Warsza and Creative Time’s Nato Thompson, see “Engagement or Disengagement? A Conversation About Manifesta 10 with Joanna Warsza” by Nato Thompson in Creative Time Reports, June 26, 2014. [Accessed October 2014]
The Cultural Boycott Within Israel
current escalation of the ‘cold war’ rhetoric and fails to acknowledge the complexity of these geo-politics.”[xv] Notable artists, such as Pawel Althamer and the Russian collective, Chto Delat?, withdrew, but many others remained, including Thomas Hirschhorn, Francis Alÿs, and the provocative Russian photographer Boris Mikhailov. The curators maintained that the show is “political in a larger context” and that displaying contemporary art in Russia is itself a strong statement.[xvi] Manifesta was accompanied by many public programs and events, some relatively provocative and politically inspired.[xvii] However, the exhibition itself is not meant to be overtly provocative, with one series of paintings by Marlene Dumas that was supposed to be titled “Portraits of Famous Gay Men” renamed “Portraits of Famous Men.” Responding to the boycott, the director of the Hermitage said, “There is a very strong trend to isolation in Russia, and all boycotts only make Russia more isolated, and closed. At the Hermitage our historical mission is to keep the doors open.”[xviii] While it’s relatively clear how the cultural boycott operates internationally – categorically avoiding anything funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the boycott guidelines become murky within Israel since they’re directed at international artists in an attempt at generating international pressure on Israel (rather than by Israelis on their own government; in fact, the BDS movement and the turn to internationals is a direct result of Palestinians’ frustration and critique of Israeli civilian peace initiatives and the need for Israeli approval or cooperation to carry out anti-occupation work). While some people have interpreted the BDS guidelines as categorically avoiding anything Israeli or visiting Israel, the BDS movement does not prohibit visiting Israel, but rather with collaborating with a complicit institution. (They encourage visitors to include elements that educate them about the occupation, such as tours of the occupied territories.) Some have argued that for an artist (or anyone else) to visit Israel or take part in an exhibition at an Israeli institution, she or he would be participating in the Israeli economy as a whole by their presence in Israel, or if the institution itself is funded by state monies, thereby colluding with the state. However, this is not a
[xix] Richard Stallman, a computer programmer and activist, also spoke at the Arab-Jewish Theatre. In 2006, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, performed at Neve Shalom, a Jewish-Arab town, though this concert was boycottable because it was organized by Shuki Weiss Productions, a large and “complicit” company that brings many big name musicians to Israel.
[xx] PACBI’s “Criteria for choosing the optimal BDS target” May 4, 2012. [Accessed October 2014] [xxi] PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel (Revised July 2014). [Accessed October 2014]
BDS position, simply a personal preference or possibly a misinterpretation.
A few examples of high-profile visits that were organized within BDS guidelines include journalist and writer Naomi Klein’s visit to the country in 2009, where she spoke at Amidan Theatre in Haifa and at the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa.[xix] Both theatres receive funding from the state, but they follow PACBI’s interesting caveat, stating that all Israeli cultural institutions are boycottable unless they publicly denounce Israel’s violations of international law and accept the full and equal rights of Palestinians. […T]he mere fact that an Israeli institution receives state funding is not a sufficient condition for calling for a boycott against it.[xx] To not be boycottable, the institution should publically recognize Palestinian rights as stated in the 2005 BDS statement (ending the Occupation; granting full equality to Israeli Arabs; and recognizing the Palestinian right of return) and end any of its complicity in violating Palestinian rights, including discriminatory policies and practices as well as diverse roles in whitewashing or justifying Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.[xxi]
Where does this leave Israeli contemporary art institutions, most of which receive state funding through the Ministry of Culture? While writing a statement to make themselves “kosher” according to BDS might seem benign enough (as the Israeli Center for Digital Art has done), such an organization is liable to lose its funding given what some describe as the country’s current “McCarthyism.” What I’m referring to is the violence faced by anti-war demonstrators and the repercussions faced by some who have expressed any opinion divergent from uniformly supporting the offensive on Gaza, including actors and filmmakers who expressed pity for the Palestinian loss of life and subsequently had contracts revoked and were made to apologize, or had their lives threadened. One artist in particular, Arkadi Zaides, has been repeatedly plagued for a video and dance piece that incorporates footage from B’Tselem’s video program (for which video cameras are given to Palestinians to document conflicts with neighboring settlers). And of course, in 2011, the Israeli government passed the “Boycott Law” wherein anyone calling for a boycott of Israel could be sued or penalized, including 43
[xxii] Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott, Wikipedia. [Accessed October 2014]
the withdrawal of tax benefits, contracts, even scholarships for study. [xxii] (Still, some radical activists within Israel openly support the boycott, such as the group Boycott from Within.)[xxiii]
[xxiv] “Political strings” refers to the preconditions of grant recipients to directly serve the Israeli government through “propaganda” or the positive portrayal of Israel. In an unusual policy, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires its grant recipients (artists, writers, filmmakers, etc.) to sign a contract that states, “The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”
Israeli cultural products (as opposed to public events) that are funded by official Israeli bodies but not commissioned or otherwise attached to any political strings are not per se subject to boycott. Israeli cultural products that receive state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and propaganda interests, are not boycottable.[xxiv]
[xxiii] www.boycottisrael.info [Accessed October 2014]
PACBI, specifically for the cultural boycott, unlike the economic boycott, makes an interesting and possibly vital distinction between state funding that is part of the general operations of a country, like grants from the Ministry of Culture, and monies geared at international “hasbara” (Public Relations) through culture, specifically funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As stated in their guidelines:
Many individual artists and curators in Israel have traditionally been at the forefront of social activism and continue to be politically engaged within Israel today, but with limited means. Their most visible contributions seem to be donations to art auctions that benefit various NGOs and activist groups, including a large-scale art sale in September 2014 to raise funds for medical aid in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge PACBI Guidelines for the Interna- that was organized by two Israeli artists based in Berlin. However, little tional Cultural Boycott of Israel has been happening that deals directly with the boycott. (Revised July 2014). [Accessed October 2014]
[xxv] This is an important distinction between the BDS boycott, and the boycott of South Africa, which was a categorical boycott.
