First show of Arab contemporary art in Israeli musem

Exhibition is also first of its kind with an Arab curator

JERUSALEM. The L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem, which is supported by a Jewish endowment fund, run by Jewish staff, and located in a Jewish neighbourhood, is showing work by 13 Arab artists—the first group exhibition of local Arab works in an Israeli museum. The show is also the first contemporary art exhibition in an Israeli museum organised by an Arab curator.

The museum was founded in 1974 with an endowment from the late English philanthropist Vera Frances Bryce Salomons and named after a Jewish professor of Middle Eastern art and architecture she had admired at Hebrew University. Until now it has primarily exhibited antiquities and ethnographic works.

“Arab artists live in the state here with us, and their neighbours should know them; know who they are and what occupies them in their work,” says the museum director, Rachel Hasson. “I hope it will be the first of more shows.”

Ms Hasson invited artist Farid Abu Shakra from Northern Israel to be guest curator. He selected Arab Muslim, Christian, Bedouin and Druze artists to show work addressing a range of subjects from women’s rights to superstition.

The theme of correspondence is a reflection on the Arab artist in dialogue with diverse cultures: within Arab society, the art world, and in the Jewish Israeli world. “It is unusually fun to have each foot in another culture,” says Abu Shakra. “I’m an Arab artist and a citizen of Israel. But I’m not ‘Israeli’.”

Farid Abu Shakra is the brother of Said Abu Shakra, founder of the Umm El Fahim Gallery, a commercial space in Umm el Fahim, an Arab city in northern Israel. Said is working to build Israel’s first Arab contemporary art museum (The Art Newspaper, February 2007, p26).

Farid has distanced himself from this scheme to pursue his own projects. “There are not many doors open to local Arab artists; there are no galleries in [Israel’s] Arab sector,” he says.

Jerusalem also has an Islamic antiquities museum run by the Islamic Waqf (religious endowment), and a satellite antiquities museum of the Israel Museum—the Rocke­feller Mus­eum—headed by Arab curator Fariz Ibrahim. There is only one functioning Arab (Palestinian) modern art gallery in east Jerusalem, but it identifies itself as Palestinian, not Israeli.

Funds for Arab arts projects in Israel can prove difficult to find. The Israeli-run Museum for Islamic Art has had trouble raising money from Jewish, Muslim or Arab communities. “For Arabs,” said Rachel Hasson, “we are not Arab enough and for Jews, we are not Jewish enough.”

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