An exhibition at Brandeis University’s The Rose Art Museum, which some students are saying is sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative, has elicited an overall positive response from students and university officials alike.
The general response to the gallery, which is by Middle Eastern artist Dor Guez, is far different from in 2006 when university officials shut down a gallery featuring artwork by Palestinian teenagers.
“Sometimes it is unpleasant to hear criticism of your country, and obviously this is something that the Dor Guez exhibition does,” said student Chen Arad, who is from Israel. “At the same time though, I feel that it is really important to encourage conversation.”
The exhibition, titled “Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean,” showcases installations by Guez, an artist whose heritage is both Christian Palestinian and Jewish Tunisian. He chronicles the tale of the Christian Arab through videos and photos of his own family.
Guez’s art has been featured at the Petach Tikva Museum of Art and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Israel, as well as in Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, and New York, museum officials said. But this is his most comprehensive show, and his first major art exhibition in the US.
Christopher Bedford, director of the Rose Art Museum, said that the exhibit is fitting for Brandeis, because the university has a strong sense of social activism. Guez’s art is about inclusion, he said, and giving a voice to the minority group.
“Anybody who wants to talk about division in Dor’s show has the wrong end of the stick,” Bedford said.
In May of 2006, the Globe reported that university officials removed a Palestinian art exhibit from the Brandeis library. Officials said the exhibition was taken down because it only depicted one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lior Halperin, then a student at Brandeis, said she was outraged at university officials for removing the exhibition that she organized.
“This was, for me, an opportunity to bring to Brandeis the Palestinian voice that is not spoken or heard through an Israeli or an American Jew, but directly delivered from Palestinians,” Halperin told the Globe. “Obviously, that was just too much for Brandeis.”
Arad, a sophomore, is part of the student initiative bVIEW, Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World, which aims to improve the conversation of the Israeli-Palestinian debate on campus. He said the debate is “emotionally charged” at Brandeis, and that some students were initially uneasy about the Guez exhibition.
“I know that some people automatically – and I am one of them as an Israeli – feel uncomfortable when people present a Palestinian narrative,” said Arad, a sophomore. “I can understand that. And I know that a lot of people went and maybe at first felt uncomfortable, but I think that most people I talked to enjoyed it.”
Senior Fiona Lockyer said the Israeli-Palestinian debate is vibrant at Brandeis, and she thought that students would be discussing the exhibit particularly because of the current political climate.
“I’m really surprised that nothing was brought up from the exhibit because it is an election year, and between there being a lot of conflict over whether or not are going to help Israel with the Iran problem or whether or not the US is going to support Palestine in its bid for legitimacy [in the U.N.],” she said.
In an article for The Justice, the independent student newspaper for the university, Lockyer wrote that she was “taken aback” by the art. She was astonished that her fellow classmates did not react more strongly to the exhibition.
“It is, undeniably, the most polarizing topic on campus next to the debate over the role of Judaism in the University’s identity,” Lockyer wrote. “Perhaps we simply don’t see it anymore. Perhaps we simply don’t care to discuss it anymore.”
Alex Thomson, a sophomore and co-President of the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee also said the show has not sparked much controversy on campus. He is pleased that Brandeis chose to bring the gallery to campus, because it only strengthens the dialogue surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We know that we are stronger pro-Israel advocates when we know the whole picture,” Thomson said.
Arad said the exhibition is also worth seeing not just because of Guez’s perspective, because of its beauty.
“I understand that it can be seen as controversial for some people, provocative, but personally I found it beautiful, thought provoking, and I feel that it is important whether you are on one side or another, to be exposed, to expose yourself to those views,” Arad said.
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