Although the PACBI guidelines and the BDS movement do not target individuals (only institutions), such nuance is at times sacrificed by some in favor of a “black and white” approach, making it easiest for people to simply blanket boycott all Israelis and Israeli-related organizations, what some might call “politically correct anti-Semitism,” or simply to disengage entirely.[xxv] The result can be cause to argue that the BDS campaign, whether purposefully or not, target’s Israel’s very existence
[xxvi] “Arguing that boycotting Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic is not only false, but it also presumes that Israel and “the Jews” are one and the same. This is as absurd and bigoted as claiming that a boycott of a self-defined Islamic state like Saudi Arabia, say, because of its horrific human rights record, would of necessity be Islamophobic.” In Why Israel Fears the Boycott By Omar Barghouti Jan. 31, 2014, The New York Times. [Accessed October 2014]
rather than its government’s policies. This is one of the major fault lines of the BDS debate, with those opposing it arguing that it veils and promotes anti-Semitism or discriminates against Israelis collectively, while those supporting it distinguish between the Israeli government’s policies and the Jewish people or the Israeli population (as Omar Barghouti, a key member of PACBI, wrote in a recent op-ed in the New York Times.[xxvi])
The unfortunate byproducts of a boycott, such as the price individual Israelis pay personally for their national identity, or even the very validity of a boycott, may be secondary to its ability to raise awareness around an issue. More than anything, it is a highly potent PR tool, with the potential to reach far more people than might an exhibition or an artwork. Here lies the second fault line of the boycott: The tension between the content of a work of art and its socio-political and economic context. Many argue that the boycott blocks dialogue specifically where it is needed most; that works of art can reach people who wouldn’t normally be exposed to cultural exchange and goad them to thinking in more complex, open, and holistic ways. In this way, a work of art holds the potential to broaden political awareness and enrich cultural ties. The counter-argument maintains that most artwork is not politically engaged, or not engaged enough, and even if it were, it colludes with the oppressive regime through which it was produced. In other words, political works of art act as a “fig leaf,” justifying a colonialist regime through lending credence to a false democracy; i.e. for every critical documentary film or political work of art the Israeli government can build another settlement on occupied land. Those in favor of a complete cultural boycott will point out a further extended problem with the argument of seeing art as a means of socio-political exchange: Who determines whether a work of art is political enough to be an exception to the boycott? Linear reason will lead to an “art police” or censor tasked with sorting exceptions to a cultural boycott, which is not only ethically problematic, but also highly impractical. One obvious factor in the increase in boycotts internationally is the Internet, which makes communication between and amongst networks of artists and activists more fluid and instantaneous, allowing for the am45
plification of any given boycott. The abundance of independent news sources and blogs about contemporary art make coverage much more widespread, particularly in the case of boycotts, which are easily put into effect through the simple dissemination of an online statement or petition. Notwithstanding any cynical allusions to “armchair activism” or “clicktivism,” the Internet naturally lends itself to grassroots organization, with a good example being the São Paulo Biennial statements made by the boycotting artists, which are very visible online in contrast to those opposing them. It’s clear that within the international field of contemporary art the trend to boycott is gaining momentum. A recent attempt to counter the boycott was organized by mostly Austrian and some German intellectuals and artists, but it’s unclear yet if it will have much effect. (It’s interesting that such a call came from Germany, with their loaded relationship to Israel and Germany’s “left” polarized between the camp that supports Israel and the camp that supports Palestine.) In any case, after the recent events in São Paulo, biennials around the world will reconsider requesting funding from the Israeli government, and may think twice before inviting Israeli artists, especially ones based in Israel. This grants urgency to the cultural work being done on the ground in Israel, where individuals and institutions may soon find themselves feeling increasingly isolated.
A digital version of this essay complete with active hyperlinks can be accessed on www.bbpgallerie.com. Pervious versions of this report can be found through Artis and Hyperallergic.
Artis (artiscontemporary.org) is privately-funded nonprofit organization that broadens international awareness of contemporary art from Israel. In addition to my role as curator at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, I also serve as Program Associate of Artis. Hyperallergic (hyperalleric.com) is a Brooklyn-based arts blogazine.
Special thanks to Galit Eilat, Nir Harel, Ranie Lavie, Romi Mikulinsky, Joseph del Pesco, Michal Sapir, and Kobi Snitz for feedback and to Leah Abir, Hila Cohen-Schneiderman, Omer Krieger, Avi Lubin, and Joshua Simon for feedback and their translation of this report to Hebrew.
Jackson Davidow // Notes on Peace/Process/Art
Following Israel’s decisive land victories during the 1967 SixDay War, it was evident that peacemaking between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries would not ensue quickly. By the mid-1970s “peace process” became the common phrase used to chronicle the American-led attempts to achieve peace between Arabs and Israelis. The advent of “peace process,” an expression quite routine and accepted in today’s world, marked a significant shift in diplomatic approaches to the conflict. Instead of focusing on which singular operation could attain peace in the region, these post-1967 efforts aimed in more explicit terms to devise new processes to arrive to such a point.
Roland Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (19771978), translated by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 16.
Ever since the Rogers Peace Plan of 1970, the peace process in Israel-Palestine has been and continues to be akin to what Roland Barthes might call “the paradoxical infinity of weariness: the endless process of ending.”1 Yet weariness is just one type of affect associated with the violence, displacement, exile, and trauma experienced by many of those involved in the durational conflict, particularly the Palestinians who are subjected to occupation, settler-colonialism, and ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West Bank at the hands of the powerful Israeli regime. 49
Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains one of the most complex and contentious concerns worldwide in relation to intersecting cultural identifications linked to race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, and sexuality. For that reason, the peace process is not simply a process steeped in political treaties, summits, and negotiations. This political process is also a cultural one, through which the important notion of identification as an unfurling process emerges. It is impossible to conceive culture outside of the peace process and the peace process outside of culture. Unlike the political process, however, this cultural process stretches back to long before the foundation of the State of Israel and the Nakba of 1948.
2 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press,  1994), 392.
Politics of identification invariably dominate every debate about Israel-Palestine. And it is in the realm of culture where these debates are most passionate and poignant. Many writers and artists have grappled with the important ties between identification, difference, and representation through the lens of Hegel’s dialectics of power. As cultural theorist Stuart Hall proposes, for example, “[p]erhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, … we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.”2
Likewise, visual arts discourses and practices have played a crucial role both in Israel-Palestine and internationally in negotiating subjectivities in the endless process of the shifting identification of the Self in relation to the Other. In light of the peace process as an “endless process of ending,” it is necessary to regard identification as a durational process of the unfolding and opening up of identity, as epitomized in the visual arts that pivot around the conflict.
The tragic circumstances in Israel-Palestine is both founded on and exacerbated by the rigid binaries that inhibit people from hearing and understanding each other. The conventional adversarial categories of Jew/Zionist/Israeli/Colonizer and Arab/ Anti-Semite/Palestinian/Colonized are particularly exhausted. Hegel, however, complicates this binary paradigm in the context of war, pos-
iting that the enemy is not the opposing Other, but rather a difference in ethics, or an ethical difference, that is not a product but a processual Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, System “activity of production.”3 Philosophers such as Nietzsche, Marx, and Enof Ethical Life (1802/3) and first Philos- gels have furthermore demonstrated the close ties between ethics and ophy of Spirit (Part II of the System of ideology, inasmuch as ethics is merely codification of political ideology. Speculative Philosophy 1803/4), edited and translated by H. S. Harris and T. M. Knox (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1979), 147.
