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Saturday Art: Will 2014 Be the Watershed Year for Cultural Boycotts of Israel?

11:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller


I.  On December 27th, Gaza’s University Teachers’ Association and the Gaza Palestinian Students for the Academic Boycott of Israel wrote to young Norwegian songwriter, Moddi, asking him to cancel his upcoming 2014 concert, in Tel Aviv on February 1st.  Friday the young and rapidly upcoming artist responded, in a Facebook post that links to an article Jello Biafra wrote after he had cancelled an Israeli show, with his band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine, back in 2011.

The Gaza letter is an openly emotional plea.  It recounts some musicians who have recently decided to cancel appearances in the militant expansionist Zionist state:

We call upon your free soul that has been adding uplifting music into this disenchanted world of ours, to join those courageous people of conscience, artists like Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Gil Scott-Heron, Faithless, Carlos Santana, Vanessa Paradis, Natacha Atlas and Devendra Banhart.

And directly confronts the notion of an Israeli performance being appropriate, from a Gazan perspective:

We ask you now, like so many people of your nation have stood with the oppressed in the past, to stand on the right side of history, to respond to our call from the Gaza ghetto to not turn your back on us. If you play in Israel, then we will be a short distance away from where you are playing. But your beautiful tunes will break our wrenching hearts and not sway our souls.

I’ve watched a few of Moddi’s Youtube videos over the past year, after a student turned me on to his art.  Here is what the Gazan suppliants meant when they wrote “your beautiful tunes.”  Moddi, rendering Smoke, with Katrine Schiøtt, in Istanbul:

Moddi’s Facebook response to the Gazans is as poignant and defiant as his song, Smoke:

I have chosen to cancel my performance in Tel Aviv on February 1st. This is without comparison the most difficult decision I have ever made as an artist, and one that hurts almost as much as it feels right.

The reason for my decision is the situation in Israel and the areas it controls. Although music can be a unique arena for public debate, the debate over these territories has been misused for a long time. Discussion and dialogue creates an impression of constant progress. The realities of politics are very different. An example: as we speak, John Kerry is negotiating peace talks between Israel and Palestine, while at the same time Israel announces the construction of 1400 new settlements on occupied land. While everyone speaks about a two-state solution, the constant scattering of the West Bank through the building of new control posts, security fences and walls are making such a solution practically impossible.

The discourse of peace creates a thick veil, concealing the increasingly tighter besiegement of Gaza, the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank and the continuing discrimination of Arab-Israeli citizens. By encouraging ‘dialogue’ and ‘tolerance’ as ideals, I am afraid that my voice will do nothing but to increase the already dysfunctional divide between words and action in a conflict where no one seems to trust each other’s intentions.

I know that I disappoint many of my Israeli listeners and I am truthfully sorry that it has to stay like this for now. I believe that you will understand, although you might not agree. Again, I encourage you to read Jello Biafra’s article, which provides many perspectives and no clear answers to the questions he has been faced with. Like him, I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. Therefore, I will be going to Israel and to the West Bank to see things with my own eyes, meet some of the people who have joined the discussion and try to understand the situation better.

As long as ‘dialogue’ continues to be a goal in itself and not a means to solve one of the deepest, most intense conflicts of this time, I will not lend my voice to it. For now I’ll keep away, hoping that things can change for the better and that one day I can carry through with my very first concert on an Israeli stage.

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Saturday Art: Alice Walker Reads Rachel Corrie

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Rachel Corrie - February 2003

Next Saturday, March 16th, will mark the tenth anniversary of the death in Gaza, of Rachel Corrie.  Rachel, then a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, had gone to Gaza at the beginning of 2003, to fulfill aspects of her senior thesis.  While there, she became active in efforts by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to protect Palestinians from outrages of the Israeli occupation forces.

