Last week, I attended a panel at the annual College Art Association conference entitled “Interdependent Identity: Paradigm and Paradox in Contemporary Israeli and Palestinian Art”. Organized by Noah Simblist of SMU and Sarah Rogers of Columbia’s Global Center Amman, it was an interesting exploration of various elements of the occupation and its impact on artists.
The panel began with Adair Rounthwaite (U of Minnesota), who discussed Emily Jacir’s piece, “Sexy Semite.” For this work, Jacir contacted 60 Palestinians living in the New York area and asked them to place ‘sexy’ personal ads in the Village Voice as if they were looking for a Jewish mate, which would allow them to return to Palestine/Israel thanks to the Law of Return.
Rounthwaite pointed out that the work combines oppression and desire. She offered in comparison a piece by Kara Walker consisting of a letter from a sexually subjugated black girl to her white master.
Dora Apel of Wayne State University gave a talk titled ‘The Landscape of Identity in Israel/Palestine’. She discussed the traumatic effects of war on the landscape, the ruthless beheading of olive trees to make room for the “security fence”. At 26 feet high, the wall is twice as high as the Berlin Wall. It runs 400 miles long, consisting of a series of concrete slab, watchtowers, barbed wire etc. Apel pointed out that the wall is reminiscent of concentration camps. The Israeli occupying army asserts mastery over the land and its borders.
Apel showed artist Rana Bishara’s work showing a cactus in a jar. The cactus is here symbolic of Palestinian tenacity and patience (she used the Palestinian word “sabar” meaning patience). The cactus survives despite living in a tightly sealed, claustrophobic space.
Noah Simblist showed work from the exhibition “Out of Place.” (The title is a quote from Edward Said.) ¬†He spoke of the gap between physical places and places of mind – of the large infusion of Ethiopians who arrived in Israel, grateful to be there, yet very alienated.
Gannit Ankori of Brandeis University also spoke about landscape and an architecture of separation and fear. She said that some in the Israeli art community refer to the “two Holocausts” – the second being Israel’s current oppression of Palestinians. The label “post-Zionist” has been attached to those Israeli artists who see the occupation as a subversion of the original Zionist vision. The term is also used an insult by those Israelis who refuse to see–the ones that build walls.