New York City has long been considered an international hub of modernity and diversity, and yet bringing “Made in Palestine” to the Big Apple has been a ferocious battle.
The taboo of Palestine overtook the minds of museum and gallery curators who feared funding cuts and protests. Al Jisser’s Samia Halaby described part of the struggle to me, “We knocked on the doors of every museum and every alternative space. When they finally all rejected us, the reason seemed mostly that the upper layers of their administrations, the directors and head curators, had all rejected the show.”
A few of the curators confided in one of Samia’s colleagues explaining, “They would lose their funding if they show Palestinian art.”
Samia pleaded with an organization that she trusts and respects but explained, “They pleaded back that they were too fragile an organization in this art world and that showing Palestinian art would likely mean an end to their gallery.” These were the responses she received from confidants, but withheld their names, stating, “They are the ones who give us enough respect to answer honestly.”
“Made in Palestine” is an art exhibit showcasing 23 contemporary Palestinian artists from the Occupied Territories and the Diaspora. The art is presented in several forms, including oil paintings, photographs, textiles, sculptures and videos. The exhibit has already been featured in various parts of the US—including Texas, California and Vermont—and plans are in motion to continue to tour the country. Al Jisser has hosted events over the last year to raise money to bring “Made in Palestine” to New York City.
Samia and her colleagues quickly realized the resistance would continue unabated, “No one writes you a letter and says we reject you because you are Palestinian. People are embarrassed by their racism and their weakness. Instead, they tell you their schedule is full, or that the show does not fit within their artistic plans, and some even try to degrade the work saying that it does not meet their standards.” Samia, a former professor of Yale University’s School of Art, is also one of the artists featured in “Made in Palestine;” her work has been displayed in numerous prestigious museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Raising funds for “Made in Palestine” has not come easily either. A young woman who attended a benefit last year said she was met in the parking lot by a group of angry protestors. “Go and have your exhibitions in a Mosque,” they yelled to her. A planned fundraiser in Westchester County in 2004 also met intense opposition. Ryan Karben, a local assemblyman, insisted that the show be canceled because some of the art, as the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him, “promotes violence and terrorism.” Karben, however, seemed to miss the point. His attitude prevented him from seeing what he was looking at. He was confusing the small exhibition at the fundraiser with the museum exhibition, “Made in Palestine.” At the fundraiser, he may have seen an etching by Mohammad Al Hawajri titled “Martyr” and presumed it to be an “Uprising in the Occupied Territories.” Karben conveniently wants to equate armed resistance against an occupying force, legal under international law, with the promotion of terrorism. Israel is not the subject of these works; Palestinian experience is. In April 2005, James Harithas, curator of the “Made in Palestine” exhibit, told Al Jazeera “We are dealing with immense ignorance here and it’s unfortunate that people have one image of Palestinians and automatically deny anything created by the Palestinian people.”
Misguided condemnation and protest reinforces the need for the beauty and voice of Palestinian art to be displayed for curious Manhattanites, travelers throughout the boroughs and tourists from across the world. The artists and poets that have contributed to this exhibit demonstrate the struggle, the oppression and the essence of Palestine through artistic expression and non-violence. When I asked Samia Halaby what she thought the biggest misconception people have pertaining to “Made in Palestine,” she responded, “People allow the mass media to fill their head with a discourse that is not their own experience. Lacking knowledge of Palestine and of Palestinian experience, they assume that the propaganda that fills the airways and their heads is reality. They see what Israel has created and publicizes — Palestinians who are poor people wearing rags, suffering malnutrition, and throwing stones. They do not see our history and do not know who we are.”
The exhibit will open on 521 West 26 Street (between 10th and 11th avenue) in Manhattan on March 14, 2006.
* Remi Kanazi is the primary writer for the political website www.PoeticInjustice.net. He lives in New York City as a Palestinian American freelance writer and can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org