Whereas ethical or ideological difference is the enemy for Hegel, Palestinian-American theorist Edward Said sees in this Hegelian model the potential for social change. In his seminal 1985 essay “An Ideology of Difference,” Said argues that the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resides in the realms of “creative difference” and “different logics.” Rather than either assenting to or criticizing the State of Israel, he argues that different logics can and must be activated through drawing a distinction “between both attitudes, a distinction open to both attiEdward Said, “An Ideology of Differ- tudes and to the future.”4 Through deliberately transforming this difference,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1, “Race,” ence into something creative, through stepping over policed ideological Writing, and Difference (Autumn, boundaries of difference, new logics for peace-building and social jus1985), 57. tice can arise. In the spirit of Said’s proposition, artists, activists, and theorists in Israel-Palestine and around the world have embraced the arts to interpret and engage with this difference in a variety of creative ways through contending for different logics in the peace process. The art world is but a microcosm of the region’s heated geopolitics.
The difficulty of the hyphen in Israel-Palestine is that it asserts a symmetry between the two sides (and that there are, in fact, just two). To regard this conflict or war as a struggle between two sides on an equal footing is inaccurate and unethical. Too frequently the world denies Palestinians the ability and resources to represent themselves, to articulate their own vital concerns, histories, and cultures. They are usually the objects of reductive regimes of representation, rendered bipolarly into bloodthirsty terrorists or impotent victims. Infiltrating all realms of culture and media, these images help to perpetuate the ugly age-old tropes of Orientalism.
In peace process art, many Israeli and Zionist institutions have instrumentalized the deceitful hyphen between Israel-Palestine in order to suggest a balance of culpability. They eagerly mobilize art in order to 51
massage the atrocities of the occupation and other systems of oppression. In this way, “peacemaking” is a convenient catchphrase that rarely signifies a desire for a just peace. While many Israelis and Zionists who benefit from the everyday mechanics of the occupation abstractly pontificate about peace, Palestinians are more inclined to invoke justice. The great irony of peace process art lies in its didactic propensity to build peace through dialogue without any dialogue. Peace process art has little interest in constructing platforms on which Palestinians can actually stand, speak, and be heard. Against this backdrop, Palestinian civil society has promoted an international cultural boycott of Israeli state-sponsored institutions since 2004 as a part of the larger Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. The boycott stems from the fact that these institutions are complicit with the state violence committed against Palestinians, for they participate in the cultural whitewashing of the occupation, in what has come to be known as normalization. Supported by many Israelis, Palestinians, and cultural workers across the globe, the campaign can be deemed a creative actualization of Said’s call for different logics in the peace process.
In his year-long project “here, without,” artist and curator Ethan Pierce has assembled an impressive range of thinkers and artists of many identifications to mentor Harvard University students as they cultivate their own creative projects on the subject of Israel-Palestine. What drives the enterprise is not the coming together of these cultural figures to talk with each other, as in much peace process art, but rather the students’ conversations with them and with each other. Processual by nature, “here, without” has continuously reevaluated its scope, ambitions, products, and itineraries since its very origins in the spring of 2014. Pierce has also described the project as a learning process; the conceptual and practical fumbles along the way have proved productive for adjusting and recasting his course of action.
“Here, without” departs from the model of peace process art that wants to envision a dinner party where all sides are given a place setting and are encouraged to have a conversation. Yet one has to wonder if it is
indeed developing a new type of engagement as a neutral platform for art. After all, there’s a thin line between participation and normalization. Even without financial support from Israeli state-sponsored institutions, to lay claim to neutrality is itself a political act that merits ethical interrogation, especially within the context of the world’s richest university that everyday plays an active role in the occupation. Put differently, an ethics of neutrality does not pave the way for forms of social justice.
Despite all this, the most compelling part of this project is its emphasis on processual thinking. As the peace process continues to drag on, art serves as a site where these young artists can work through their shifting political and cultural identifications. The final creative product is eclipsed by the processes involved to arrive to this distant point. Like “here, without,” an uncertain fragment that opens itself up to the future, these artworks seem less invested in peace than in process. And herein lies the project’s strength.
Josh Ascherman // Judaism, Zionism and Personal Value Negotiation “That’s like ripping up Israel,” I say to a classmate at Solomon Schechter school in one of the earliest memories I have—a memory which I cannot place certainly in a specific time but in which I have to be in either kindergarten or first grade. He has thrown his Hebrew textbook onto a desk from several feet away, and I’m telling him that what he’s done is wrong. My protective impulse had to be driven partially by a juvenile desire to be holier than something, but something else was at play in the situation—the fundamental assumption that speaking on behalf of Israel was the way to find high morality. I felt that to disrespect Israel was a heinous offense. It had something to do with my sense of Jewish values, and further, my sense that Jewish values were the values by which I needed to live. I come from a family of Jewish immigrants to the United States. My maternal grandfather, a Polish Jew, was imprisoned in Siberia during the Holocaust. He met my grandmother—his future wife—while travelling in South America; her family, also Jewish, was living in Colombia, having moved from Romania a generation earlier. My father’s parents, too, 55
are Jews of European descent. I myself was raised in a conservative household in the religious sense, but my parents both vote Democrat and would, I suspect, self-describe as liberals. But they did send me to Schechter school, where I was told time and again that Israel was my home as a Jew.
I remember a lot of the tenets of my Jewish upbringing: avoid lashon hara (Hebrew for “bad tongue,” or gossip), do tikkun olam (“fixing the world”), ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha (“love thy neighbor as thyself”). But I also remember the first time I learned about Palestine—not the land of milk and honey which lay ripe for conquest but the nation of Palestine, Palestinian people, the displaced. I must have been in fourth or fifth grade: it was a picture of my uncle, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, in the newspaper, being dragged legs first across the dirt by Israeli policemen, his shirt half-off. Not until then was I told what my uncle does. Rabbi Ascherman, my father’s brother, is one of the founders of Rabbis for Human Rights, an activist organization which fights human rights transgressions in Gaza and the West Bank by direct actions like blocking with their own bodies the bulldozers which would otherwise demolish Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories. For these actions they are liable to be arrested. When I think of my uncle, I invariably return to the image of him helpless in the dirt, legs bound by the police. When I think of Palestine, I invariably return to thoughts of my uncle.
