(note: the time stamp of all posts and comments on this blog is the time in umm el-fahem, israel)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

going to kansas city...!!

14 february 2012, tuesday

happy valentine's day. 

on saturday, march 10, 2012, i will be presenting my experience as an ACSL (art & cultural studies laboratory) artist-in-residence in yerevan, armenia in the summer of 2010.

the presentation will take place at the Kansas City Artists Coalition (KCAC) in kansas city, missouri.

on the program with me will be two other recipients of a Lighton International Artists Exchange Program Grant: ehren tool and jessica seagall

i am delighted to have this opportunity to relive the experience and encourage others to consider an ACSL residency.

i am also very happy that one of the umm el-fahem palestinian-israeli art gallery artists is currently exploring with KCAC the possibility of participating in KCAC's new International Artists Residency program. stay tuned....

and for any of you who might be in NYC later this year, i have been awarded a 2012 Manhattan Community Arts Fund Grant, funded by the NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs and administered by the LMCC (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council). in the months since i submitted the proposal last august the project has become more challenging because of the current environment in lower manhattan.

i am energized to meet the various challenges and potential roadblocks to engaging the public in the creation of the work and the exhibition of the finished piece in a downtown location. i will post more detailed information on my web site (desselstudio) and perhaps on this blog as i move forward.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the impossibility of keeping up. tuesday, 29 november 2011

(If you click on an image it should pop up larger in a different tab)

It is almost 4 weeks since I left Israel. But, in spite of these who blog daily, for me, here as in Umm el-Fahem, living life gets in the way of recording life. 
Yet there is so much that I didn’t mention, and too much that I mentioned simply in passing.

Soon after arriving home I was invited to write an article about my experience at the gallery for the on-line newsletter PEACE X PEACE (http://www.peacexpeace.org/2011/11/art-in-the-arab-sector/) which some of you have already read. It is a summary of my time at the gallery.

I am proud to have stood with the citizens of Umm el-Fahem as a participant in the October 21st Demonstration Against Violence to demand that the Israeli police do their job to enforce the law in Umm el-Fahem as throughout Israel. To quote my wise friend Amal Elsana Alhjooj, “There is no room for ‘cultural tolerance’ when it comes to violence.”

Many people have asked me to describe what I did day-to-day at the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery as it was not a residency to make my art. My responsibilities were developed in consultation with Said and Lilli based on my pre-art professional experience and my artistic practice. I did whatever was needed and in general my work encompassed: interaction with the gallery’s art teachers -- from presenting my work to brainstorming about their work with children; making use of my organizational skills, particularly efforts to further the documentation of the collection, and networking with external groups, gallery visitors, and, now back in the U.S., through my involvement with the newly formed FRIENDS of the Umm el-Fahem…. association.

I do not want to give short shrift to the art on exhibit in the gallery. It is professional, engaging, and interesting. The current exhibition “Personal Story” is the presentation of four artists' stories through different artistic mediums, as narrated by three curators.
    I have mentioned the ceramic sculptures on the roof by Jewish-Israeli artist, Rafi Munz. The work is whimsical, imaginative, and unusual in the environment of Umm el-Fahem. It was a delight to watch visitors interact with the pieces in the roof-top gallery space and it was wonderful nourishment for peoples' ( adults' and children's) imaginations. Here Munz's piece seems to howl  at the full moon:

    The other three artists
are Arab-Israeli, and like all of our stories theirs are both particular and universal.
    Fatima Abu Rumi's skillful work retells a difficult personal journey. Her self portraits and those of her father are exquisite paintings of a moving and politically and socially charged story. Here Fatima puts a finishing touch on one of her pieces:

    Nidal Gabarin studied in the former Soviet Union. Many of his paintings are urban landscapes with an impressionistic slant and others outdoor scenes not found in his home of Umm el-Fahem.

    Ammar Younis' photographs present us with more than we can see in the image before us. He offers a  perspective steeped in pride of place and history.

In addition to his prize-winning documentary photographs and videos he is an amazing teacher.

   The gallery's first floor houses Memory of Place, an exhibit of archival photos and film footage of the Wadi Ara region. The images and documents offer an historical view that is expanded by photographic portraits of today's elderly citizens of Umm el-Fahem. These photographs have been taken by both Jewish - and Arab-Israeli photographers. Complementing this exhibit is the gallery's significant archival project to collect the history of the Wadi Ara area through video recorded interviews of its elders, some who have passed their hundredth birthdays. 

