Since 2012, the Artolution has been organizing community-based public art projects with children, adolescents and families across the Middle East, sparking constructive dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli youth and providing a platform for vital issues of identity, coexistence and tolerance to be addressed. This work is made possible through partnerships with local community centers, schools, NGOs and the US Embassy and Consulate. Below, Artolution’s Joel Bergner reflects on the most recent series of projects with co-director Max Frieder in May and June of 2016:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is among the most intractable and complex in the world today, with local politicians and world leaders alike unable to find a viable alternative to the unsustainable and violent status quo. With no solution in sight and the political situation having deteriorated in recent years, the only positive developments currently possible are the ones happening on the grass-roots level, between regular people yearning for a brighter future and ready to sit down and begin a dialogue with those who they have been taught to fear and hate.
My collaborative partner Max Frieder and I, co-directors of the organization Artolution, recently returned to the region to facilitate a series of 8 short community-based public art projects with local youth across Israel and the Palestinian territories: East Jerusalem, Akko, Jisr az Zarqa, South Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Nablus in the West Bank. Much of our work involved bringing Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together to explore the issues that are important to them and their communities, learn from one another and envision what a brighter future would look like for all the inhabitants of the region. By working together collaboratively, they chose the themes and imagery for the murals they would create, bringing together dozens of ideas into one cohesive design. The painting process then unfolded in a frenetic whirl of colors. By working toward a common goal, the participants formed bonds and had fun together, something that is extremely rare in this highly segregated region. It was incredible to witness the teens embracing the opportunity to connect with one another and opening up in a way that many had never had the chance to do in their lives. Our work was supported by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv through the Artist Envoy program, the US Consulate in Jerusalem, and a variety of local grass-roots community groups, schools and organizations across the region.
Beyond the coexistence projects, we addressed the situation of African refugees in South Tel Aviv, where residents face intense discrimination and racism from the local population and are almost never granted asylum by the Israeli government, despite having fled violent conflict and oppression in Sudan, Eritrea and other nations. Their children, though born in Israel, are not granted citizenship, rendering them stateless. There are also locals who support them, like the organization UNITAF, as well as an NGO started by the spouses of diplomats from over 50 countries. We worked with these two amazing groups to facilitate a mural project with some adorable children and their staff members at a daycare center that serves the refugee community, bringing life and color to a difficult situation.
We also worked with groups of Palestinian youth from contested East Jerusalem and the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus, who have grown up with severe limitations on their lives and having suffered trauma related to the conflict. Through the Artolution workshops, the participants explored these difficult topics and discussed that which gives them strength and hope: their culture, families, community and their belief that they can be agents of positive social change to affect their own future. These concepts became the basis for the murals that they then created together, public monuments to the pain and the hope that embody these talented young people.
This series of community art projects expands the Artolution’s body of work in the Middle East over the last few years, created by hundreds of children, adolescents and families across the region. We plan to use this momentum to take the initiative to the next level: the founding of an ongoing, sustainable community-based public art program led by local Palestinian and Israeli artists and educators. Stay tuned for more details on the future of the Artolution in the Middle East.