On Thursday 14 July you are all invited to the opening of my show “Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life”, a mini solo-show at the rear of the Baths Studios of Goldsmiths College as part of the MFA Fine Art Degree Show. It comprises of painting, sculpture, video and live performances all dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict from my own Israeli point of view. Call it a Zionist show, call it what you like. If anyone would have told me two years ago, when I came to London to start my MA in Fine Art, that I would be making a show about the conflict, I would have laughed straight away. I had always thought of myself as a-political. I never thought I had an opinion about politics, right, wrong, I only knew one thing: that I didn’t know. That things were not as simple or clear-cut as a black and white painting and that there were so many other issues I could address as an artist.
But then on my first day at Goldsmiths I was confronted by propaganda posters on the student union walls calling my country an “apartheid state”. It was the first time I had heard of it. Apartheid. How? In what way? I went to art school in Jerusalem with fellow Arab artists. We built our exhibitions together side by side, helping each other. I served in the Israeli army with Arabs and ate the same oily army food with them, and consoled myself with the same Arabic coffee that we brewed together in a small makeshift pot. My own army commander was Druze. All of a sudden I felt threatened and unwelcome here in Britain. I grew up in London from the age of five until I was seventeen but this was a very different London than the one I remembered so fondly.
In the first year at Goldsmiths I lay low, I tried fitting in, I refused to make work about my Israeli identity or anything that had to do with it. But it was simply not good enough. Because I was constantly confronted with questions, accusations, labels. It would happen on the way back from a party or over a casual cup of coffee. I saw more posters and protests and boycotts slandering my home, the place that made me who I am, a place that was barely recognisable in those posters. I saw the crass misrepresentation of my region and its de-legitimisation on a daily basis and I felt powerless. I did not have the words, I did not have the flashy slogans and the fashionable labels.
When I attended a meeting of the Palestine Twinning Campaign at Goldsmiths I felt like it was 1939 all over again. I was expecting a real dialogue but instead they were calling for academic boycotts of Israel, they were rallying young students who were desperate to be passionate about something to silence people like me; to silence artists and intellectuals who believe in human beings and mutual tolerance, who are the real hope for peace and for a bright future. I was horrified. What next? Would they start burning Israeli books? I promptly made the work “Save the Date” where I dressed up as a giant boycotted Israeli date and pleaded with my fellow artists to eat me. I performed it twice at Goldsmiths but the second performance was boycotted by the students. What utter absurdity, I thought: to boycott a performance about boycotting!
Documentation of the performance “Save the Date” will be screened at my upcoming show opening this Thursday. Also on show will be “Coffee Stand”, a work that challenges the demonising of Israel on UK campuses. The stand will be situated at the entrance to my show and manned by Israeli and Jewish volunteers, who will serve Arabic-Israeli coffee to members of the public. They will wear T-shirts designed and hand-printed by me with the text: “I come from the most hated place on earth” and on the back: “(second to Iran)”. Those who wish to take part by wearing a t-shirt at the show will be given one for keeps. You are all welcome to come and see it. There will also be a holistic therapist ready to rehabilitate your left side. Those who have tried it have felt the change.
I hope to generate real dialogue here, a conversation over a friendly cup of coffee, to show the faces of those directly affected by the hate-campaign, the demonization and the de-humanisation. Because, after all, what does it mean to hate a country? What is a country if not its people? What does it mean to hate a person simply because of the place where he/she was born? What good does it do?
I believe in human beings. I believe that each and every one of us seeks happiness. If people want to be passionate about a cause they should know what it is they are rallying for. And make sure they are not trampling on someone else in the process. Passion is good when it is channelled in positive ways. When tolerance and well-being is the real goal and not the adrenaline rush of a good fight.
There is an Israeli voice in Goldsmiths. There is a Jewish voice in Goldsmiths. It is loud and it is here and it will not be silenced.
“Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life” opens Thursday 14 July 6-9pm at the Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show
Baths Building, Laurie Grove, New Cross, SE14 6NW
Opening times: Friday 15 – Monday 19 July 10am-7pm, Sunday 18 July 10 am – 4pm
The Coffee Stand opens for the duration of the Private View, Thursday 14 July 6-9pm
And then every day Friday15-Monday 19 from 12noon – 3pm
Hope to see you all there!