From time to time in the coming year I may post about activities of the FRIENDS of Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art.

And I hope that if you make a trip to Israel you will plan stop by the gallery for a couple of hours (if you let me know I will make the connection for you before you leave).

In closing here now, I will let the images below speak. And I am always be happy to answer any questions that you might have (e-mail address: suzart0207@gmail.com)

  The kitchen in our (i.e., the volunteers') apt. on the gallery's roof. Wait until you see what is under the tablecloth

It's a light box! showing a composite of scenes from the city of Umm el-Fahem.

A two-image digression:
Nothing to do with the gallery but in spite of their dispositions I love camels and had to share this photo. I met these guys at the Desert Ship, the last stop on the NISPED Tour for Women in the Media of the Bedouin Women's Projects.
My dear, longtime friend Vivian Silver (second from right, about whom I shall brag) and her crew came to the gallery to collect me for a half day in Haifa. Yona Yahav, Mayor of Haifa,   who Vivian and I worked with many moons ago, to V's left. To her right: her mother Roslyn, her husband Lewie Zeigen, son Yonatan and Maayan, son Chen and Ori. Now back to Umm el-Fahem:

Members of Sharikat Hayat (Women of Valor), a project of the Municipality of Umm el-Fahem in partnership with the JDC (the "Joint"), met with gallery staff on October 26th to talk about their efforts toward economic empowerment for women, learn about the gallery, and plan what they might do together. Fifteen of the women will now be participating in a weekly workshop at the gallery. (On the walls are images depicting the winning design for the future Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art.)

 Ruwan (left) and Laila prepare for the Art-in-Education program. Both born in Umm el-Fahem, Laila studied art at Beit Berl College and Ruwan has just begun her studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

10/29 Artist teachers Tamra and Orguan make sheep to give to each child as a gift for the coming holiday, symbolic of the sheep traditionally roasted by each family for the Feast of Eid-Ul-Adha*.
* re http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Adha: "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid" is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma'il) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. The meat is divided into three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the other third is given to the poor and needy.

Saleh Sharkawi (whose family photos can be seen in the archival exhibit on the gallery's first floor) -- coffee grinder or drummer?

No, we didn't eat lunch like this every day, but  we did eat well!!! At the table is Lilli Stern, who you have not seen before (at the back, left, head tilted right). Lilli is the gallery's Volunteer Liaison and Fund Raiser.

Kamle, who among many other things was our source of vitamin C, brought to us freshly picked from her tree.
Perfumery in neighboring Bar Ba'ah.

October 30th, Said and the gallery, hosting the visiting ALLMEP Executive Director, bring  together representatives of organizations in Wadi Ara engaged in cross-border or shared society work.
Said Abu Shakra and scd.
Assalamu alaikum. Shalom v'l'hitraot.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


hello! hello!.  still  to come, a final post about my recent time in Umm el-Fahem.

however, this morning i want to share with you a link to an article that i was invited to write about my experience.  it has just been posted on PEACE X PEACE Raise Women's Voices Build Cultures of Peace

and it is my hope that one day you too will have an opportunity to visit the gallery or future museum.

until later, suzi

Saturday, October 29, 2011

saturday, 29 october 2011

i physically will leave umm el-fahem: the gallery and my new friends and acquaintances, in a day and a half. but the connections are strong with a whole lifetime ahead to grow and, we all hope, bear witness to the success of Said, et. al.'s efforts.

i regret that i have not posted more frequently. i will use photos as the story line to post below, as usual in no particular order.

[NOTE: i will use another post to speak about the work that i have done here]:

the first two images below are large sculptures of household objects representative of welcoming guests and family members into one's home. they are on the road from the junction into umm el-fahem.
 the road/walk from the junction (highway) into the center of umm el-fahem/the gallery is about 1.4 miles (2.4 km). for a new yorker this is about 28 blocks, a daily routine. walking toward the junction from the gallery/our apt. is downhill. coming back up is thus uphill. however, not just uphill. UPHILL! the pull of gravity begins
a bit after the road splits -- go to the left and it is "main street" with cars vying for parking with other vehicles and pedestrians, stores, bodywork garages, restaurants and local fast food eateries (mac donalds and pizza hut are in one of the small mall buildings between the junction and the center of town).

go to the right, up to the gallery, and each step is as rich an experience as any fancy work-out machine. and so we go to the right instead of continuing left where we could instead simply walk into a large (all is relative) building housing google's offices, a bank, two different chupat cholim medical clinics, etc., take the elevator to the fifth floor and walk out to the street where the gallery is located. an even greater challenge occurs when we are carrying bakbookim (bottles) of soda water. sometimes we take the elevator up to our apt. on the third level from the street level but we still feel that we have done our daily exercise.