She was killed by an Israeli Army D-9 armored bulldozer, with two people aboard in the cockpit, one there to drive, the other, to observe.  During the same time period, Israeli forces in Gaza shot and mortally wounded Tom Hurndall, a British photographer, also working with the ISM (April 11th), and mutilated Brian Avery (April 5th), another American ISM activist, in Jenin in the West Bank.  This time period coincided with the American invasion of Iraq – March 19th to May 1st.

A notable aspect of Rachel Corrie’s legacy is the sheer volume of art her life and sacrifice evoked.  Between March 19th 2003 and April 24th 2004, I collected over 160 poems written in the young woman’s honor, and posted on the web, in the English language.  I used two of them in my 2003-2004 cantata, The Skies Are Weeping.  California composer, Paul Crabtree composed another cantata about Corrie, American Persephone.

Corrie’s journals and emails from Gaza became the basis of the most widely viewed and highly regarded work of art about Corrie, My Name is Rachel Corrie.  Written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, the play premiered in London on April 5, 2005, in a highly evocative solo performance by actress Megan Dodds.  Premiered in a very small theatre, it was revived in the 2005 fall London theatre season in a larger venue, and proceeded to win many awards.

The first attempt to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie in the USA, at the New York Theatre Workshop resulted in a cancellation, when the NYTW caved to threats from militant Zionist expansionists. (Incidentally – the article about the cancellation in The Nation, by writer Philip Weiss, and the pushback that writer got in the publishing world for having written so sympathetically about Corrie, and critically about the NYTW, was one of the epiphanies Weiss underwent that led him into new directions, now expressed most fully at his web site, Mondoweiss).

The play has gone on to be performed on every continent save Antarctica, in many languages.

The play was derived from Corrie’s written material with cooperation of the slain activist’s family.  Some of Corrie’s writings had been posted on the web soon after her death.  Some soon became the basis of poems or lyrics.  For instance, the concluding lyric in The Skies are Weeping is my editing (with the Corrie family’s approval) of one of her last emails home: Read the rest of this entry →

On the Art of Palestinian Children: “Crayons of Mass Destruction”

10:42 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I. 29 years ago, I was a strong supporter of Israel.  From 1967 through 1982, I argued with friend after friend who did not support Zionism in practice.  I voiced my positions from what I felt I knew from people who lived or had lived in Israel, from people I knew who believed in the Israeli experiment, and from a sense that there was strong justification for Jews who wanted a place of their own, to go there and have one, and that Israel’s geographical position, where Judaism had come to life, made sense.

Although my comrades’ arguments had an impact, they didn’t sway me.  Then, one event changed everything.  I was subjected to art created by Palestinian kids.

When a tugboat I’d been working on for over two months docked in Seattle in November 1982, my closest buddy, the late James Acord, greeted me at the dock.  I wanted to go to a bar, as I’d had two beers in three months.  He wanted me to go to an art exhibit in Fremont, which then was the second most decrepit part of the older white sections of  Seattle, after Georgetown.

“What kind of art, Jim?”

“Drawings made by kids who were orphaned in the Shatila massacre in Beirut.”

On the tugboats I’d worked on over the summer and fall, news had been limited to shortwave international broadcasts.  There had been the end of the Anglo-Argentine Falklands War, the John De Lorean cocaine bust, the tylenol murders, Yuri Andropov’s elevation in the USSR, and the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon.  The BBC had covered Sabra and Shatila better than American media, from what I recall.  We had listened to the BBC (and Radio Moscow and Voice of America) a lot on the boat.

I said “OK.”

The exhibit was in a large room in a building on Fremont Avenue that has since become a bar.  There were about 40 or so people there.  Jim introduced me to a couple of his Palestinian-American friends.  I was surprised at how warmly he described my  sympathy and concern about Palestinian rights, given the shouting episodes he and I had had about Israel over the past 12 years.  He wasn’t being dishonest, I had merely forgotten how much I’d agreed with him in our bouts.  But Israeli interests, “secure and defensible borders,” and “a viable refuge for Jews worldwide” had always trumped the Palestinians, and had been my bottom line.

