Israeli museum showing Muslim-world artists

Associated Press –

JERUSALEM (AP) — A museum on the road separating Jewish west Jerusalem from the Arab neighborhoods in the city’s east is attracting a daring group of artists from Middle Eastern nations that shun contact with Israel, trying to erode political barriers through art.

It’s been a years-long process for the Museum on the Seam, which is one of the few art museums in Israel that aggressively tries to convince Arab and Muslim artists to show in its galleries.

The museum, established in 1999, sits on the edge of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Mea Shearim quarter and opposite an Arab neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah. A Turkish-era mansion designed by a Palestinian, it became a front-line Israeli military command post after the Jewish state was founded in 1948 and Jerusalem was divided into Israeli- and Jordanian-controlled areas.


‘s not an easy task. Many Middle Eastern artists refuse, protesting Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Many of their governments, notably Iran, make contacts with Israel illegal. In Egypt, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state, rules by many artists organizations forbid members to engage in any “normalization” with Israel.

Still, the Museum on the Seam succeeded in bringing in works from seven artists of Middle Eastern origin for its current 28-artist exhibition, called West End, which examines the struggle between Islam and the West. The artists hail from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco and Egypt, all countries with chilly or hostile relations with Israel.

Two of the artists — an Egyptian and a Saudi — live in their homelands, although the others in the show currently live mainly in the West. But even shows by Middle Easterners living abroad are rare in Israel. They too face constraints because they return to their homelands or have relatives there, said Raphie Etgar, the museum’s curator and artistic director.

The museum’s exhibition, which also includes artists from the U.S., Europe and Russia, has an unusually large concentration of Middle Eastern artists. Although this is not the first time Arab artists have displayed in Israel, Israeli art historian Gideon Ofrat said it’s rarely done.

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