Monday 19 September 2011

The long distance between California and Jerusalem

One of the images that would be part of the exhibition canceled by MOCHA.
MOCHA (Museum of Children´s Art) is a museum in Oakland, California. Open since 1989, its mission is to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children through hands-on art experiences, arts training and curriculum for educators, and advocacy for the arts. On the 12th of September, Hyperallergic announced (read here) that, under the pressure of jewish groups, the museum had decided to cancel the exhibition A Child´s View from Gaza, that brought together works by palestinian children created during art therapy sessions (some of the works may be seen here). The President of the museum´s Board of Directors, in an open letter to the community published on the MOCHA website (read here), clarified that the museum had made that decision in an attempt to balance the concerns of parents and educators who did not wish for their children to encounter graphically violent and sensitive works during their visit. What did the museum expect children who had lived through the 2008 and 2009 israeli bombardments to draw? Were the scenes of violence a surprise? Hyperallergic commented that it wouldn´t have been the first time that the museum would exhibit children´s works depicting violent scenes. The fact that the decision was made less than two weeks before the exhibition opening also indicates that the reason was not that museum personnel suddenly realized that they had to review their exhibitions policy regarding the representation of violence, but rather another kind of pressure.

Eyad Baba, Gaza, Palestine, 2009 (Photo from the exhibition HomeLessHome at the Museum on the Seam)
The Museum on the Seam is a museum in Jerusalem. It is located in the street that separates the jewish sector in the western part of the city from the arab neighborhoods in the eastern sector. Founded in 1999, it defines itself as a socio-political contemporary art museum, which, in its unique way, presents art as a language with no boundaries in order to raise controversial social issues. At the centre of its temporary exhibitions stand the national, ethnic and economic seam lines in their local and universal contexts. In its mission statement, the museum also refers that it is committed to examining the social reality within the regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart. The current exhibition, West End, explores the conflict between Islam and the western world and it is the result of the museum´s intense efforts to convince artists from the Middle East to exhibit in its galleries. Among the 28 muslim artists involved, 7 come from the Middle East, some from countries that prohibit any kind of contact with Israel (read here). In the past, the museum had presented exhibitions such as The Right to Protest, Bare Life or HomeLessHome, among others. Whatever pressure the museum might be going through (and I guess it must be considerable), it doesn´t seem to be tackling it by canceling exhibitions.

I like to think of museums as spaces for the confrontation of ideas; spaces that bring us out of our comfort zone; spaces that confront us with realities we didn´t know about; and, also, spaces that raise some controversy. I am not referring to ‘cheap’ controversy; neither to the one caused by cowardness, silence or a supposed ‘apoliticism’. I am referring to the controversy caused, with intelligence and honesty, by expressing one´s opinion, by assuming a stance, by the museum´s genuine wish to be a place of encounter.

Still on this blog

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