A Palestinian-American man my age offered to take me around the room to explain the kids’ drawings.  There were probably 25 of them.

By the third of fourth drawing, between my new friend’s open warmth and the art’s contrasting renderings of  cold closings, I was quietly weeping.  I turned to him and gave my first hug to another human since I’d left for the tug trip 70 days earlier.

As he explained the background of each drawing, one more bell, no - anvil – rang loudly, beginning to erase my support for Zionism, as one kid’s horrific cry on cheap paper after another spoke to me.

II. Since that November 1982 day, I’ve had many opportunities to witness the power of art created by young people.  As an arts educator,  I’ve often been able to behold kids  - some very young kids – at the moment when they miraculously bloomed into a real artist, sometimes at a surprisingly young age.  I conducted a ten-year old trumpet prodigy in a flawless performance of Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto, cried as dozens of young dancers blossomed on stage in professional productions of The Nutcracker, stood over the shoulder of  grade school kids creating posters, drawings, paintings and sculptures that went on to win their first of many prizes, thrilled in being part of grade school and middle school actresses and actors in plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gypsy.

In the middle class ambience where I’ve gotten to see this, kids have problems:  from home life with parents or siblings, questions about God and religion, doubts about their talents or looks or impending sexuality, worries when their family’s income takes a huge drop, and so on.  This is normal, even if the kids don’t see it that way.

During the same period, I’ve been fortunate to observe Palestinian young people perform in dance troupes, play instruments, render plays, do videos of various kinds, and, beginning with that 1982 Seattle exhibit, describe their lives in their drawings and paintings.

Although these young artists also have the problems I’ve seen with kids in Alaska, they have much more to deal with than we do.  Especially in Gaza, where four times as many kids live as do in Alaska, and in an area one 4,770th the size of this place (139 square miles vs. 663,268 square miles).

Getting their art shown in Gaza or the West Bank is hard enough for Palestinian kids. Getting it shown in the United States can prove to be all but impossible.

III. Late last week the Berkeley California Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) announced that it was canceling an upcoming exhibit of art by Palestinian kids who live in Gaza:

The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which was partnering with MOCHA to present the exhibit, was informed of the decision by the Museum’s board president on Thursday, September 8, 2011. For several months, MECA and the museum had been working together on the exhibit, which is titled “A Child’s View of Gaza.”

MECA has learned that there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.

Barbara Lubin, the Executive Director of MECA, expressed her dismay that the museum decided to censor this exhibit in contradiction of its mission “to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.”

“We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose,” she said.

“The only winners here are those who spend millions of dollars censoring any criticism of Israel and silencing the voices of children who live every day under military siege and occupation.”

Unfortunately, this disturbing incident is just one example of many across the nation in which certain groups have successfully silenced the Palestinian perspective, which includes artistic expression. In fact, some organizations have even earmarked funds for precisely these efforts. Last year, regrettably the Jewish Federation of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs launched a $6 million initiative to effectively silence Palestinian voices even in “cultural institutions.”

The free exhibit, co-sponsored by nearly twenty local organizations, was scheduled to open on September 24, and featured special activities for children and families, including a cartooning workshop and poetry readings.

The MOCHA web site links (PDF) on its front page to an “open letter,” signed by Hilmon Sorey, Chair of the MOCHA Board of Directors.  It is important to quote the entire letter here:

The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) was founded as a place where children from all backgrounds could come together to make and celebrate art. MOCHA provides a safe place for children to express themselves through art, and produces programs that are intended to foster insight and understanding.

Our gallery is a multiuse space. Every week, hundreds of children utilize the space for drop-in art, school field trips, birthday parties, camps, and other events. Most children that visit MOCHA are between the ages of 5 and 9, and many children enter our gallery without the supervision of their parents.

With the exhibit A Child’s View from Gaza it was our intent, as it is with all our exhibits, to foster insight and understanding. We understand that, sadly, violence is a part of many children’s lives, and we remain committed to showing artwork that depicts the diverse realties of childhood across the world.

