Between 7 and 30 July 2006,
://selfportrait – a show for Bethlehem – was installed at Al Kahf Art Gallery at Bethlehem International Centre – here is a short review & documentation —>
Bethlehem, and Palestine in general, represent a difficult problem, as both have a kind of status of no rights and no back-up area. It is a prison for those who have to live there and call it the home country, and a prison to those who want to visit it: occupied by Israel in the 6 days war, but not accessable for any Israeli, and Palestinians may only leave this completed walled in area by using a special permission which most of them never get.
Walling in the Palestinian residencial areas together with all the people who are living there is seperating them from each other causing a disastrous psychological effect.
By visiting Bethlehem and standing in front of the 9 meter high wall, one has to be aware of this humanitarian disaster. Differently from the current conflict with Lebanon, the conflict in Palestine does not seem to be worth any headline, it never really was – yes the Palestinian have no lobby, otherwise the wall would have never been built, at all.
One has to understand not only the facts, but also the psychological condition, and then it will become clear, that people who are condemned to live in a prison loose the activity for life, they become depressed, demotivated and resignated.
The purpose of living is just to survive the very day, and art which has a different meaning in Arabic countries in general, has the status of a kind of luxury which nobody can afford materially and emotionally.
The message many foreigners receive as a response is “We do not need you”, nobody would tell you that bluntly into your face, however.
One can get aware of this situation, however, just by being there, otherwise nobody would dare to invest a lot of energy, time and money for showing collective solidarity when this engagement is not recognized by those the solidarity is addressed to.
These were the conditions under which I entered the checkpoint of Bethlehem this year, and they were unfortunate, indeed, not only due to the escalating conflict in Gaza and Lebanon.
This negative spirit accompanied me during the entire visit. Anyway, finally shortly before the opening ceremony was taking place, the installation of the exhibition was complete, and it was professionally done the way it was possible under the given circumstances.
The offical opening took place on 6 July, 19h under the participation of the Mayor of the City of Bethlehem, Dr. Bartaseh, the head of Bethlehem International center, Mitri Raheb, who is also the head of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem, and my person Agricola de Cologne, the curator and organiser of the show. Dr. Bartaseh, not so accustomed to use a computer for artistic purposes, seemed to be very excited to surf on one of the installed computers through online exhibition interface. Yes, this was one of the few postive aspects, i.e. the needed technical equipment worked perfectly.
The idea, that through their selfportraits the artist were personally present at Bethlehem and showed their solidarity with Palestinians living behind the wall found much interest among the visitors, also because in Arabic countries the representation of the human image is actually not allowed, or at least people are not accustomed to deal with that.
However, it was obvious, that the majority of visitors were foreigners living in Bethlehem, just only few Palestinians and no Muslim Palestinians at all, although meanwhile the Muslims represent also in Bethlehem the majority of the population. I found this quite frustrating that those people the exhibition actually was adressed to were not present or visible, but slowly I began to understand, what I described before, it is simply not the time for art currently, and Bethlehem is beyond all also not a city of art, at all.
I would lie if I would make the resume, I would be happy, but it is obviously really like that, that it was already a big successs that the exhibition took place at all, while other cultural events planned in Bethlehem and Palestine had been cancelled due to the recent political conflict.
I do not want to waste the reader’s time and start complaining about certain details, but I would like to state anyway, that each activity which give the local people the feeling they are not forgotten, makes much sense, even if the organiser, in this case me, was quite frustrated and is currently rather tending to continue his cultural engagement in Middle East not any longer.
Personally, I think more cultural activists should become active in Palestine, not just by importing art, like it happens mostly currently, but by giving motivation and perspectives as a cultural strategy.
Unfortunately, not many Western countries support such cultural activities, and if at all, then completely insufficiently.
About the location & exhibition
Bethlehem International Center is a kind of “paradise” within an otherwise nearly hostile environment, a historical buidling complex reconstructed by a Finnish architect for future related purposes, a Christian run institution which is the home of a couple of National Palestine institutions, like the National Music conservatory, several craft and art related workshops, a theater and conference center, the Lutheran Christmas Church, a good restaurant and also the Al Kahf Art Gallery.
Al Kahf means “cave”, in this way the art gallery is also situated underground and very original, including two caves orginating from more than 2000 years ago. The name of the gallery is also a good symbol for the survival of art in Bethlehem.
For exhibitions, however just two spaces are used, the main gallery and the former “cisterne”, the third space, a large cave, however, is too humid for being used for most art exhibits.
The main space was presenting the digital prints, the computers (two were online and the third was displaying the multimedia works) and a video monitor was looping one part of the selfportrait videos. The second part of the videos was screened/projected in the little cave of the cistern, an intimate space, ideal for video projections.
Here are some images from the small dimensional, but anyway beautiful show–>
The wall close to Rachel’s tomb
Bethlehem International Center entrance area
Bethlehem International Center: backyard
Bethlehem International Center: garden
stairs down to the gallery
exhibition set up
computer displaying the multi-media
Gita Hashemi’s work & the video installation Lina Persson
online computers running the exhibition interface
work by Larissa Sansour (Palestina artist)
Faten Nastas (ICB art coordinator and artist) and her exhibited work
Samar Ghattas, Agricola de Cologne & Faten Nastas
Samar Ghattas (artist from Bethlehem) and her work
the big cave
the cisterne – space for video projection
Bethlehem International Center: the main stairs
Bethlehem International Center: The restaurant
the nativity church
view over Bethlehem
view from Bethlehem to Jerusalem
Bethlehem – tree of hope
the wall at AIDA refugee camp
the wall close to the checkpoint
the opening on 6 July 2006
(images courtesy of Bethlehem International Center)
The Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Bartaseh (right), Mitri Raheb, head of Bethlehem International Center (center) & Agricola de Cologne (left)
Dr. Bartaseh, Mayor of Bethlehem (right), Mitri Raheb, head of ICB (center) & Agricola de Cologne (left)
Mitri Raheb, head of ICB (right) and Agricola de Cologne (left)
audience at the opening
audience at the opening
audience at the opening
audience at the opening
installation at the cave
Dr. Bartaseh, Mayor of Bethlehem (left), Samar Ghattas, artist from Bethlehem and participant in the show (center) & Agricola de Cologne (right)
Bethlehem International Center
Al Kahf Art Gallery
7-30 July 2006
://selfportrait – a show for Bethlehem