Art exhibition offers message of reconciliation

Organized by Israeli, Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum; displays a piece contributed by Aliza Olmert.

reconciliation 298.88 (photo credit:
reconciliation 298.88
(photo credit:
Art works on the theme of reconciliation, created by over 130 prominent Israeli and Palestinian artists, will be on display starting this Thursday at the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan. Aliza Olmert, the wife of Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also contributed an art work. In addition, the exhibition has been supported by a personal donation made by James Wolfenson, formerly the Quartet's special envoy to the Middle East. "Offering Reconciliation" was organized by the Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum. It was conceived of as a means of introducing the public to the idea of reconciliation through art, and as part of efforts to create a circle of Israeli Friends for the Families Forum. Created in 1994, the Forum now caters to hundreds of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who see themselves as the envoys of a hoped-for reconciliation process. According to South African-born Robi Damelin, the forum's spokeswoman, the works in the exhibition were originally supposed to be auctioned off on May 17 to raise money for the forum's educational activities. "By chance, we met with James Wolfenson, who was very moved by the works and did not want to see the exhibition broken up because of its message of hope and reconciliation," Damelin said. Wolfesnon, she said, made the forum a donation of $100,000 so that the exhibition could also travel internationally. Damelin, who just returned from a trip to New York, also told The Jerusalem Post that UN officials have expressed interest in displaying the works at the UN building in New York. The show was curated by Daphna Zmora and Orna Tamir-Shastovitz. Like the artists and exhibition designers who worked on "Offering Reconciliation" they did so on a volunteer basis. It was Tamir-Shastovitz's idea to provide each artist with an identical version of a bowl she designed as a symbol of reconciliation, so that they all had a common denominator on which to base their work. Ido Bar-El, a painter and the head of the Fine Arts department at the Bezalel School of Art and Design, used his bowl as a support for an abstract painting which may allude to the local landscape. "My work is unrelated to any political thesis," he said. "Creating an art work is a process, which is related to all kinds of other emotional, creative and experiential processes through which both artists and viewers can become better people and create a better world." Osama Zatar, a Palestinian artist from Ramallah, sculpted an olive tree out of barbed wire, which "grows" out of a painted rural landscape. He decorated the legs of the bowl with the symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Zatar told the Post he chose an olive tree "because it is something shared by us all, something that represents life whose roots are deeper than human roots, and which lives peacefully with the earth and gives its fruit to all." "If we continue to water our trees with blood," he said, "what legacy will our children inherit?" Zatar said he believed that art did have the power to affect change even in a reality in which every day brought new casualties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I know that art has changed who I am and the way I treat other human beings," he said. "I wanted to support this exhibition because it was organized by families who really suffered." Zatar currently resides in Ramallah with his Israeli-Jewish girlfriend, because they are unable to receive permission to live together in Israel. On Monday, his application for an entrance permit to the country in order to attend the opening of the exhibition was refused. Revenues from the sale of the artwork will eventually be used to finance the forum's ongoing educational activities. Last year, the Forum gave more than a thousand lectures in Palestinian and Israeli schools. Almost 80 percent of the students they spoke to asked to meet their Israeli or Palestinian counterparts, Damelin said. In the course of the exhibition, the museum will serve as a meeting place for Israeli students and students from the West Bank who have already met previously for discussions facilitated by the forum. "I believe art is a wonderful way to get to people," Damelin said, "because when people like something together, it breaks down barriers."