And yet, Rabbi Ascherman is far from anti-Israel, far even from anti-Zionist. He himself made Aliyah—moved to Israel from the United States. And the most challenging thing for me is the dogmatic basis of his activism—it’s rooted directly in the teachings of Judaism, the same tikkun olam and ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha I’ve been bombarded with since childhood, the same sense, perhaps, of Jewish values. I don’t know what exactly these Jewish values are; I think that they are unnamable to a certain degree. But I also don’t know how to negotiate a personal value set or an individual identity within the context of my family. For example, I can say with confidence that the actions of the Israeli government in Palestine do not fit with my values, and yet, even now, I feel a residual uneasiness in thinking of the family members who might see my work or read this essay. I don’t know if my conclusions are grounded in an
agnostic sensibility or in a deeply embedded attachment to the Jewish values my family adheres to. And it’s possible that the mention of my uncle’s legal record—and the reverence with which I mean to consider it—will offend the more gung-ho supporters of Israel. Seeing the photograph of my uncle’s arrest was the first thing to complicate my understanding of ethics in world politics. It was a kind of whirlwind moment. Now, at Harvard, complexity is the only constant in the political discourse in which I engage. It seems that this complexity has become a crutch for me: I feel some compulsion to think of the violence in Israel-Palestine as part of an enormously complicated social structure, rather than as one aspect of a black-and-white occupier-occupied relationship. I am afraid to call it a black-and-white occupation because it confuses my sense of morality and my family allegiances, so I “opt out” by assuming that there is no place for my voice in a complicated situation to which I am a clear outsider.
I have learned through the self-exploration I’ve done during the past year that there is a way in which this sort of thinking is a justification of neutrality, which, in turn, preserves the status quo: by determining to complicate and remove myself from the situation, I am essentially siding with the occupier, the dominant power. I am still somewhat uncomfortable attaching this epithet to the State of Israel. But I am learning to bypass this discomfort both in thinking about Israel-Palestine and in engaging with my family and my “cultural” Jewishness. I hope that this will finally help me to isolate the values that come not from religious doctrine but from the greatest depths of myself, and that these values will lead me to stand in solidarity with the oppressed wherever and whenever I can.
Reina Gattuso // The Immature Politics of Friendship When the bombs started dropping during summer 2014—Hamas’s rockets largely deflected by Iron Dome; Israel’s largely hitting Gaza, and humans—I was sitting behind a computer screen in Delhi. July in Delhi is a fretful season. It is heavy, parched if the rains haven’t yet come, the tarmac sizzling like a dish at a restaurant, humidity rolling in over the floodplains. I was in Delhi on an internship with funding from Harvard University. I spent the sweltering days hunched behind a computer screen in an AC office, punching numbers about Indian democracy. I spent my nights wandering, drugged-feeling in the buzzy heat, around the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU, where I had friends, and where I had studied as an exchange student the year before. JNU is a university whose student union features a handful of communist student political parties, and only one or two capitalist ones. Its walls are adorned with the racing stripes of diverse Indian leftisms: The Communists, the Marxists-Leninist Communists, the Maoists, all with various configurations of hammer, sickle, and stars. And it was to this campus, far away (it felt) from Harvard and its cobblestones, its glimmering rooms bubbling with champagne, its ties to Wall Street, its 59
ties to the machines that produce war, that I went to figure out what was going on, and what I should think about it.
One of these unions hosted a talk in the student dining hall. The dogs flopped their ears lazily in front of the path, but inside it crackled: Israel—and their ally, the United States—and their other ally, India—was waging an occupation. As humans, as citizens of countries who were involved in the conflict—who sold arms or gave aid or gave moral support; who were hurt, who were implicated—it was our job to stand against this occupation.
I was on board with this. I had been here long enough, I had loved enough people who took enough time to explain to me enough things, to know where my ethics were. I was also stuffed to my gills with, only able to be in this room because of, Harvard University money. American, more or less.
There’s a particular feeling you get when you’re the only American in a room full of people who know you’re the bad guy. For the phenotypically white, and for those who speak with the kinds of accents seen, the world over, on American TV, the arrow points straight at you. “Welcome to my life in America,” said one of the students of color on the exchange program I had been on the year before, invisible for the first time in his life. Here is the starkness of the realization, for those whose experiences of race and class and citizenship are not one primarily of internal colonization: The revelation of our own complete and utter lack of neutrality. The notion that not only are we not neutral—but that our alliances have been set for us under the invisibility cloak of power.
One speaker, in the middle of the hot hall, particularly struck me. Make no mistake, he said: Israel’s actions are bad. Israel’s actions are very bad. Israel is a bad guy.
But Hamas is no better; the question is one of scale. We would stand against actions that caused human suffering, and for people who were, collectively, being aggressed upon; that meant standing against exercis-
ers of power who disposed of human life. But no state was the paragon of justice, no group the holder of an ideal, no ideal more valuable than human flesh.
Elsewhere in this volume, Jackson Davidow speaks of the “deception of the hyphen”—the mischaracterization of the conflict as an equal one in a pose of neutrality, or “balance.” This is the erasure of human iniquity that occurs when we confuse the legitimacy of each human’s individual and subjective suffering with the justness of their government’s material course. We advocate a two-state solution, the speaker said on that hot July evening as the dogs rolled over, growled. Until we can achieve no states at all.
I had been here a year earlier: On this campus, and in this new visibility, an exchange student fresh off the plane. The weather was cooler—the monsoon had been and gone—and I sat at the rickety plastic table of the university dhaba drinking tea with Kamayani. Kamayani is a feminist, loud and brilliant; she walks with a swagger that commands the room. We drank ginger tea in the early evening, dogs at our feet, talking with one of my American friends about Indian diasporic funding of Hindu nationalist organizations.
“It’s horrible,” the (white) American friend was saying, describing a time when he scolded an Indian-American friend for vocally supporting the Hindu nationalist agenda of the BJP. “I don’t know,” I told him, reluctant to make a statement of identification. “I don’t think it’s your role to tell an Indian-American person what their Indian politics should be. It’s not your country.” Kamayani lit, suddenly, with an ire that surprised me. “Listen,” she said to me. “I don’t want to hear any of this bullshit about what your place is, about something being your place or not your place. This is the problem with your kind of brand of social justice relativism. Some things are 61
not relativistic. Hindu nationalism is bad. Period. And if you’re going to be our friend, if you’re going to be my friend, you’re going to have to take a stand with me.” If you’re my friend, you’re going to have to take a stand.
A politics of friendship is not a politics of “friends.” It is not a smallworld-after-all diorama of a world united, of the capitalists and the communities holding hands, of Israelis and the Palestinians sharing (as Davidow writes elsewhere in this volume) a dinner party; it is no multiracial college brochure.
Rather, alongside postcolonial theorist Leela Gandhi, we can name a politics of friendship—the politics that animates the collective “here, without” project—as the location of minor traditions of oppositionality within the macro alignment of states. In the historical work Affective Communities, Gandhi searches for the “multiple, secret unacknowledged friendships and collaborations” between anti-colonial Indians, and anti-imperial Westerners. We can look toward “those invisible affective gestures that refuse alignment along the secure axes of filiation” to forge sometimes uneasy, but profoundly human, alliances of affect.1 Gandhi further applies this historical analysis to today’s world, where1-2 Gandhi, Leela. Imagined Commu- in, she argues, “a range of individuals find it increasingly difficult ennities. (Durham: Duke University tirely to condone the international commitments and networks forged Press, 2006), 10. by their governments”2.