However, as an organization that serves a large and diverse community, we tried to balance this with the concerns raised by parents, caregivers and educators who did not wish for their children to encounter graphically violent and sensitive works during their use of our facility. MOCHA is a facility that must be accessible for our entire community. Although we worked to develop a way to separate the most violent images in the exhibit from our main studio spaces, we ultimately came to the conclusion that MOCHA is not currently set up to effectively accomplish this.

Recognizing this, the MOCHA Board of Directors decided to cancel this exhibit. It is important to note this was not a judgment of the art itself or related to any political opinions. The Board determined that MOCHA simply did not have the space or staffing to accommodate the exhibit in a way that both respected the gravity of the material and our mission to serve all children.

We regret that we did not make this determination earlier. Our next step will be to thoroughly evaluate our exhibit policy so that we can ensure all exhibits—including those of a violent or sensitive nature—are handled in a way that promotes constructive dialogue and ensures that children and adults of all backgrounds feel comfortable visiting MOCHA. We will be developing this policy in the next month, and will then invite all of our partner organizations, including the sponsors of A Child’s View from Gaza the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) to participate in our exhibits in keeping with this policy.

This experience has reminded us, yet again, of the power of children’s voices and visions and of the unique role that art can play in our community. We remain committed to ensuring that art, in all its forms, remains a vibrant part of our lives. [emphases added]

The letter might seem sincere, but it is not.  It seems obvious that the Museum caved to Zionist pressure.  After all, local Bay area Zionist organizations took credit for the kill.  Here’s a tweet from the Jewish Federation of East Bay:

Great news! The “Child’s view from Gaza” exhibit at MOCHA has been canceled thanks to some great East Bay Jewish community organizing

Another group that organized in the Bay area was the Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers.  Their blog ran a post back on August 9th that showed art by kids who live in Sderot, the Israeli town that has borne the main brunt of rocket attack from Gaza militants.  The post ended with this appeal to the MOCHA board:

To the Museum of Childrens Art, the staff, board and the individuals and foundations that support MOCHA:

This exhibit is without context and balance, and includes anti-Semitic and anti-American imagery. By allowing your facilities to be used in this manner, you are presenting an incomplete picture, creating heat without light and contributing to the vast pool of lies misinformation on the conflict in the Middle East. This is an inappropriate use of a treasured local resource.

Commenters to the post encouraged people to organize against the exhibit.  They did.  This is why the exhibit was cancelled.

As Rachel Corrie wrote about the terrible destruction Gaza kids live with, “this happens every day.”

This is in the area where Sunday about 150 men were rounded up and contained outside the settlement with gunfire over their heads and around them, while tanks and bulldozers destroyed 25 greenhouses – the livelihoods for 300 people. The explosive was right in front of the greenhouses – right in the point of entry for tanks that might come back again. I was terrified to think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I was really scared that they were all going to be shot and I tried to stand between them and the tank. This happens every day….

Cancellations like that at MOCHA don’t happen every day, but the occur frequently.  The play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, has undergone a number of U.S. cancellations.  I’ve given up trying to get my musical work about Corrie, The Skies Are Weeping, performed in the U.S.  In March 2006, Brandeis University pulled down an art exhibit about war by Palestinian young people soon after it went up:

Brandeis University officials have removed from a school exhibit artwork that depicts injured and bloodied Palestinian children, according to a media report.

The images were painted by Palestinian teenagers at the request of an Israeli Jewish student at at the Jewish-sponsored college who wanted to bring the Palestinian viewpoint to campus. But school officials said the paintings were too one-sided.

The paintings were removed Saturday, four days into a two-week exhibit at a school library, The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday.

Lior Halperin, the student who organized the exhibit, called the school’s action “outrageous.”

“This (is) an educational institution that is supposed to promote debate and dialogue,” Halperin told The Globe. “Let’s talk about what it is: 12-year-olds from a Palestinian refugee camp. Obviously it’s not going to be about flowers and balloons.”

