A Personal Journey into the Heart of the Middle East

Photo by Dvora Orbach

A solo exhibition of photography and video installations by Dor Guez, one of the most compelling young artists in the Middle East, is being featured at the Rose Art Museum through early December.

The show, titled “100 Steps to the Mediterranean,” reveals Guez, a resident of Tel Aviv with Palestinian Christian and Tunisian Jewish heritage, delving deeply into the complexities of national, religious and ethnic identities in the Middle East, using a range of photographic techniques, archival photos, and videos that capture the experiences and emotions of three generations of Christian Arab Israelis in his own family.

The exhibition, which draws on five major projects completed by the artist over the past three years, fills the Rose’s Lois Foster Gallery with images ranging from the monumental to the intimate. It is sometimes poignant, often thought-provoking and always deeply, warmly human.

Guez’s work tells the story of Israel’s Arab Christian minority — all but ignored in Israeli and Palestinian narratives — in vivid, personalized ways. In a video, his grandfather describes how the family weathered the 1948 war from which the State of Israel emerged. A young cousin speaks of how she’s hurt by the open hostility directed at her in her waitressing job. An uncle tells what it’s like, as an Arab, to be viewed as an Israeli when he visits Ramallah in the West Bank. Family members on and off camera argue about what it means to be a minority within a minority.

As Guez said during a press preview the day before the show’s opening in September, “They don’t think of it as politics. They just tell their stories. We all know — Jews, Palestinians, whoever — what immigration is and what it is to be a minority.”

Guez’s pieces have been featured at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Petach Tikva Museum of Art in Israel and at venues in Berlin, Istanbul, São Paulo, New York and Moscow. The Rose exhibition is his most comprehensive to date, and his first major museum show in the United States.

“First and foremost, Dor Guez is a brilliant artist,” says Gannit Ankori, professor of art history and theory, who co-curated the exhibition. “The work is beautiful, but also fascinating and significant. His art changes the way we think and feel.”

Although discussions of identity, religion and ethnicity in the Middle East are often highly politicized and reduced to simplistic dichotomies, the people in Guez’s work “do not fit into the usual categories,” Ankori says. “This opens the way to new discourse, new ways of thinking about our identities. It opens up the complexity that is the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.”

Christopher Bedford, the new director of the Rose, says, “Brandeis and the Rose alike are committed to creating discursive spaces in which even the most difficult subjects can be debated, and unexpected common ground identified. Dor’s work invites us to do just that, and to tremendous, captivating effect.”

— Charles A. Radin