This claim to oppositional misalignment from the macro interest of states is not a claim to innocence. We cannot identify out of our own complicity in domination, our own benefit at others’ harm, the millions of ways in which our own security, our well-being, our daily bread—for those of us who are American, and for all of us who are affiliated with Harvard—occurs on a stage made of the backs of other human beings. But we don’t have to like it.
A politics of friendship is, thus, this yearning for collaboration—complex, situated, uncomfortable and uncertain, but animated by a gutsy,
engaged, curious, human love—with people from whom our flag would keep us.
It is precisely within this this “minor tradition” of affective solidarity, across the binarism of colonial logic—precisely this politics of partiality not to one’s nation but to one’s friends—that “here, without” resides. We can only sing with our own voices; we can only feel with our own hands. We can only live in our own flesh, and we can only reach out—in confusion, in earnestness, in hope; under the shadow of, but not choked by, flags—with the length of our own arms.
A politics of friendship is, at its heart, an undeveloped politics. Youthful, utopian, naive, sure to fumble, sure to misstep. This is its virtue. Gandhi 3 Gandhi, Leela. Imagined Commu- writes, “I hope to defend “immaturity” as the ethical and philosophinities. (Durham: Duke University cal hallmark—the crucial ingredient—in that politics of friendship to Press, 2006), 13. which this book is ultimately committed.”3
Similarly: I hope to defend our immaturity, our complex, sometimes selectively blind-eyed, blindsided negotiations with standpoint and immersion, with collaboration and distance. I hope to defend the immaturity of “here, without’s” artistic wanderings, the immaturity of our earnest attempts to make art that does no harm. May we let the minor politics of our friendship be the precise undoing of those ideals for which bodies are posited as disposable. May our immaturity disarm.
Aithan Shapira HOPE “Hope is integral—some is collected, some is inherited. I want, I think we all want, for it to be a simple, beautifully elegant thing, but the more you draw from it, it begins to look more like despair, or re-purposed despair. There is a similar reasoning behind starting a new work of art.” —Shapira
Hope “casts” light on the gravity of Israeli-American international artist Aithan Shapira’s recent work. Shapira asks what hope looks like today, and has created a universal symbol from an abandoned life preserver. His subject matter spans more than a decade on three continents tackling conflicting fields of view, whether simultaneously addressing two sides of a wall or matters of migration or of false hope. Over the years, he the abandoned life preserver has evolved in his work: one cut from discarded cardboard, another painted in a fox trap, and he’s recently “cast” hundreds made of concrete to those who it is too late to save. For him, hope anchors 2015 political, economic, and environmental campaigns; it is the driving force for personal ambitions under the 68
stresses of the current global climate; hope is simultaneously the aspiration to end wars and the catalyst to begin them—a measure of human life. “It’s the poetry of human potential,” he remarks about the exhibit as a step toward greater vision for art and our generation’s ability to make societal and cultural change. “My work is not about me, it is a mirror of us, and it does not show what we are but reflects what we can become.”
These concrete symbols will be part of an upcoming solo exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. opening in May 2015, and then as part of a different one-person show at the JCC Manhattan, NY in October 2015.
Born to Israeli parents in America, Shapiraâ€™s life has always encompassed multiple viewpoints that translate into his paintings, prints and concrete works. He assembles contradictions by inverting depths of field, juxtaposing velvety inflections against grittier passages, and shifting fields of view to ask us to consider the malleability in which the same object can take on vastly different meanings. In addition to these concrete symbols, he has created a suite of paintings on patterns in nature that are made entirely of paint he made himself by mixing soil from the Judean Desert and olive tree ash with oil. The shapes and light from these pieces have informed a series of his work over the years including site-specific, 30-ft. painted arches for Kehillat Yaar Ramot Synagogue, Jerusalem and concrete cactus (sabras) walls he created for a collaboration in London that was featured in the Jerusalem Post in 2013.
Alistair Debling This spring I spent ten days in Israel and Palestine as part of a programme that brought 50 Harvard students to the region in order to experience first hand the conflicted lives of those living on either side of the Palestinian Wall – a physical boundary between Israel and the West Bank (sometimes concrete, sometimes wire) which plays a crucial role in the cycle of conflict in the area. Both an indicator of the Green Line border drawn between Israel and the West Bank during the 1949 Armistice Agreements and a reminder of Israel’s disloyalty to this very boundary (the wall itself strays much deeper into Palestinian territory than the official line), it is a political and ideological hinge on which the conflict hangs. “Up Against the Wall!” is my response to the Palestinian Wall, and the title itself is a reference to the humiliation faced by many Palestinians who attempt to cross the border. The Palestinian Wall is covered with graffiti. Like the artwork on the Berlin Wall, this graffiti often 70
works to unsettle and challenge the permanence of the wall itself – creating counterfactual murals in which it doesn’t exist, or would be easily penetrated. For example, the British artist, Banksy, creates portals through the wall to a paradise filled will blue sky and palm trees. These manifest themselves through wall paintings resembling curtains being drawn aside, pages that are turned over, views through domestic windows, or simply holes that have been blasted in the concrete. I have referenced his image of blue sky on the other side of concrete in my own piece. By leaning my section of the wall “up against” the solid, concrete wall of the CCVA I call into question its permanence and suggest that, like its equivalent in the Middle East, it could easily be taken away. One aspect of my time in Israel that was particularly overwhelming was sheer number of voices that wanted to be heard. With every group, political or not, that we spoke to there was a different
perspective and a further set of complications. In the Middle East, the Palestinian Wall is a space in which these voices are made manifest, with layers of graffiti in multiple languages appearing on its surface. I have chosen to replicate this in my project and have chosen to take comments from Facebook (another “wall”) in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, and post them on this new wall. The unintelligibility of many of the messages (because the text is either obscured or in a foreign language) speaks to the difficulty of creating a dialogue between the two sides of the conflict. Above all I wanted to express my own concern dealing with the conflict as a western artist. Banksy’s work, for instance, was not welcomed by all Palestinians (even though he felt he was politically aligned with them). One man specifically took offence to the aesthetic nature of the intervention, stating, “we don’t want [the wall] to be beautiful. We hate the wall.” In the book, Against the Wall
(another inspiration for the title of my piece) one can see how Banksy’s murals have been painted over, in one case by the image of bricks. I, too, have bricked up the hole in my wall, using an aerial image of Gaza (the uneasy situation in Gaza is often cited by Israeli officials as a reason for maintaining the Palestinian Wall). The final message of the project is “THIS IS MY OCCUPATION.” This message, and the double meaning of the word occupation (as both vocation and military occupation) speaks to a concern I have that as an artist I, too, could be the unwelcome occupier of a foreign conflict. Alistair Debling is a visual artist who creates mixed media installations that engage with recent (and often fictionalized) histories, using the gallery as an extension of social thought and dialogue. His work is concerned with the issues encountered at the intersections between theatrical spaces, military territories, and the virtual world. 71
Alistair Debling Up Against The Wall! Installation view. Mixed Media. 8 x 12 ft.