The images include a bulldozer threatening a girl, and a boy with an amputated leg on a crutch. Halperin had contacted a friend who works in a Bethlehem refugee camp and asked teenagers to paint images of Palestinian life.

“It was completely from one side in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and we can only go based on the complaints we received,” Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon said, according to The Globe.

Nealon said the school would consider displaying the artwork again in the fall, if it is alongside pieces showing the Israeli point of view, The Globe reported.

Halperin, 27, is an Israel Defense Forces veteran. Her “Voices from Palestine” exhibit was a final project for a class called “The Arts of Building Peace.”

So much for “the art of building peace.”

No wonder the Israelis forbade bringing crayons into Gaza until after the Mavi Marmara incident forced them to loosen the rules.  Crayons of Mass Destruction.

Alice Walker, who was on 2011′s thwarted Gaza flotilla, is in the Bay area this week, and wrote about the censorship at MOCHA:

There was no museum in the tiny, segregated, Georgia town closest to where we lived; though I could be wrong. I was fifty before I understood there was, somewhere hidden in the white part of town, a public library. I do remember that the art of Jimmy Lee Brundidge, a young black folk artist, was shown on the walls of the local shoe shop.

The decision by the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland not to show the work of Palestinian children from Gaza makes me sad.  But not discouraged.  The art will be shown.  The walls of a shoe shop will be found.  We will all – those of us who care about these children, whose pain our tax dollars assured – go to see it.  Furthermore, we will write to the children to let them know we’ve seen their work and what we think of it.  This is the least we can do.

Such banning as this usually backfires.

I don’t think I was born yet, but I “remember” that, in 1939, Marian Anderson, the great black contralto, was refused venue at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. by the Daughters of the American Revolution because (gasp) the audience would be integrated!  Anderson supporters, including president Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, rallied to the cause and Anderson sang to a crowd in the tens of thousands while standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

We will find a Lincoln Memorial.  We will eventually, on this issue of freeing the Palestinians, find a Lincoln.

Here’s a link to A Child’s View of Gaza’s facebook page, where they have posted many of the banned images.

[hat tip to Taxi for the term "crayons of mass destruction."  Surely such nefarious tools are an existential threat]


Saturday Art: Alice Walker’s Poem, “Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece”

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Alice Walker

[image of Alice Walker from Books Alive's flickr photo stream]


American poets, novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects and composers have found inspiration in Athens throughout most of our country’s life.  Whether the inspiration came from Athenian contributions to Greek mythology, the iconic plays of the three Greek tragedians, the teachings of Socrates, the writings of Plato, the speeches of Solon, the replicas of lost sculptures of Praxiteles, the grandeur of the Parthenon, or the clear skies and Mediterranean warmth, American Classicism and Neo-Classicism owe as much to Athens as to any other city.

Mark Twain, attempting to visit Athens in 1867, was forced to remain aboard his vessel in Piraeus Harbor.  He recounted his experiences there in Chapter XXXII of Innocents Abroad:

But bad news came. The commandant of the Piraeus came in his boat, and said we must either depart or else get outside the harbor and remain imprisoned in our ship, under rigid quarantine, for eleven days! So we took up the anchor and moved outside, to lie a dozen hours or so, taking in supplies, and then sail for Constantinople. It was the bitterest disappointment we had yet experienced. To lie a whole day in sight of the Acropolis, and yet be obliged to go away without visiting Athens! Disappointment was hardly a strong enough word to describe the circumstances.

The passengers conspired to get ashore, one way or another:

We inquired of every body who came near the ship, whether there were guards in the Piraeus, whether they were strict, what the chances were of capture should any of us slip ashore, and in case any of us made the venture and were caught, what would be probably done to us? The answers were discouraging: There was a strong guard or police force; the Piraeus was a small town, and any stranger seen in it would surely attract attention—capture would be certain. The commandant said the punishment would be “heavy;” when asked “how heavy?” he said it would be “very severe”—that was all we could get out of him.

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