Ayla Lepine looks at how an organisation working with bereaved Israelis and Palestinians is hoping to promote reconciliation through art
Southbank Centre’s 2010 Poetry International Festival, ‘Imagining Peace’, focused largely on the Arab world with emphasis on Palestine. For the duration of the festival, the Saison Poetry Library held an exhibition titled ‘The Fabric of War’. It featured artwork by 20 bereaved women in the Parents Circle-Families Forum, an organisation which brings together Palestinians and Israelis and “promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge”. This display was complemented at the Courtauld Institute of Art’s book library in Somerset House. At the Poetry Library, the work told individual stories; at the Courtauld, group works dominated the display. In both cases, text accompanying the works was written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
The curator Nick Dubois first connected paper-making to peace with a 2009 exhibition by Combat Paper Project, a US veteran group who make paper from their uniforms as a therapeutic art form. When Dubois heard about the Parents Circle-Families Forum he understood that this could be an ideal way of extending the deep link between text and image, and conflict and peace, showcasing the work of these bereaved Middle Eastern communities on London walls.
At the Courtauld Library, apparently empty sheets of paper hung from the ceiling, one for each participant in the project. As Dubois explains, “These were back-lit to illuminate multiple fragments of articles, obituaries, letters and diaries in Arabic and Hebrew embedded in the paper, revealing the hidden stories of ordinary people.” At the Saison Library, viewers encountered works such as the image made by Samira A’Alamy: paper made from leaves and the crushed newspaper obituary of the artist’s son surrounds his photograph. The boy’s face speaks profoundly about the nature of loss and conflict. A’Alamy’s accompanying text explains: “I added an untouched picture of my son because I was not able to tear it up.”
In 2002, the Parents Circle-Families Forum installed over 1000 coffins at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Draped in Israeli and Palestinian flags, they represented those who “paid the price for the absence of peace”. In 2007, they gave identical ceramic platters to 135 Israeli and Palestinian artists. The resulting exhibition, ‘Offering Reconciliation’, was shown at the World Bank in Washington DC and the UN in New York. ‘The Fabric of War’ in 2010 is the latest in a series of ongoing projects where art-making is a statement of both grief and friendship, demonstrating that there is a viable, creative alternative to revenge. The Fabric of War will be exhibited in Israel, the USA and Europe through 2011/12.
Dr Ayla Lepine is a Visiting Lecturer at Courtauld Institute of Art, Warwick University and the V&A, and a freelance writer and curator with a particular interest in theology and the arts.