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Dor Guez exhibit avoids contention despite its politics

By Fiona Lockyer
On October 15, 2012

Upon hearing that the Rose Art Museum was providing free wine and cheese at its exhibition opening, I quickly made my way down to lower campus to avail myself of the opportunity. I had seen the posters for "100 Steps to the Mediterranean" and originally thought, based on the art featured on the poster, that it would be a series of aged photos from Israel.

It's already pretty clear: I wasn't paying very close attention to the posters that I had been seeing, and my priorities that night clearly were not to view and analyze serious pieces of art. Yet, as I entered the exhibit after having sipped on my cup of white wine, I was taken aback by the art that I saw.

Specifically, I found the videos thought-provoking. I saw the video of exhibition artist Dor Guez's father who talked about what it meant to be a Christian in Palestine. I felt like in a way, I could kind of relate: I am a multiracial, Catholic student who finds herself, often enough, in a sea of people who look nothing like me and do not believe the same things I do. I fervently tried to explain this feeling to my friend standing nearby; she responded with a bored nod of affirmation.

With a little more prodding on my part for conversation, we ended up agreeing that, overall, the exhibition touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that was palatable. It didn't spark conflict; no one protested outside of the museum, no group of students arrived in shirts all bearing the same sentiment, no whispers circulated around the room about the subject matter.

And why not?

The New York Times informed me this past Saturday that the exhibit was, in fact, controversial. Apparently, according to the article, Guez is known for "polemical" work, and it is said that his work seeks to "deconstruct the Zionist master plan." Not to sound pedantic, but I have seen my fair share of controversy on campus in my time here. I was around when Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was the commencement speaker. I lived through the creation of Jewish Voice for Peace on campus (and when they petitioned Hillel for membership). I have seen the students on both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate voice their opinions, both in ways that were respectful and ways that were slightly shocking. And I know that generally, when a contentious issue concerning Israel arises on campus, people tend to talk about it.

As a person who has no intrinsic connection to the Middle East and has only learned about the issues from being at Brandeis where the topic arises so frequently, I rely on my classmates to bring controversial points to light. So, why did my fellow students fail to inform me that Guez's work is controversial?
I suspect that there are three possible reasons why this controversial figure went unnoticed by students, the first being that we simply did not grasp the idea behind the exhibition. It took me a fair amount of time to analyze the art, and I thought about a number of different connections before I realized that it addressed both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

It was a complex, multi-layered, multimedia effort that relied on a lengthy stay at the exhibit to take all of the information in. There were seven videos in total, alongside a handful of photographs. Some information was available to explain the different pieces, but, at least when I went, employees of the Rose who were qualified to explain the art could not be found.

My second idea is that we, as Brandeis students, have become desensitized to the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This might explain my friend's bored responses to my attempts at conversation that cooled what could have been, at another time, a heated subject of debate. After all, it is, undeniably, the most polarizing topic on campus next to the debate over the role of Judaism in the University's identity. Perhaps we simply don't see it anymore. Perhaps we simply don't care to discuss it anymore. As Joshua Kaye '13 is quoted in the New York Times, the two camps of students don't really interact with each other. What's the point of engaging in a debate that could alienate you from classmates without solving a problem?

Truthfully, I don't think either of these reasons really explains why the controversy has been heretofore absent from discussions about the exhibition. I'd wager that Brandeisians generally have a good grasp on how to find meaning behind art, especially when the meaning has to do with a subject as sensitive and central to campus as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps students simply didn't see the exhibit. It is in my mind, the lack of exposure that has lead to a lack of discussion. Despite what Director of Academic Programs at the Rose Dabney Hailey said in an interview with the Justice after the exhibit opened, I don't think that student turnout was as high as it could have, and should have, been.
According to Guez, the subject matter of the exhibit was not toned down at all for its showing at Brandeis (see Arts, 19). Interesting subject matter is in the Rose.

I feel that had the exhibit been better publicized (the Times article points out that the University "carefully labeled" the event as an exploration of the existence of Christian Palestinians in the Middle East, instead of what it was, an exploration of all Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, in the Middle East) then the campus may have reacted. This is not to say that the reaction would have been loud, or bitter, or in any way news-worthy.

Maybe new groups such as Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World, which works to foster conversation about different views of Israel, would have hosted an event and used this exhibit as a topic of conversation.

Better promotion on the part of the Rose Art Museum would have caught more students' attention and likely inspired more student debate.

The exhibit will be open until December; I hope that, following our recent press coverage, student discussions about where Guez's art fits in the conversation about Israel and Palestine will again be heard throughout the campus.  

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