Rose exhibit a catalyst for peacebuilding explorations
December 10, 2012
In September an exciting exhibit opened at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis: "Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean," the artist’s first major U.S. museum exhibition. Dor Guez, one of Israel’s most respected young artists, takes as his overt subject the Christian Arab minority in Israel, a community at times overlooked by the prevailing meta-narratives of both Israelis and Arabs. Guez’s work addresses these gaps while exploring the role of contemporary art in raising questions about history, nationality, ethnicity, and personal identity.
From the beginning, the exhibit was a catalyst for thinking and work at Brandeis about
peacebuilding, reconciliation, and coexistence. “The exhibition and the museum turned out to be extremely generative spaces for encounters: with ourselves, each other, the artworks, and with the history of violence, erasure and resilience that Dor Guez’s artwork documents with such composure and restraint,” says Cynthia Cohen, director of the Ethics Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts.
The Ethics Center collaborated with the Rose, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and a number of academic departments and student groups to host visits to Brandeis by people playing important roles in the quest for coexistence and reconciliation around the world.
A two-week residency in September by Farhat Agbaria, a coexistence facilitator based at Givat Haviva in Israel and Seeds of Peace, kicked off these exhibit-related events. Agbaria has facilitated encounters between Israelis and Palestinians for decades, and has been connected to the Ethics Center since 1998, when he explored coexistence and the quest for justice as a Brandeis International Fellow (an early Center program).
During his residency Agbaria, a Muslim Palestinian Israeli, met with Brandeis students and faculty, led several class sessions, and engaged student social justice leaders and arts-related club leaders in discussions of how the arts can relate to social justice work, and led several class sessions.
Among those who organized a session with Agbaria was the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC). “I was impressed by the thoughtful preparation by the [BIPAC] student organizers, the attendance of some 35 or 40 students, and the openness of the students to hear perspectives on issues of identity in Israel and the experiences of the Arab minority most had not previously engaged,” says Cohen.
Similarly, students and faculty in two Hebrew classes invited Farhat to share with them, in Hebrew, reflections on his work as a dialogue facilitator and his perspectives on living in Israel as a Palestinian. Many had never heard of Seeds of Peace or similar programs. “I find it heartening that members of the Brandeis community are willing to engage with perspectives that are likely to challenge their own,” says Cohen.
Agbaria and Cohen also co-facilitated weekend workshops, "Facilitating Encounters Through Art," which explored the relationship between dialogue and art. The sessions were designed for artists, cultural workers and leaders of cultural institutions who work or plan to work in zones of violent conflict around the world – including the United States – and welcomed several Brandeis undergraduate students who are exploring the role of arts in peacebuilding. [Right: Aziz Sohail '13 asks Farhat Agbaria a question during a discussion with a panel of undergraduates and Master's in Coexistence and Conflict students, moderated by Cynthia Cohen of the Ethics Center]
Farhat Agbaria’s residency was cosponsored by the Interfaith Chaplaincy; the Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict; the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences; Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies; Student Senate and the Theater Arts Department.
The exhibit-related events concluded with “Exposures: Photography and the Politics of Looking,” which brought the artist Dor Guez himself to the Rose for a series of discussions on the photographic image and its resonance with politics. Guez was joined by Cohen; Dabney Hailey, director of academic programs at the Rose Art Museum; and Catherine Cissé van den Muijsenbergh, executive director of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation; and Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.
“The act of looking,” said Hailey during a panel discussion, is “the space for possibility for me: for the conversation to turn, for people to hear one another, for lives to be changed, for knowledge to be gained.”
Cissé van den Muijsenbergh, an expert in international criminal justice and
human rights law, also delivered a lecture, “Zoom In – Narratives and Photography in Zones of Conflict.” She focused on her work with a project called “Zoom In,” which looks at how young Israelis and Palestinian interpret photographs from 1948 when the images are presented first without context. [Left: Ilan Troen of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies moderating a conversation at the Rose Art Museum with artist Dor Guez, Catherine Cissé van den Muijsenbergh of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, Cynthia Cohen of the Ethics Center, and Dabney Hailey of the Rose (l-r)]
“We bring together opposite sides,” she said, “with the objective to achieve what we call ‘shared narratives’…. It is not to agree on everything – which is just impossible…. It's about bringing for the same event all interpretations and all identities at stake.”
Contrasting his role as an artist to the scholarly work of Cissé van den Muijsenbergh in “Zoom In,” Guez explained that “I can say ‘this is my story, this is my narrative, this is my truth.’ I don’t give the audience much space for its own interpretation of the narrative, but I do give them a lot of space to think about their own narrative and the way they think about themselves."