Awais Hussain There are many levels on which an artist can engage with Israel and Palestine, but there is a tendency to reciprocate the magnitude of the situation in one's work. In a place where people are in a state of constant evolution, change, and growth, I found it immensely worthwhile to focus in on the very small - the mind state of a single individual. In this piece, I launched a thought exercise into what the day-to-day life of a Palestinian might be like. Of course, my empathetic ability is severely inadequate, but I quickly latched on to the idea of role models and hero-worship - exploring the idea of what aspiration might look like for someone living in Palestine. In the debate, and in our discussions with residents from both Israel and Palestine, I was struck by how people were able to find room for hope even in times of extreme despair. I became curious about what hope looks like for someone who is still in a formative part of their life. Awais Hussain is a senior at Harvard studying physics and philosophy. He first traveled to Israel/Palestine in the spring of 2014. He has previously produced work in the visual arts - painting, drawing and sculpture.
Awais Hussain Untitled Layered cardboard
Azadeh Tajpour Detail from Point of view of the drone Graphite pencil on vellum, 7.5 x 13.5 in. each. Photo by Tomi Grgicevi.
Point of view of the Drone is an installation of seven drawings based on video stills from a footage captured by an American drone from Afghanistan released by the Iranian government after it was captured in 2011. While American drones are being used extensively throughout the Middle East, people of Gaza are also living under the gaze of the drones that are being used for both surveillance as well as military strikes. They report a sense of permanent exposure under this constant “observations.”
Azadeh Tajpour is interested in the ways in which we receive and perceive information, especially the lenses through which we look at “others” exploring the gray area and the shifting borders between “us” and “other.” Here, the blurry and ambiguous fragments reflect the distortion of our assumed realities. The transformation of the video as a moving image to the still drawings reflects our subjective lenses. Moreover, it connotes to the fragmentations of the experience. Azadeh Tajpour was born in Tehran, Iran. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Claremont Graduate University. She is a recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Fellowship Award. She has participated in Boston Center for the Arts Artist Residency, the Symposium of Contemporary Art of Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec, and Art Omi Artist Residency. She has exhibited at New Art Center and Boston Center for the Arts as wells as in group exhibitions in UK and Los Angeles. Tajpour is currently is the Editorial Assistant at Women’s World in Qajar Iran (WWQI) Digital Archive at Harvard University.
Phase Transition [ing]
Phase Transition[ing] explores the processes of creation and desensitization. The three components of the piece reflect the essential elements of human undertakings: that which is destroyed, that which is created, and the blindness of the process itself. The piece attempts to reveal these universal aspects of human endeavors that are more clearly perceived with a distanced vantage point. The art piece explores the oblivious facets of desensitization, and stands as a homage to the pieces of human flesh we are desensitized to. Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Delfina Martinez-Pandiani is a Harvard College student with varied interests. Her visual art and poetry is informed by her academic explorations of a wide variety of fields, including biology, astrophysics, architecture, queer theory, and gender studies, among others. 81
Delphine Rodrik 82
Street Talk In the summer of 2014, responding to violence in Gaza not too far away, Istanbulâ€™s streets spilled over with anger. Graffiti, posters, and stamps plastered across the city seemed to shape the most recent war into Istanbulâ€™s own. My ongoing documentation of this graffiti while it fades--and doesnâ€™t--explores how stories about Palestine and Israel are told from a distance. As paint loses luster and banners tear, these images reveal fragmented understandings, perceptions. Yet these are the slogans and symbols that stick, blending gradually into the visual landscape until no longer striking. While physically present, they are hardly noticed at all. Delphine Rodrik is a 2014 alumna of Harvard College, where she studied History & Literature and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. She wrote her thesis on the role of Bedouin in Middle Eastern nationalisms and is currently living in Turkey. 85
Efe Murad 86
Amman Tapes I was in Jordan for the summer of 2015 and able to talk to some of the locals, who were first or second generation Palestinian refugees, concerning the Israeli-Palestinian confict. I was in Amman at the height of Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip and I had some heated discussions with taxi drivers about Israeli and Arab politics. I have two sound recordings along with a couple of recordings of the heated Friday prayer sermons and radio programs on Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip. The theme that I want to deal with in my work, is the issue of revenge/retribution; however, rather than dealing with this confict from the humanitarian perspective, the people that I talked to were more fixated on the idea of revenge.
My poem “Amman Tapes” is a montage of my recorded discussions with these two taxi drivers. In the first section of the poem, the first driver talks about how it is actually the Arab countries that caused the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at first place. He accuses the Jordanian government killing nearly seventy thousand people during the Black September events in 1971 and claims that the hesitation of current Arab politicians all around the Middle East in helping Palestine is a conscious decision of making Palestinians suffer. However, the second driver believes that Israel is the arch enemy and should be eliminated from the region by a coalition of Islamist Arabs who believe in the supremacy of Allah. Both of these taxi drivers were not fluent in English, so the English text is in most cases grammatically incorrect. Their English was full of run-on sentences and incorrect constructions. To be faithful to the material, I left the recordings as they are.
Efe Murad studied philosophy at Princeton and is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Ottoman History and Arabic Philosophy at Harvard. He has published five books of poetry, and three books of translations from the Iranian poets M. Azad and Fereydoon Moshiri and from the American poet C. K. Williams in Turkish. Together with poet Sidney Wade, he prepared a selection of Melih Cevdet Anday’s poetry in English, which won the Meral Divitçi Award for Turkish Poetry in Translation. His poems, writings and translations in English have appeared in journals including The American Reader, Asymptote, Denver Quarterly, Jacket, Poet Lore, Talisman, and Two Lines. His poems appeared in an installation piece “Pivot” by the American-Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander at the opening of the 13th Istanbul Biennial. He is currently working on the complete Turkish translations of Ezra Pound’s Cantos.
Ege Yumusak Halva is an elegy–not Halva, my artwork, but Halva the sticky blob of sugar that my grandmother would thrust in front of me after dinner. She consumed it in silence, as I struggled to swallow my smallest bites. She prayed to Allah for her dead, sometimes silently, sometimes in loud sighs.
When I started working on a project for here, without I looked for a way in—a way into an elegy of sorts: For the tragedy of Jewish and Muslim people, the tragedy of humanity, and for ruins, ruins, sand and relics. My grandmother’s faith, realized in a ritual of consuming a common dessert across Middle East, offered me the material I was looking for. But I wanted to reimagine it with borrowed, native ingredients. My Halva is made out of Earth that I acquired from Israel/Palestine. It is bounded by flimsy plexi walls, that hide a shape that belongs to Israel/Palestine, deemed “stolen object” by some, or “common history” by others. The object is an elegiac city made out of sand, a case study in Earth and Plexi.
