In a former army outpost from 1967 sits Museum on the Seam, a socio-political museum for contemporary art established in 1999. David Amichai, Director of Public Relations, speaks of the locality of the museum, commenting that “the fact that we have a museum that is dedicated to coexistence and tolerance in a former army outpost makes it very interesting and unique…the Museum used to be the border between Israel and Jordan.”

Standing inside the gallery space which nearly faces the Damascus Gate on the border of East Jerusalem, one can see old scars, windows sealed with concrete, one ruined wall, and the remnants of what this space used to be. The Museum is located “on the seam” of different cultures, backgrounds, religions, and demographics.

The Museum was established to bridge gaps between the different ethnicities and communities of Jerusalem through the international language of art. Museum on the Seam’s main goal is to bring good art to Jerusalem, and, “as a subsequent of this good art, to raise social problem and discussion through art.” With exhibits changing every six to seven months revolving around a social theme (violence, Palestinian homelessness, and migrant workers, to name a few), the Museum offers a space for artists of all backgrounds to exhibit. “It is very important that the Israeli artist will see that there is art created in Muslim countries,” says David. The museum has exhibited work of artists from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, “even though,” as David explains, “there is an unofficial boycott of Israel by these countries.”

The Museum’s current exhibition, West End, focuses on the clash of civilizations. David describes the exhibition as a “fusion of artists from Muslim countries, Israelis and artists of the West.” He takes me through the exhibit, explaining one Muslim artist who has expressed his frustration with Switzerland’s ban on building mosques by shaping mosque-like figures into large missiles; another piece, entitled Suicide Bomber, is a statement of just that– a wall size display by an artist from Slovakia described by Amichai as “a manufactured suicide bomber, like a Barbie doll, that you just snap by the numbers and assemble it [with] the image of the fragmentation of the human body.”

I asked David if the museum has faced any opposition due to its unconventional exhibit themes and artists. He says this mostly comes from individual visitors who simply don’t agree with what they see; yet this, according to the Museum, is an opportunity to open minds. “If it makes you think about the social problem… that’s one of the reasons for making art. If it brings emotions from you, I think it’s a good art piece.” One exhibition on Palestinian homelessness, viewed by a group of Settlers, outraged the settlers. From the point of view of the Museum, this was a success: it made people think about what they see.

The Museum’s largest media coverage grew from their past exhibit, Coexistence: a traveling exhibition initiated when the first intifada started in Israel. The outdoor exhibit spanning three miles, with works from 37 artists including Yoko Ono and Desmond Tutu, traveled to different cities throughout the world hosting a week- long festival based on the theme of coexistence.

Although the current exhibit received coverage from Al Jazeera as well as a few additional news sources, the coverage has its biases in conflict. “When the media was here, they looked to the controversial side. We had articles covered by Associated Press and New York Times, but that is what’s interesting, when we saw the news report made by Reuters, the main theme was ‘Muslim artists displaying their works in an Israeli outpost.’ They always look for the..conflict.”

So what then, is the influence of Museum on the Seam in relation to the conflict of the land on which it sits and the people of whom are its neighbors? “We live in an age that the mass media makes the difference…art has been pushed aside. We try to make our own little difference, but social network and media has much more impact…we are not blind, it is very difficult.”

“Art has a message,” David continues. “Art can make you think about things in a different way than you see in the media and movies. Art has a special way of influencing people and making change… we are not naïve, but we try in our little niche to make a change. I think if people see this and they try to make a change in their own little space as well then a whole network of people will try to make change, and this will bring change in the end.”

Despite what is often viewed as a deteriorating social mentality for peace in Israel, David emphasizes that people must hold fast to the notion of hope: “If you’re determined at the beginning that there is no use trying, then there is no use trying… You have to stay positive and be hopeful. If you don’t have any hope, you will not try to make a change.”

“When people lose hope, things really start to deteriorate. The more [hope] spreads, the more you work for a common ground.” Museum on the Seam strives to be the place where art and thought meet, encouraging minds to broaden their outlook, and to remind people that by doing so with diligence, change can take place.

To learn more about Museum on the Seam, visit their website: http://www.mots.org.il/Eng/Index.asp

Advertisements