Art in Palestine

By Ken George

December 19th, 2005

Given that many American museums fear controversy and distain art that lacks any commercial sex-appeal, it should come as no surprise that contemporary Palestinian art is hard to find. Thankfully, a smattering of shoe-string galleries across the country are accepting the challenge.

One of these cultural outliers is the Zeitgeist, a funky little gallery squeezed in among the cluster of shops and eateries in Cambridge’s Inman Square. Until the end of December, the gallery is home to a hodgepodge of ink drawings, woodcuts, silk screens and photographs by Palestinian artists.

The exhibit is currently traveling the country seeking sponsors and funds and in some instances — at least according to the currator, attracting some controversy. The individual works at the Zeitgeist are from larger collection that was shown at the Station Museum in Houston in 2003. And not surprisingly, many of the pieces touch on themes of longing and exile, occupation and resistance, but the mood is far less incidenary and more somber than I anticipated, and the scarcity of color makes it downright bleak at times.

Cutting through the bleakness is the work of Abdal Rahman Al Mozaye, the clear standout of the exhibition. The fludity of his clean, crisp ink on paper drawings resonate energy and vigor. In one of his illustrations, slingshot wielding children stand on either side of a women who grasps stalks of wheat and a key — presumably symbols of peace. It is a defiant, but not a crudely propagandistic, illustration that holds out hope for the future. Another standout is Jawad Ibrahime, who gives us bleakness and gloom in spades. His black and white illustrations are like anti-matter compared to Al Mozaye. The amorphous ink wash figures are bundles of despair and malevolence, and one untitled illustration resembles something ambling toward Hrothgar’s meadhall. And I’d be remiss If I failed to mention the late Mustafa Al Hallaj, who takes us on a detour to Africa. “Harvest and Famine in Africa” is a masonite cut; a spectacularly long, vertical panel populated with people and fantasmagoic creatures that could have sprung from any number of mythologies. His prodigous panels and detailed etchings are stunning and have earned him renown
throughout the Middle East.

For more information about some of these and other works by artists featured in the exhibit, I strongly recommend you visit the Station Museum’s “Made in Palestine” website. Click here for directions
to the Zeitgiest. They are not open every day, so make sure to call first before you go.

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