Ege Yumusak is from Istanbul, Turkey. She writes short fiction and prose poetry, and makes installation art. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in neurobiology with a secondary in philosophy at Harvard University. She is driven by questions regarding consciousness and conscience. She credits Italo Calvino for the invisible cities that her work occupies, and Jorge Luis Borges for magic that makes art real.
Ege Yumusak Halva: a case study in Earth and Plexi Earth from Masada, sand from the West Bank and Dead Sea, and red volcanic earth from Golan Heights, and pistachio on plexiglass
Josh Ascherman What does it mean for something to be genuine or “true” in the Information Age? Josh Ascherman has been grappling with this question in producing this early iteration of his project called Palimpsest. The piece is a mixed media collage which consists now of several layers. The first, of course, is a blank paper. The second layer is a collage of newspaper scraps. The third is an almost complete coat of black paint applied at first with acrylic paint droplets and then with a sponge brush. Palimpsest in its current form deals specifically with the media --with an inability to discern which “facts” are actually facts when thinking about politics in Israel-Palestine and globally. We are reached by myriad voices in our lives and objectivity becomes impossible. The relationship between this frustration and physical layering is in conversation with much of the artistic work that the “here, without” project has explored, especially Inbal Abergil’s body of work Station. Josh Ascherman was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended Jewish day school between kindergarten and eighth grade. He is now a member of Harvard’s undergraduate class of 2017. 92
Josh Ascherman Palimpsest Mixed Media on Paper
Julia Rooney // Qais Assali In November 2014, Julia Rooney and Qais Assali began a postcard project, mailing handmade cards between the United States and Palestine. They set up some restraints, but ultimately wished the correspondence to unfold organically. Of their few rules, the most essential was that the cards would not be sealed -- the image and/or text would be entirely exposed to whomever handled it. Between the artists, there would be little discussion about each card’s content, and no set agenda for creating it. The send date and arrival date of each card would simply be communicated through email. The size of each artist’s card would remain constant: Julia chose 6 1/8” x 8” and Qais chose 6” x 8.25”. While they could send the cards from any location within their respective countries, the receiving addresses were to remain the same. These basic rules were a way to maintain some form of “constant” amidst the many other variables that would likely come in the physical process of mailing. 94
As of April 2015, Julia and Qais have mailed 8 postcards. Only 2 have arrived: one in New York, the other in Ramallah. It took both cards a month-and-a half from their send-off dates to arrive on the other side.
This time lapse is at the project’s core. It is a form of excessively staggered conversation. By the time one postcard has arrived, another one has already been sent. The span of time for one complete exchange to occur is about 3 months. This lag becomes a form of “not knowing” in an age where the desire “to know” dominates. Where did the card go, where did it stop, why did it take so long to arrive, and who saw it along the way? There is even the question of: will it get there at all? Unlike digital interfaces which allow communication to be fast, traceable, and nearly certain, these physical mailings are unproductively slow and questionably reliable. In their weeks of transit we know little of where they are at any given time. Nor is there an adequate response to a card re-
ceived weeks after the fact. Still, in the midst of these one’s physical place. As of April 2015, the exchanges unknowns, the project aims to establish something are ongoing: the artists are still waiting to receive, concrete about place and physicality. The cards are and are still sending in this period of waiting. going to real sites. This non-verbal act of exchange is perhaps simple. And yet, it establishes one’s rootedness, one’s home, one’s sense of place and belonging in this given time. The gesture of sending and receiving physical cards is a form of seeing and celebrating 95
Julia Rooney (b. 1989, New York, NY) is a visual artist and arts educator. She holds a BA from Harvard College (2011) with a concentration in Visual & Environmental Studies and a secondary field in Italian language and culture. Though rooted in painting, her studio practice often bridges other disciplines, namely performance, culinary arts and writing. Since 2011, she has also been using the US Postal Service as a medium for art production, distribution and an alternative site for exhibition. Through these mediums, she is interested in creating a space that teeters between record and fiction, document and invention. Source material often includes 35mm slides, film stills, urban detritus, and poetry. Her work has been exhibited and/or performed in New York City, Cambridge, Jersey City, and in print publications. She has taught art to youth through adult populations in Florence, Cambridge, and New York City. Recent residencies include“Engaging Artists” (New York, NY), which partnered artists with homeless communities throughout New York’s five boroughs, and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT.
Qais Assali is a Palestinian Graphic Designer, Instructor and Visual Art Student. He has a rich experience in the academic and practical aspects of graphic design, he is a distinguished holder of highest score in his graduation project, which gave him the opportunity to work as an instructor and a research assistant at his university’s department in the college of fine arts, currently he is working as an instructor at Al-Ummah Government College. However he has practiced what he studied and trained for as graphic designer in several advertising agencies in the West Bank. As a student of visual contemporary art at the International Academy of Art Palestine, Qais is always exploring several artistic mediums as photography, installation, performance, archive, film-making and sound art. As a photographer, His photos were exhibited in several cities as Cairo, Beirut, Dubai, Khartoum, Amman.. and more. Qais is currently planning to develop his career and passion through getting a masters-degree in visual arts.
Julia Rooney Ink, oil paint and postage markings on paper Sent: Nov. 29th, 2014; received: Jan. 14th, 2015 6 1/8â€? x 8â€?
Qais Assali Blue Pen, Black and white photograph and postage markings on paper Sent: Jan. 13th, 2015; received: March 10th, 2015 6â€? x 8.25â€?
the sacrifice of language
Kythe Heller // Meghan McNealy As we engaged with the problem of art-making about Israel – Palestine, we found ourselves compelled to first examine our own practices of otherness, not in Israel – Palestine, but as we find them here in our own homes in the United States. As a result, the sacrifice of language emerges from our earlier and ongoing social practice of improvising public rituals that enact our sense of a transitive and vulnerable relational existence. The rituals interrupt the everyday violences of language and the body by improvising encounters between strangers willing to gather together and sacralize the found elements which are present in any given setting: actual sites and their complex histories, detritus, weather and light conditions. Re-imagining such “living forms” a la Artaud and Situationism, or as a more directed, politicized recalibration of the happening, the sacrifice of language enacts a kind of conceptualism, but one that is grounded in both place and physical collaboration. We conceive moments (or they conceive us) as
something unpredictably new is coming into being and emerges from the potential space we inhabit together; moments when the new is playful, unstable, politically aware, and yet has no fixed identity, emerging as it does out of need, or improvised out of necessity for delight.