(note: while muscles formerly unused are getting used to the workout our bodies are fueled with delicious edibles in amounts also not customarily consumed at home. in the weight department nothing lost but also hopefully nothing gained.)
follow the car above right up to the gallery.

for almost three weeks i have walked by what i was certain was a bakery but confused by the lack of the unmatchable aroma of freshly baked bread. thursday afternoon i popped in. the two women who were working spoke arabic. we know what i speak and we all spoke a bit of hebrew. i found out that the baking begins at midnight and the machines are closed down at 10am, 7 days a week. so this morning i was up and out in time to watch the pita, as it turned out, being baked. it smelled yummy and i bough a sack of 12 or 13 "pitot" the smallest amount possible to purchase.

since i am back into talking about the local food i will share images from two parties joanna and i were invited to yesterday, friday 10/28.

the first was a family celebration welcoming month old achmed, third son of said's sister alia's daughter byan. byan's husband's family owns
the market is in the Abu Dagash building about half way down the road to the junction (highway). it is a brand new building housing a mini-mall -- in addition to the meat market, an italian restaurant, a cafe, clothing stores, a large orange cell service provider store, a name brand, expensive, eye glasses frames store, and a number of still empty store fronts. the meat is reputed to be THE best and for the celebration the women in the family made special spiced meat patties that were grilled with the usual lamb chops, and kabobs. the tables were laden with salads AND french fries!

women and men sat separately during the luncheon. we arrived later than most as siham, said's wife, mother of ruwan, was shopping to purchase items to set up ruwan's new apt. sat., today. they will be 5 apt-mates in university housing, the hebrew univ. of jerusalem. housing seems to be arab students with arab students, jewish with jewish, at least in the first year when the university makes the matches. ruwan who at 17 1/2 years old is totally comfortable in the company of all others told me when i inquired that she is happy that this was the case because  she will feel more at home living with other arab -- female -- students. she is the youngest but no doubt she will hold her own.

back to the party: there was a person in a clown costume as the m.c. for the kids, many quite young children. the hokey pokey, simon says, ... are the same all over the world. later we moved to the dessert and catch-up-with-family-members area & one of alia's sons began taking the boys (no matter how the girls pleaded for their turns) on speedy rides standing up on a hand truck, to the dismay of some of the mothers but to the total delight of the squealing children.

for dessert there were sticky, sweet pastries (but knowing that we were going to a dessert send-off party for ruwan at said and siham's at 5pm i did not have dessert although i did have a few sips of thicker-than-usual turkish coffee)

the weather was glorious and we stayed long enough for siham to catch-up on family goings on. while joanna and i missed most of what was being said the environment was warm and welcoming and being outside was delicious, listening to fabulous arab music a pleasure.

the weather:
       i had occasion to see the mini-blizzard in nyc today (29 october 2011, around 11am in nyc) when david and i skyped and he took the computer to the window
here it continues to be in the mid to high 70s Fahrenheit, going down to the low 60s F in the evenings.

desserts friday evening, 10/28

a gathering and sweets in honor of ruwan who would leave on sat., today, 10/29, to begin her first year of studies in the department of education (studying special education) at the hebrew university in jerusalem.

Said and Siham have 5 children: the eldest, a daughter is doing her PhD at McGill in clinical psych, the next, a son, is studying architecture in munich, the next, a daughter who i had the pleasure to meet, is studying dentistry in jordon, and the youngest, a sophomore in high school, knows that his field of study will be astronomy/space studies.
 above: Said, Siham, Ruwan
 above, Siham and Said (and the maple walnut cake still warm from the oven).
 Said writes each of his children a letter when they leave for school, something that no doubt will treasure more with each passing year.
 Lilah, far right, and Siham look on as Ruwan opens her presents.
 Joanna takes down the translation of the recipe for the chocolate walnut cake with cream filling. Center, Kamle, with Ruwan.
 Ruwan is enjoying herself.
 Above and below: Far left, Kamle, center Ruwan, & scd
 i am not posting a number of photos with others in them out of respect to the fact that they contain images of iman, a lovely young woman who does not want photos of herself floating around the web.

fearing a crash any moment i shall post this now as an installment with more anon.

oh, wait, one last thing. friday night we had the treat of viewing the video of  the engagement party of the second daughter, the dental student (i do not have the correct spelling of the names, and do not want to mangle them).

