A new exhibit at Jerusalem's Museum on the Seam explores political relationships through the medium of art.
By ELANA ESTRIN
Straddling the former border between Israel and Jordan, Jerusalem's Museum on the Seam seems a fitting place to host art about man's relationship to land. The latest exhibition, Nature/Nation, (in Hebrew Adam/Adamah, which directly translates to "Man/Land") explores ways in which humans interact and interfere with their surroundings.
Featuring Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, American, Chinese, German, Indian and Brazilian artists, this diversity, according to curator Raphie Etgar, allows the museum's visitors to consider man's relationship to nature through different lenses.
"I found a big difference between local and international artists. They see things from a completely different point of view. It's good that we can find ways, through art, to at least allow people to see this difference, to realize that the facts we consider are not exactly so universal," Etgar says.
The first piece visitors encounter is a neon sign by Israeli artist Dani Karavan. It reads, "Olive Trees Will Be Our Borders" in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Karavan came up with this slogan in 1976, when he designed an Israeli pavilion in Venice entitled "Environment for Peace."
"I planted two olive trees in front, and wrote in pencil: 'Our Borders Should Be Olive Trees.' I dedicated the pavilion to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And then, for this exhibition, I used this slogan but made it completely different. Rather than 'Olive Trees Should Be Our Borders,' the slogan reads 'Olive Trees Will Be Our Borders,'" says Karavan.
The sign is prominently displayed in neon blue, green, and yellow.
"I used neon because I wanted the sign to be seen at night and during the daytime. And I wanted the sentence to be lit by itself. The olive tree is the second tree mentioned in the Bible. It represents peace by the fact that the dove brought an olive branch to Noah in the flood. It became a symbol of peace for many cultures, and especially for us because it was born in the Bible. I hope we are now coming closer to these borders in the future," Karavan says.
While Karavan's work is among those in the exhibition that discuss man's relationship to nature in terms of national borders, other works in the exhibition approach the relationship through an environmental lens. Walk up the stairs to the patio (and make use of the refreshing water cooler) to see The Plougher by Israeli artist Ahmad Canaan, a half-man, half-plough sculpture facing the Old City.
"On one hand, the sculpture is flying and taking off into the open sky. But at the same time, he is very much digging into the earth. The sculpture and the floor are both made out of steel. Steel is so strong, it's impossible to dig through. I think it's a very sensitive work," Etgar says.
Named by The New York Times as one of the world's "29 Places to Get Your Art Fix," the Museum on the Seam seeks to present exhibitions that confront major sociopolitical issues. Both Karavan and Etgar say that they have faced criticism for integrating art and politics.
"Some say, why mix politics and art? But I felt like I couldn't do anything else," Karavan says.
Similarly, Etgar feels that art can step in where politics fails.
"Former president Ezer Weizman was present at the opening of our museum. He said: 'Well, it's good to have a political museum. But peace will not actually be made through art and museums. What words can you say in the opening of such a museum?' My answer to him," says Etgar, "was, 'Well, for the meantime, I don't see that politicians do better."
The Museum on the Seam - 4 Rehov Chel Handasa; (02) 628-1278 - is open Sun.-Thur. From 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Fri. from till 2 p.m.. Admission cost NIS 10-25. The exhibition has no closing date. For more information, visit mots.org.il
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