Discerning Boston art patrons who visit Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum and enter the large Lois Foster Gallery will become immersed in a surround-sound and vision display of one of the smallest non-Jewish minorities in Israel today. The brochure headlines it as “The Paradox of Identity” by Dor Guez, an Israeli artist whose passport identifies him as Jewish, while he claims Palestinian Christian and Tunisian Jewish (distant) heritage. The darkened gallery lights up with various curated areas with videos and photographs. Charles Radin’s article in Brandeis Now, describes “the images [as] ranging from monumental to intimate . . . sometimes poignant, often thought-provoking and always deeply, warmly human.” Guez, according to him, “delves into the complexities of national, religious and ethnic identities in the Middle East [illustrating] . . . the experiences and emotions of three generations of Christian Arab Israelis in his own family.”
This solo exhibit, called 100 Steps to the Mediterranean, is truly a family album writ large emphasizing the discriminatory details of the underbelly of the new minority mourning a glorious past. Enter the gallery and in your face is a floating screen video with liturgical voices in various languages and music: the St. George Church invites us to reverently walk down its center aisle. This Greek Orthodox church in al-Lydd gave solace to Guez’s family for decades.We cannot escape the experience, because the reverse side of this large screen also holds the same Gothic image with the alter full of shiny religious icons below a golden chandelier. Surrounding this piece are back-lit shadow boxes of the Lydd Ruins, formerly called Lod and the site of a once thriving Arab center, wherein the gold of the rocks, the flames, and even the yellow daisies reach out brightly to us from the darkness. The landscape of the Ben Shemen forest and the Mediterranean coast of Jaffe seem to burn with the simmering memories of that life beneath the ruined familial and tribal history.
Guez’s Monayer family is further marginalized in a Jewish land with an Arab minority by being Christian. The videos of various members of the family speak of the indignities of this clan caught between the governing Semites who outnumber them. They are a “minority within a minority.”
The seven family videos of elders, Guez’s family, and especially his cousin (Sa)Mira, now a college student, who becomes overwhelmingly tearful about being cast in the role of the “other,” by diners in the cafe where she works. This engenders the inter-generational depth of the change in their heritage and in their future. She sobs that: “I have given up dreaming.”
Fiona Lockyear, an editor for the Brandeis school paper The Justice, writes of how she, as a “multiracial, Catholic student who finds herself, often enough, in a sea of people who look nothing like me and do not believe the same things” that she does, can identify with the video of “Dor Guez’s father [talking] about what it meant to be a Christian in Palestine.” The “multi-layered, multimedia effort” unlayered her feelings of otherness in a student population descended from the brand of otherness during World War II and the Holocaust.
The new curator Christopher Bedford explains why this exhibit expressing the paradox of identity about the Christian Arab minority in a Jewish nation appealed to him:
“I am interested in pursuing a model of exhibition-making that proposes the gallery as a discursive space, perhaps as an extension of the classroom. In other words, a content-rich environment in which important conversations take place and are lent new dimension by the context in which they unfold.
Dor’s exhibition is a perfect example of this principle at work and we’re proud to present it at the Rose.“
Guez will give an artist’s talk on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m. An illustrated catalog of the exhibition, with essays by the curators, the artist, and Samir Srouji, a Boston architect and artist, will be released at the talk. Jerusalem-born Guez will explain, weather permitting, the paradox of the identities of his Christian Palestinian minority bumping up against other minorities in the small geographical land that was once a welcome home to various varieties of Semitic experiences.
The exhibit will run through December 20, 2012 Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Click here for a map of the Brandeis University campus with the Rose Art Museum highlighted in red: http://www.brandeis.edu/rose/images/visi_map_campus.gif