what a party. hours of dancing, first just the women of the future bride's family. then joined by the women of the future groom's family, then the men from both sides join the women. the dancing never stopped (3-4 hours) and when it did it was for the engaged couple to exchange rings and then accept gifts of incredible jewerly from  almost everyone there.

protocol of traditions/of the event reigned. if anyone ate it was not while the video was being shot (hours worth. we watched some of the party/the dancing fly by at high speed). women were dressed in everything from very traditional to quite revealing outfits. variations in head scarf styles seem infinite, some must have gone to scarf beauticians as headscarves were transformed into intricate and beautiful flower-like knots.

the guiding rules for headscarves: no hair showing, no ears showing, no neck showing. otherwise, as stylish or not as one chooses, and make-up runs from none to heavily applied. a noticible similarity between many orthodox women who wear sheitels and many orthodox muslim women who wear headscarves is while they are only to show their hair and beauty to their husbands the wigs and headcoverings are selected with great care and style.

the men all had on white shirts, ties and dark pants, the shirt and pants are (at least historically) standard israeli menswear for such occasions, but the ties set these israeli-arabs apart from jewish israeli men. (oh, and i only noticed one guy wearing jeans.)

the engagement party was held in Said and Siham's home (outside) and it was a family-only event. we all sat on the comfortable furniture cushions, there for over an hour clapping to the beat, entranced by the music, the dancing, the clothing, the whole experience. joanna and i ar still not clear though it has been explained, about the engagement and the wedding traditions. it seems that there must be an engagement (which means an exchange of rings among the other jewelry given, much of it gold and diamonds) in order for the couple to go out in public together without a chaperone. the wedding is a private religious ceremony followed by a party. it seems that the engagement is the required public notice and the wedding party simply a reason to have a party, but ... not sure.
                            #                    #                   #

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

monday/tuesday 24/25 october 2011

note: i intended to post this last night, however due to technical difficulties i finally gave up trying to upload the images and shut down the computer. it is now tuesday evening and i will try with renewed energy.

thank you very much! to those who have posted comments. actually they do not seem to get posted but instead are sent to me through e-mail (and the terrible e-mail situation is why i decided to re-start the blog). mysterious.

my fingers cannot possibly work as quickly as thoughts to share with you are pouring out of my head. five days have passed since i last posted. i will continue to not write in the order of when things occurred, for i think that it does not really matter. certainly with each day i get to know, and appreciate, the people connected with the gallery (in whatever way) a little better as they too become better acquainted with me, and as they and i move together into the future trust will grow and that will make a difference. but it is my hope that simply the anecdotal information and snapshots will combine to create a rich, visual image of my time here and of the personalities and lives of some of umm el-fahem's residents.

on october 18th i wrote about the tragedy of the triple murder that had occurred the previous evening, monday the 17th. while the particulars of this story are terrible and involve so many of the people of this small city (e.g. Said's wife Siham, principal of a local elementary school, had to bring in psychologists this week to meet with the children in her school, for children of some of the extended families of both of the  families involved attend her school), it is the larger issue that has mobilized the people of umm el-fahem, neighboring arab villages, and other arab-israeli towns in israel.

the issue was brought up last thursday, oct. 20th, by visitors to the gallery: my friend, artist rosemary solan from jerusalem, and two of her friends who live on kibbutz meggido (among the many kibbutzim on their way to total privatization: complicated, fascinating, and raises the what makes a privatized kibbutz a kibbutz question) not far from umm el-fahem.

All had been to the gallery some previous time which speaks to the israel they would like to live in. They talked about the fact that arab on arab crime is not pursued by the police, and that it is thought by many (jewish and arab israelis) that it is not in the interest of the israeli police to spend time, resources, or energy to solve crimes that take place in arab-israeli towns (siting known instances of this seemingly accepted "policy").

It was with this conversation in mind that i determined when i heard friday morning about a demonstration planned for friday mid-day that, if it seemed not to be a stupid thing to do, that i wanted to participate.  joanna felt similarly.

we had been invited to said and siham's home for friday breakfast.

it is a family tradition that said prepares breakfast on friday, although the household was like any other with teenagers in that they slept late, then ran out, missing the feast that said and siham set before us,  grabbing something from the table halva -- halawa, haleweh, ħelwa, halvah, halava, helava, helva, halwa, halua, chalva, chałwa -- anyone?

