What Do Artists Have to Say About Leaders?

“Peacebuilding through the Arts” is a new series of events organized by The Interreligious Coordinating Council for Israel(ICCI). The program aims to draw diverse groups to reflect on conflict through art, encouraging new ways of thinking.

Museum on the Green Line

The first tour was held at Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem, with a guided walk through an exhibit on the role of leadership. Museum on the Seam is an art gallery that tackles the socio-political issues of the region and exhibits artists from across the globe. The building was originally a Palestinian home; in 1948 it became an Israeli army outpost next to the Green Line, facing Jordanian territory across the street. The Green Line is now covered by the light rail line, with a Palestinian neighborhood on the other side, and the museum between Musrara (an area that was home to many members of the Israeli “Black Panthers” - a movement for the rights of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries) and Mea Sha’arim (an ultra-orthodox neighborhood, renowned for being strongly religious and often anti-Zionist).

photo credit: Flash90

ICCI intern Lior Davidi standing next to the curator’s foreword

Power and Censorship

The exhibition called “And the Trees Went Forth to Seek a King” takes a critical look at leadership. The curator’s foreword reads: "We love and hate them. Admire and scorn them. We trust in them and believe their promises, as we watch them being led handcuffed and humiliated. Who is worthy of leading? What motivates people to become leaders? [...]Where does this deep inherent need for a leader emanate from? [...] Is it in our power to prevent immoral behavior of leaders and governments?"

It included art that had been censored in the artists’ countries. The guide gave as an example “Photo Op” – a photomontage by British artist Kennard Phillips that shows former Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of an explosion, evoking images of the war in Iraq. However, it appears to have broken through any censorship as this piece was recently at an exhibition in London’s Imperial War Museum. The guide said that Museum on the Seam didn’t face any censorship from Israeli authorities.

photo credit: Flash90

“Photo-Op” by Kennard Philips

At the end of the tour, a group discussion was moderated by ICCI Director Rabbi Ron Kronish about which works of art had had the most impact on the participants and how it linked to the current situation in Israel/Palestine.

Hillel Schenker (co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal) said: “I was particularly struck by the works on Tony Blair and Sylvio Berlusconi [a film montage of Italians in their homes with the former Prime Minister always on a TV screen behind them]. I noticed that there was nothing in the exhibition critical of Netanyahu. Is it because it takes time? Is it censorship?”

Lior Davidi, (ICCI intern through Search for Common Ground’s New Generations’ Initiative) responded: “I saw a similar exhibition last year in Manchester [UK] and it included a work called ‘United Colors of Netanyahu’ – a play on the United Colors of Benetton, showing Netanyahu and his family surrounded by body guards.”

photo credit: Flash90

“United Colors of Netanyahu” by David Tartakover, 1998

A Leader’s Conscience

Reform Rabbi Brian Fox (from Australia, moved to Israel) commented on Israeli artist Shirley Faktor’s portraits of Rabbi Meir Kahane (a Jewish religious extremist whose Kach poltical party was banned from the Israel Knesset for overt racism): “I unfortunately once went to one of Kahane’s lectures. He came up to me at the end and asked, ‘Who are you?’ I told him I’m a Reform Rabbi. He said, ‘Well look here, Rabbi Reform, you just heard what I’m going to do to the Palestinians. And, Rabbi, once I’m finished with them, I’m coming for you.’ Years later, I told this story to an extreme Muslim leader in Manchester and I changed his mind. I told him radical Islam is the same as radical Judaism – it’s the rejection of others.”

photo credit: Flash90

Portraits of Meir Kahane by Shirley Faktor

Yair Bartal, administrator of Facebook community “Turning a new page for peace” added: “Something like these last 60 days ruins our work for a few years. It’s an ego game between leaders and we’re buying it. We suffer so much because of them, and then we cheer.”

A member of Sisters of Zion (a Christian, Scottish woman living in Jerusalem) said of “Photo-Op”: “I elected Tony Blair. He was fantastic and did a lot of great things up until the Iraq War. Then I was one of the ones protesting in London. He’s now an envoy here. I like to still think he has something of the vision he had when we elected him.”

Upcoming Events

The exhibition “And the trees went forth to seek a king” will be open till December 31st 2014. When you go, don’t overlook the controversial “Guillotine” sculpture by Ariel Kleiner on the roof of the museum that was built for the Israeli social protest movement in the summer of 2011.

There will be further “Peacebuilding through the Arts” events in Jerusalem through September and October. Stay updated through the ICCI Facebook page or email