Human and civil-rights issues' incorporation into the arts has usually been symptomatic of an imminent moral and political awakening within larger society. Whether it is the Artists Against Apartheid movement or the Free East Timor movement, South Africa and East Timor only became acknowledged as global human-rights issues by first becoming visible in artistic milieus and gaining the endorsement of artists like U2 and Rage Against the Machine.
The same process is now quietly taking place with the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, as artists' collectives against the Israeli occupation are emerging in different corners of the globe. The Canadian context is certainly no exception, as an exhibit of artists against the Israeli occupation that runs at London, Ontario's Forest City Gallery until September 7 demonstrates. Initiated by Japanese sculptor Mizuko Yakuwa and entitled an "art initiative by Mizuko Yakuwa in support of peace in Palestine and Israel," the exhibit brings together painters, photographers, visual artists, performers and writers. Yakuwa was moved by Israel's brutal use of force against Palestinian civilians in this ongoing Intifada and decided to build an international network of artists against the Israeli occupation modeled after the Artists Against Apartheid. She formed the Tokyo-based Artists' League 2001, and in October of that year, she joined two other Japanese artists in a Tokyo exhibit called "Palestine Palestine."
Yakuwa then contacted prominent Canadian artist Jamelie Hassan back in April in an attempt to connect with other like-minded Canadian artists who would be interested in mobilizing against the occupation. Hassan got in touch with other artists sympathetic to the cause, and before she knew it, artists from around the world were contacting her and asking to take part in the London exhibit. The number of requests was so overwhelming she had to turn down some artists for lack of space. The outcome is a superb, three-week exhibit in London, Ontario.
But even before Yakuwa and Hassan joined forces, 30 Toronto-based artists and cultural workers, including video-makers Richard Fung, b.h. Yael, visual artist Gita Hashemi and filmmaker Ali Kazimi, got together and formed and anti-occupation collective called Creative Response. Creative Response has designed most of the artwork and signs for the weekly vigils held by Women Against the Occupation in Toronto, and organizes poetry readings and screenings for various filmmakers. Some of its artists also take part in the London exhibit.
The Artists Against the Occupation exhibit features about 25 artists, including photographers Ron Benner and Larry Towell, video-maker Jayce Salloum and visual artist Ingrid Mayrhofer. The first thing that stands out at the exhibit is the diversity of both the artists' nationalities, as well as their media of communication. A visual installation that captures many was Iranian-Canadian artist Farhang Jalali's brilliant "Amputation" piece. The artist set a mountain of plaster fingers and toes against a mirror background to represent a three-dimensional …