"Artists without Walls"

The Wall Jumpers

One people, two peoples, not a people at all? It's not easy, but the Israeli-Palestinian artist group "Artists without Walls" is trying out new forms of protest and of cooperation. By Charlotte Misselwitz

​​Palestinian boys wave to Israeli children by climbing onto their parents' shoulders. The later the hour, the more people can be found waving to each other from both sides of the wall. Communication through a six-meter-high concrete wall, on the border between Israel and Palestine, of all places?

The artist group "Artists without Walls" has installed cameras at a stretch of wall near Jerusalem so that each side can see a film of the other side projected onto the wall. The effect is astounding: for a brief moment, both worlds seem transparent.

New forms of artistic protest

For Oren Sagiv, this represents a new form of interaction. The Israeli architect and artist is sitting in a bar in Tel Aviv. To judge by his outfit, the 36-year-old might just as well be part of the scene in downtown Berlin. His bright eyes darken when he thinks back to the days before the founding of "Artists without Walls":

"At some point I just got sick of it: people demonstrate at the wall, the police comes and breaks it up. It was the same old thing, over and over again." There had to be a new way for artists to stand up for what they believe in. Since 2004, Sagiv has been working in the Israeli-Palestinian forum to come up with non-violent, creative protest campaigns.

The video created by the group is currently on view in the exhibition "Three Cities against the Wall" taking place simultaneously in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and New York. The exhibition's opening in Tel Aviv was packed. For the show, 63 artists from three nations have distributed artworks in the form of series or trilogies between the three cities.

This tripartite exhibition is based on an initiative by "Artists without Walls": the organizers in Tel Aviv and Ramallah are group members.

Also important to the cause are regular meetings of the Israeli-Palestinian artist group, which always take place in Ramallah. There is a good reason for this choice of location: the Palestinian artists are unable to leave. At each meeting, around 40 Palestinian and Israeli artists, filmmakers and musicians discuss art and politics.

Overcoming walls through dialogue

Although it sounds hopeless, it's all that can be done in the present situation: the usually young artists, most in their early 30s, want to overcome the wall by means of dialogue, in both the figurative and literal sense. Among them are also some older, well-known figures, such as Suleiman Mansour, a Palestinian artist.

The larger group has by now produced some smaller groupings, which get together to plan joint installations or jam sessions. Nevertheless, when the group was first formed, it took six months before the Palestinians and Israelis were able to find a joint basis for action. Suleiman Mansour points out that, when it comes to any sort of cooperation with Israelis, Palestinians tend to fear the risk of "collaboration."

The 58-year-old speaks of three types of Palestinians: those who are willing to cooperate with Israelis as a matter of principle; those who do it for certain purposes only; and those who do not cooperate at all out of principle.

"I'm the middle-of-the-road type. What I'm interested in is the campaign against the wall." Oren Sagiv, in Tel Aviv, can only nod in agreement: "Of course, cooperation is difficult for them. We live on the side of those who are confining them behind walls. We have it good: we can travel, go to bars."

The protest campaigns developed by the group frequently draw parallels with the former German wall. Suleiman Mansour finds this connection important. This is the best way to highlight just how anachronistic Israeli policy truly is.

Israeli artist Oren Sagiv, by contrast, does not find the reference to Germany very instructive: "The Berlin Wall is just one more myth – we already have enough of those." With a dismissive gesture, he remarks that Israel in particular has often used symbols as a means of manipulation.

Ideology-free forms of perception

He is more interested in using art to find ideology-free forms of perception – however that's supposed to work. At any rate, hardly any of the members of the artist group fear that their art could be reduced to a political statement.

Talking in turn with Suleiman Mansour and Oren Sagiv, one notices many differences, including finer distinctions: Mansour's modest suit, his simple haircut stem from another world than those of the Israeli Sagiv.

Asked about these differences, which in many ways recall those between East and West Germans before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Suleiman Mansour shakes his head: "The Germans will one day be one people. Just like the Israelis and the Palestinians." He seems firmly convinced that the wall will not be the last word.

Charlotte Misselwitz

© Charlotte Misselwitz/Qantara.de 2005

This article was previously published by the German daily Die Tageszeitung (TAZ).

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

Qantara.de

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