Inadequate research distorts campus Dor Guez coverage
BACK TO BASICS
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 00:10
The Rose Art Museum simply cannot stay out of the newspaper. First, it got press because it was going to be closed, then again because it wasn’t going to be closed and recently because it appointed a new director. Last week, the Rose Art Museum made news once more in a New York Times article from Oct. 12 by Emily Gogolak about the new Dor Guez exhibit titled “100 Steps to the Mediterranean.”
Unfortunately, the Brandeis community was thoroughly mischaracterized by the article. Ms. Gogolak did not do sufficient research to understand the Israel dialogue between Brandeis students or learn of recent campus events that could have influenced the direction of her article. Ms. Gogolak suggests that “there have been accommodations to campus sensitivities” with regards to the content of the exhibit. Ms. Gogolak does point out that the exhibit’s advertising was worded in such a way to avoid discussing Muslim Palestinians, but it isn’t clear how changing the wording of an advertisement would alter a visitor’s reaction to the actual exhibit. Mr. Guez, in an email interview with the Justice, flatly denied that his exhibit had been altered in any way and stated that he would never work with an institution that attempted to censor his artwork.
Ms. Gogolak also articulates the belief that there are “differences between the Guez pieces shown at Brandeis and the more overtly political work displayed at his exhibitions in Israel.” She fails, however, to offer any specific examples of these differences, which makes this assertion difficult to take seriously. Additionally, given Mr. Guez’s above response in his interview with the Justice, he would probably not allow museum staff to pick and choose which of his works to display and bow to campus political pressures.
With regard to student discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ms. Gogolak indicated that “[p]ast efforts to encourage campus discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have had little success,” which simply does not tell the whole story of campus dialogue. An innovative new student initiative, called Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World has attempted to improve the state of dialogue on campus surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to their Facebook page, the group aims to “understand why so many people are frustrated with Israel-related activity and why ‘polarized’ is often the first word people will use to talk about Israel conversations on campus.” Their recent premiere event on Sept. 27, two weeks before Gogolak’s article came out, filled the atrium of the Mandel Center for the Humanities. It probably isn’t too far-fetched to assume that this is indicative of student enthusiasm for a more constructive dialogue about Israeli politics, an enthusiasm that Ms. Gogolak neglected to mention.
The University even hired a consultant to hold meetings and weekend seminars exploring the political themes present in Dor Guez’s exhibit. Farhat Agbaria, a facilitator of dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, visited Brandeis for two weeks in conjunction with the Dor Guez exhibit, according to a report from Dr. Cynthia Cohen, the director of the Program in Peace building and the Arts at the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. The report explains that Mr. Agbaria participated in 14 meetings with classes, clubs or members of the faculty. Mr. Agbaria and Dr. Cohen also jointly led two weekend workshops for exploring themes in Mr. Guez’s exhibit.
According to the report from Dr. Cohen on Mr. Agbaria’s visit, students from the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee requested time to speak with Mr. Agbaria and were willing to engage with new themes of the Arab-Israeli conflict that they had not previously explored. Mr. Agbaria and Dr. Cohen spoke with a theater class, several students from an art history class, a legal studies class and a sociology class. These efforts by the University to help foster conversation about the themes present in Dor Guez’s work are evidence of Ms. Gogolak’s lack of thorough research.
Lastly, the Dor Guez exhibit is described as “bold for Brandeis.” Thank you, Ms. Gogolak, for your conclusion about our school’s capabilities, but we’ve actually always been “bold.” In the past few years, we’ve had Israeli figures speak on campus, such as Michael Oren and Tzipi Livni, as well as prominent Americans speak about Israel, including Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter.
We’ve encountered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before. This art exhibit is really nothing out of the ordinary. Readers of Ms. Gogolak’s article unfamiliar with Brandeis may be inclined to believe that we are ill-equipped to confront difficult questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and handle a controversial art exhibit. However, we encounter these questions quite frequently, with Dor Guez’s exhibit being the most recent venue to bring them to the forefront.
Are they difficult and emotionally charged questions? Absolutely. So why has there been a tepid political reaction among students? It’s difficult to say. There have been private grumblings to be sure, but maybe we are at a point where we can publicly appreciate the message within an art exhibit without staging a political protest.