Bubbling over with optimism

The artists who contributed to ‘Effervescence,’ an exhibition that looks at life in mixed Arab-Jewish cities, are working toward full acceptance of each side.

Effervescence (photo credit: Courtesy Nahum Gutman Museum)
(photo credit: Courtesy Nahum Gutman Museum)
Coexistence between Jews and Arabs has been around a while, at least as a topic for discussion. But the Effervescence exhibition, currently running at the Nahum Gutman Museum in Neveh Tzedek, Tel Aviv, takes a somewhat off-center perspective on the issue.
“The exhibition looks at life in mixed [Jewish-Arab] cities in Israel,” explains curator Dr. Rona Sela.
Besides serving as an exhibition curator, Sela spends much of her working time researching social and political elements of photography in this part of the world. “It examines the Palestinian voice in the cities with mixed populations,” she adds, before qualifying the term.
“Actually, I don’t think ‘mixed’ is a good word. I prefer ‘binational.’ You know, ‘mixed’ implies some kind of balance of power between the two parties, and cooperation, and that is something that, in practice, doesn’t really happen.”
Effervescence incorporates a wide swath of types of works and subject matter, by both Arab and Jewish artists. The full-blown title of the show is “Effervescence – Housing, Language, History – A New Generation in the Jewish-Arab Cities,” and the handsome book of the same name, in Hebrew and Arabic, edited by Sela, is divided into three main categories – Changing Domains, Cultural Agents, and Rewriting the Cities.
The Changing Domains section focuses on the transformation experienced by Lod after the State of Israel came into being; one part looks at the creation of Upper Nazareth in 1956; there is a chapter entitled Marching in the Urban Domain, which discusses the importance of parades and the way mass public activity has impacted on Ramle; and a chapter on Planning, Society and Activism, and the way they interconnect.
Sela is, of course, alert to the fact that most aspects of life here are construed, or misconstrued, as having some kind of political bearing. Naturally, when you curate an exhibition of works that gives voice to the Arab side of urban evolution you are venturing into a political minefield, whether you like it or not.
“This topic has all sorts of strata to it, and you can’t ignore the political side, but I try as hard as I can to orient things in the direction of morals and ethics, of democratic rights, exercising those rights, and adopting an equal approach to all human beings,” says the curator.
Sela says she is not getting on her soapbox, and that she aimed to act merely as a conduit for the artists’ ideas and opinions. “I am only a mediator. I am bringing the artists’ voice to the fore. This is not my struggle.”
Although Sela says she is not directly involved in the topic she feels it is an area worthy of wider attention.
“The common bond between all the artists in this exhibition is that, Palestinian and Jewish alike, they are all telling the story of the Palestinians, and their struggle, which I feel is a struggle for democracy, of all of us. The Palestinians are basically saying that they feel they are second-class citizens and they want to be on the same footing as everyone else. All this started in 2000, when the Palestinians decided to do everything in their power, and to use all democratic means, to improve their lot.”
The exhibition tries to convey that sense through all manner of artistic media, including feeding off events from the past. There is, for example, an intriguing pairing of a monochrome group print taken at a party that took place in 1924 at the house of a Jaffa resident called Alfred Roch, and a parodied version of the shot, taken in 2012, called A Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade).
THE CHANGING Domains section features two very different prints, of the same spot, taken in close temporal proximity.
The first was taken by David Eldan, who created the national photography archives in 1948, of the Arab neighborhood of Manshiya, at the northern edge of Jaffa, which was largely destroyed during the War of Independence. The second was taken just a few months later by Hans Haim Finn. The latter print was taken during a ceremony to mark the opening of a park in the memory of the fallen members of the Irgun Zva’i Leumi on the site of Manshiya, which mostly lay in ruins.
Another set of color prints, from 2007, documents a group of people marking the grid of the streets that once ran through Manshiya, part of which is now covered by the lawns of the Charles Clore Park.
As far as Sela is concerned, all vehicles of expression are kosher.
“I don’t just bring works of art to get this message across,” she declares.
“There are things produced by members of society who have no connection at all with art, but who are publicly active in bringing about change and who make things that are very visual.”
Some of these are on display at the museum and include homemade T-shirts with social and/or political statements, and tailor-made maps.
“This is not a conventional art exhibition,” states Sela. “This is an exhibition that addresses art and activism, and the public domain.”
The curator also looked into numerous aspects of the themes she wanted to put on display, outside the artistic sphere too.
“I did research over a two-year period. I met with dozens of organizations and movements, Jewish and Palestinian, and I think that comes through in the book of the exhibition.”
The volume is, indeed, a weighty tome – all 250-plus pages of it – with essays by architect and planner Dr. Haim Yacobi who lectures in the Department of Politics and Administration of Ben-Gurion University, Hana Hamdan-Saliva, a post-doctoral student at the UAB University in Barcelona, and Dr. Dana Piroinski, who specializes in the late Middle Ages and 20th-century urban areas.
The book closes with an article by Sela, titled “Weaving the Change – Activism and Change since 2000 in Israeli Binational Cities.”
“This is different from the coexistence activity which took place, say in the 1970s, when Jews and Palestinians would meet up briefly and then each would go their separate way. This activism, which you can see in the exhibition, is about creating a new, more equal society, which entails fully accepting the other, as is, as an equal.”
Effervescence – Housing, Language, History – A New Generation in the Jewish-Arab Cities closes on August 17. For more information about the exhibition: (03) 516-1970 and www.gutmanmuseum.co.il