Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Made in Palestine": A Stirring Art Exhibit Rocks Houston and Hits the Road

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Made in Palestine": A Stirring Art Exhibit Rocks Houston and Hits the Road

Article excerpt

Jim Harithas and the curators at The Station, a contemporary arts museum in Houston, Texas took a chance when they decided to organize the first museum-quality exhibition of contemporary art of Palestine in either Europe or the Middle East. With media coverage of the region focusing primarily on Palestinian suicide attacks or Israel's campaign to assassinate Palestinian leaders or build a wall across the occupied territories, would the exhibit provoke outrage or dialogue in Houston's Jewish and Arab-American communities? Could a cultural exhibit succeed where political exchange has failed to explain Palestinian aspirations to American audiences?

"One of the best ways to understand people is through their art and literature," noted Dr. Azar Nafisi, a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, in a June 27 Christian Science Monitor article on the Houston exhibit. "It shows them in more humane terms-as living, breathing people who fall in and out of love."

From the exhibit's gala opening on May 3 to its closing reception on Oct. 3, 2003, thousands of American visitors have had the chance to see scenes of Palestinian love and loss as they poured through the doors of the museum. Among those moved by the modern and postmodern works have been many members of Houston's 65,000-strong Arab-American community, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, former Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of murdered American peace activist Rachel Corrie. The exhibit's diverse paintings, sculptures, videos, textiles, ceramics, and photography all express the Palestinians' longing for liberation from Israeli occupation.

The stirring exhibition follows the history of the Palestinian people from the Nakba of 1948, to the first and second intifadas, and their current dreams for a homeland. It's all there: the pain, struggle, blood, humiliation, pride and, most of all, hope.

Along with the Palestinian artists whose work is represented, show organizers Gabriel Delgado, Jim Harithas and Tex Kerschen faced some daunting roadblocks of their own trying to enter the occupied territories. They spent a month in the Middle East meeting artists, finally selecting works by 23 Palestinians. They then had to battle for transportation and travel visas for the artists, only 10 of whom were able to make it to Houston for the opening.

The show is unforgettable. Vera Tamari's ceramic work "Tale of a Tree" pays tribute to the thousands of ancient olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers and military forces. For years Tamari clipped newspaper articles about the wanton destruction of the olive tree, not only an essential food staple but a symbol of Palestinians' attachment to their land. …

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