The first enactment of this practice took place in re-appropriated public spaces in Portland, Oregon, under the title The Sacrifice of Language: A Rite of Spring (which we plan to re-form and perform this June in Israel / Palestine). During four days, sixteen site-specific rituals (both public and private) were invented and performed in the four different quadrants of the city. The use of video and sound recording, photograph, text, installation, song, guided imagery sessions, active play scenarios, and commentary permitted us to then create a multi-form artifact (poem, play, video, image installation) which functions also as a localized archive. 101
Kythe Heller is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist and PhD student at Harvard University in Religion and Society, with a secondary field in Critical Media Practice. Currently, she is experimenting with a grounding of poetics in textual, spatial, filmic and performative practices that re-orient art-making as a practice of consciousness. Meghan McNealy is a ‘Pataphysician’, poet, performer, playwright, puppeteer, printer, papermaker, and polyglot. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College. Her texts have appeared in Wheelhouse, BirdDog, Admit2, and Slightly West; she has provided illustrations for Nothings Houses: Prefab Eulogies by David Wolach [BlazeVox, 2010] and Collobert Orbital by Johan Jönson [Displaced Press, 2009]; her original performances have been staged at the literary conference, Press: Activism & The Avant-Garde as well as the 2010 Olympia Film Festival. Her first chapbook, Limite Désir, is published by Corrupt Press.
Leila Pirbay This collage shows the disheveled words, images, and shapes related to Israel-Palestine that constantly assail us. The collage is not intended to pick a side in the conflict, rather, it is an exploration of the mixed and sometimes contradicting images and feelings people in France are in contact with, especially in light of the recent Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish grocery store attacks. Among other articles are PLO drawings that portray resilience and solidarity, PM Netanyahu’s election and Chancellor Merkel’s reaction, attacks on a Palestinian broadcast station, the feeling of not being understood by the Republic, terrorism, and an image of a child with the words vivons ensemble (“let us live together”) torn in half – for reality is often different. It also puts forth how both Islam and Israel have been disrespected: a picture shows the burning of an Israeli flag, and another the word Islam with a swastika. I crumpled up the articles and images for there is anger in those words, the lines of truth are blurred, and we are more or less touched by each of these article and images. In the middle, an article about the formation of Israel and Palestine’s gradual loss of land, and on top of that, a hollow hand with the word “Peace” that represents the inability of Peace to reconcile the rest of the collage. Leila Pirbay Reconcile Mixed Media on Paper
Leila Pirbay grew up in a multicultural household in Madagascar and graduated from Harvard College in 2014 with a degree in Anthropology and Economics. In college, she co-founded the Francophone Society and received the Harvard Foundation’s Insignia Award for her contributions to intercultural and race relations. She is interested in how pictures are used in news reporting. 107
Rossi Lamont Walter
tions for a foreigner
when moving around and socializing as a foreign person in Israel, at some point in your travels you will meet new people. these are some questions that I have been asked hundreds of times since living in Israel, and are questions that you may be asked, too:
1. where are you from ? 2. why did you come to Israel ? 3. how long are you in Israel (already) ? 4. where did you learn Hebrew ? 5. are you Jewish ? 6. why did you learn Hebrew ? 7. what are you doing in Israel ? 8. where do you live here ? 9. how are you liking living in Israel ? 110
as a foreigner, I am asked these questions all the time. they are highly predictable. when I first arrived and even now, to be asked these questions again and again feels like a never-ending rite of passage that will determine on what terms new people will or will not engage with me. rather than accepting these questions as a standard fare to new acquaintances and potential relationships, I instead look on them with great skepticism, wondering why so many people were curious about this information in the first place. at first, I thought that the national army, the Israeli Defense Force, had something to do with this pattern. the questions asked could easily appear on an official survey, maybe in an airport going to Israel, demanding information that will classify me as a harmless tourist or as someone worth keeping an eye on. I thought that after Israelis spend the required 2-3 years involved with the IDF this unique perspective might influence how they view and interact with those who are viewed as foreigners, a complex subject unfortunately not fully addressed here. I wondered if the experience generated a curiosity about foreigners that is subtly or overtly founded on suspicion. although my views have changed about this, in the early stages of thinking about it I remember being irked that someone I had never met could demand such answers and then file them away into whatever categories they had been taught to create in the Zionist army. this is probably how Arabs feel living in Israel, I thought bitterly. 111
when in conversation with Ethan Pierce about all this, I suggested that these same questions ought to be reflected back at those who ask them. this flip struck me as uniquely appropriate, because in my view there are problematic territorial undertones to the questions themselves. to flip the questions thus opens a window for considering the territory and its history, namely the history of removal of Arab-Palestinian families from the land of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. in short, these nine questions, which at times may appear very normal and unimportant, provide us with a special opportunity to reflect on two issues: (1) the question of what makes a person “foreign” in Israel, and (2) the visibility (or lack of visibility) of Palestinian history in a modern Israeli context. I have revised the questions with these two points in mind:
1. where are you from / where are you from ? from where did your parents come ? your grandparents ? 2. why did you come to Israel / why did you [or your family] come to Israel ? 3. how long are you in Israel (already) / will you stay in Israel ? do you think to leave ? 112
4. where did you learn Hebrew do you speak any Arabic ? 5. are you Jewish how “Jewish” are you ? what does it mean to be Jewish in Israel ? in another place ? 6. why did you learn Hebrew why did you learn Arabic ? [OR] why didn’t you learn Arabic ? 7. what are you doing in Israel what are you doing in Israel ? 8. where do you live here where do you live here ? did Arab families live in your neighborhood before you moved there ? 9. how are you liking living in Israel how are you liking living in Israel ? what do you enjoy ? what bothers you ? what would you change ? 113
In our project we seek to draw the viewer’s attention to our tendency to reify the conflict, to attempt to pin it down and fetishize it for our own purposes, a tendency that has been accentuated by news media. However, we, the artists, must also acknowledge our own guilt in this regard. We are in the process of interviewing members of the Harvard community about their relationship with the Israel/Palestine conflict; in our first series of interviews, we asked participants to come up with a metaphor that embodies their feelings towards the conflict, which ended up being quite complicated. In order to depict the complication, we have layered the audio recordings of the interviews on top of each other so that the voices blur and the meaning becomes lost, though there are moments when a word or phrase becomes intelligible. The layered audio recordings are accompanied by subtitles, which contain both images and text, drawing inspiration from However, like the audio itself, the subtitles are misleading; the correspondence between the written and the spoken will always be ephemeral. We are indebted to John Greyson’s film, 14.3 Seconds, which also uses the technique of inaccurate and misleading subtitles.
Sugar Tasha Chemel is a masterâ€™s student in the Arts In Education Program at Harvard. As an artist and poet, she is fascinated by the relationship between text and image. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Virginia Marshall is a senior at Harvard College studying English and Mind, Brain, and Behavior. She recently completed a creative non-fiction senior thesis in the form a series of essays. She also lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Tasha Chemel // Virginia Marshall 115
Preview of our forthcoming publication of "here, without: art, otherness and Israel - Palestine" Read more about the project on our website...
Published on Mar 25, 2015
Preview of our forthcoming publication of "here, without: art, otherness and Israel - Palestine" Read more about the project on our website...