Palestine US exhibit stirs controversy

A unique art exhibition showcasing the works of 23 Palestinian artists is facing uncertain times in the United States, with major museums refusing to play host.

The paintings and photographs depict Palestinian suffering

Chronicling the modern history of Palestinians since 1948, Made in Palestine had its first showing in the United States at the Station Museum in Houston, in May 2003.

The exhibit displays the works of selected Palestinian artists from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as those living in exile in countries such as Jordan, Syria and Germany.

Currently on display in San Francisco, the opening attracted up to 1000 people. But alongside the accolades, it has also drawn the ire of some politicians.


As a result, most museums are fearful that hosting an exhibit that is pro-Palestinian could cost them their funding.

“I thought I had enough contacts to get this exhibit shown in museums across the nation, but I found out that even people who I considered close contacts said off-the-record they would lose their museum funding if they were to hold an exhibit that was pro-Palestinian,” lamented James Harithas, curator of the Made in Palestine exhibition.

Once the current show draws to a close on 21 April, organisers suspect it could be curtains for the exhibition.

Negative imagery

“We are dealing with immense ignorance here and it’s unfortunate that people have one image of Palestinians and automatically deny anything created by the Palestinian people,” Harithas told


Funding for the art exhibit hasbeen hard to come by
Funding for the art exhibit hasbeen hard to come by

Funding for the art exhibit has
been hard to come by

Other art connoisseurs shared his dismay.

“It is absolutely tragic the exhibit is only showing in San Francisco for a short time,” said Samia Halaby, a Palestinian artist and retired professor of Yale University’s school of art.

In an effort to raise funds for a future showing of the exhibit in New York, Halaby’s al-Jisser (Bridge) organisation staged a slide show in November 2004 of the artwork displayed in the Made in Palestine art exhibit.


“We are living in a country where anything that is critical of Israel and is pro-Palestinian is not accepted and this is very problematic, especially when we are dealing with art,” Uda Walker, political education director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, told

New York protest


Two New York legislators and an assemblyman protested against the fundraiser in written statements, calling the exhibit a promotion of terrorism and anti-American as well as anti-Israel. 


Ammo Box is meant to highlight Israel's military superiority
Ammo Box is meant to highlight Israel’s military superiority

Ammo Box is meant to highlight
Israel’s military superiority

Legislators George Oros and Jim Maisano said the fundraiser promoted offensive art that glorified terrorism.

Assemblyman Ryan Karben called on county executives to cancel the fundraiser, because the artists’ works promoted terrorism and violence.


“There are also displays of violence that the artists claim are showing the proud Arab masses standing up to advanced ammunition of the Israelis using only stones. An ammunition box that would normally hold bullets for M-16 rifles is filled with rocks,” Karben said in a written statement.


“This is how ridiculous the situation is,” Walker told, explaining that Raji Cook’s Ammo Box is a pun on weaponry, communicating that Palestinians only have stones and rocks as their weapons in this conflict, compared to Israel’s array of weapons.


“Yet some right-wing politicians will call the piece of art a glorification of violence,” Walker said.

Show goes on

But undeterred organisers say the show must go on.

Harithas, convinced about the Palestinian cause, said: “Palestinian art with all its passion needed to be displayed and viewed in the United States.“

Halaby, meanwhile, has helped to raise $25,000 in the hope that the exhibit debuts in New York.

About $100,000 is required to rent space for the exhibit.

Source: Al Jazeera