 [an aside: one of siham's brother-in-law's family owns the local halva factory. given my limited time remaining here in u e-f i may not have a chance to go on a tour of the factory but will look forward to joanna's description. and this is as it should be as joanna loves halva while i love my childhood memories, & most of all the memory of benny (my father) enjoying it, more than i do actually eating it. for those who did not grow up with this delicacy, fresh, not packaged joyva, although that too, especially covered in chocolate, has known to be a tasty treat, it is basically sesame paste (tahini) and  sugar.

on the way to the abu shakra home we had asked said about the planned demonstration. it had been called by the mayor & city council for 12:30pm friday, after prayer ends. the point was to send the message that arab blood, arab lives are not not less valuable than jewish blood, jewish lives, that the citizens of umm el-fahem do not condone murder or violence and that they want the murderer apprehended and brought to justice. also when we asked him, said responded that it was perfectly safe for us to go and n fact the people of u e-f would  feel very good that those not from u e-f support their efforts.

ruwan (his  and siham's 17 1/2 year old daughter who we have gotten to know as she works in the afternoons at the gallery) was going and was happy to have us go with her and her good friend afnan.

we later learned that this was the very first time that ruwan (recently admitted to the hebrew university in jerusalem for the program of special needs in the dept of education) had participated in a demonstration, unlike afnan (now a student at the american university in jenin) who had gone to demonstrations as a child with her parents.

and so we ate, and ate, and ate some more (no dessert although siham had baked. simply no way to manage it after the fabulous omlette and multiple pita dishes (made in a special electric pan) with various toppings: wild zatar, onions and cheese, tomatoes, onions and tuna, and freshly made olive oil which tasted spicy, great hummus, etc.  ruwan and afnan were anxious to go and finally got us away from the table.

they took the care of us as their charges very seriously. afnan did not let go of me and ruwan held on to joanne.

we were with the women and children. the streets wind around and up and down and we had no idea where we were. at points we were basically running, with afnan and me getting further and further ahead. it turned out that at some point the heat and the difficulty of walking/running in inappropriate foot ware caused joanna to turn back and find her way to the gallery.

afnan heard her phone despite the roar of the women and we stepped out to wait fo ruwan and then again began looking for holes in thecrowd to squeeze through and move further and further toward the beginning of the throng of women, and then at last into the futbol (soccer) field for the speeches.

it was not always comfortable for me. i could not understand the slogans being chanted or the handwritten signs. i asked for translations throughout the demonstration,  yet still.

joanna'simage appeared on panet (web site:http://www.panet.co.il/online/articles/1/2/S-466582,1,2.html   )  and mine on bokra (web site:http://www.bokra.net/Articles/1148996/%D8%A3%D9%83%D8%AB%D8%B1_%D9%85%D9%86_%D8%B9%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A9_%D8%A2%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%81_%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B1_%D9%81%D9%8A_%D8%A3%D9%85_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%AD%D9%85_%D8%B6%D8%AF_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%86%D9%81.html).
 joanna in the sunglasses, in the headscarf front right is ruwan
In the photo with me are, l to r, fatima, afnan and ruwan.
we are smiling as if posing because we were posing. the journalist asked us as everyone was leaving the field if he could take our picture.

the police have been advised by the mayor that if the murderer is not identified by sunday then demonstrators will set up camp outside of the office.

the police station is located at the entrance to u e-f. as i have previously mentioned, i have not seen even one policeperson inside of u e-f, other than yesterday when the police officer who heads the police dept.'s community service program for the area was invited to j's completion celebration (a feast j brought in for all of us for lunch,  served on the roof of the gallery to mark the last day of his three months of community service). don't know if the policeman's invited presence at the table counts as police in u e-f.

what i know is hearsay, i.e. i don't know the actual numbers but most seem to agree that the u e-f police force is made up of scores of  jewish-israelis  and at the most 4 arab-israelis.

the tension between the police and the local citizenry runs high. as we walked with teh demonstrators joanna and i felt people's anger at the situation and sadness at the murders and disappointment with the system, but we felt no tension nor were uncomfortable in the crowd.

it is difficult to believe that the police will begin to do their jobs as unbiased law enforcers. but perhaps the recent demonstration -- the largest ever in umm el-fahem or the area and the first time women have participated as a group will result in resident representatives of u e-f and the police sitting down at the table to talk about their concerns and what the police might do to correct them (but probably not).

o.k. so as to post this i will end with some photos of local foodstuffs, and the last image of an interesting positioning of stores in one of the new local buildings, a mini mall.