Project Description: The Fifth Exhibition of Artists Against the Occupation (Tokyo)

I have been invited to take part in the Fifth Exhibition of Artists Against the Occupation in Tokyo, the fifth installment of a project conceived by Tokyo artist and human rights activist, Mizuko Yakuwa. In 2001, Mizuko Yakuwa launched an appeal on the net to artists world-wide asking that they initiate exhibitions by local artists that addressed the conflict in the Middle East. The first and second were held in Tokyo (2001), in London, Ontario (2002), and the third in Philadelphia. In the Fall of 2003, with Rawi Hage, I co-curated the fourth exhibit in Montreal at the MAI Gallery. We each contributed a work to the exhibition.

Ms. Yakuwa envisioned a continuous series of exhibits that would take place all over the world, each successive one made up of local artists’ works as well as some works from the preceding exhibits. Thus the exhibit would grow. In contributing to this project, the artists have implicitly expressed the conviction that art has an important role to play in the struggle for human rights; that creative expression can resonate in a universally relevant way. In February 2003, Colin Powell gave a press conference at the UN urging war on Iraq. The tapestry replica of Picasso’s passionate anti-war mural, Guernica, on the wall behind him, was covered up for the occasion. One can only assume that it was covered so that it would not remind the world of the horrors of war.

My piece in both the London and the Montreal exhibit of Artists Against the Occupation, also to be in the Tokyo show, is called Two Family Albums (Canada Park). Canada Park is a recreation park in Occupied Palestine, built on the site of three Palestinian villages, ‘Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba, that were destroyed in 1967, its inhabitants expelled into Jordan where several succeeding generations still live in refugee camps. The trees subsequently planted in the park were paid for by Canadians who, not knowing the history of the site, had unwittingly contributed to the hiding of a war crime. I had wanted to do this work since 1991 when I visited Canada Park and saw my parents names amongst the list of contributors, an experience that profoundly affected me. This instance of recognition that my own small life is interwoven with greater narratives, aroused in me a sense of how we are all, even in small unknowing ways, complicit in the pain of others. History stories cannot be denied. This fact challenges us again and again ethically. This is what I wished to communicate in my work.

Two Family Albums (Canada Park) consists of four digitally produced images that are hung on the wall: one of the village of ‘Imwas in 1967, before its destruction, the other three depict the former site of ‘Imwas in 1968, 1978 and 1988 as it was increasingly landscaped to become a park. The two albums are displayed in front of the four wall images. One contains photos of a trip taken by my parents to Israel, while the other is an album that I constructed, using portraits of people who had once lived in ‘Imwas. To one side, a video loop of a 1991 CBC program called Park With No Peace is played.

My commitment to the project, Artists Against the Occupation, as an ongoing contributing artist, as the co-curator of the exhibit in Montreal, and as an initiator of future exhibits, lies in my deep conviction that the occupation of Palestine is a great injustice, that this continuum of exhibits without boundaries can make a significant contribution to the cause. I very much wish to be present at the Tokyo exhibit. Being there will allow me to meet with my fellow artists-activists in Tokyo, to make plans for other exhibits and to discuss the problems associated with presenting art of a volatile, loaded subject matter. It will also offer me the opportunity to view aspects of the Japanese contemporary art scene.