“We are not deterred one iota by BDS efforts” – Q&A with Martin Rosenberg, co-curator of “Visions of Place”

The Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art is a currently running exhibition at the Rutgers-Camden in Camden, New Jersey, USA.

An exhibition dedicated to Israeli artists and Israeli artists only. Brave intentions, firm commitments, and, what could not be anticipated, an immense success. “The exhibition has been very well-received and already seen by hundreds of people,” says Martin Rosenberg, the co-curator of “Visions of Place,” along with Dr. J. Susan Isaacs.

We asked him about the need and obvious concerns of displaying Israeli artists exclusively and whether Art can outweigh Politics in a time when BDS would boycott anything that is linked to Israel and would preferably erase the word “Israeli” completely.

Is this the first exhibition in such volume that focuses on a group of Israeli artists?

This is the first exhibition of contemporary Israeli artists of this size and scope in around a decade. And one of the very few outside New York or Los Angeles.

Why is it important to dedicate an exhibition strictly to Israeli artists?

For many people, Israel’s significance as a country with thousands of years of history; as a focal point for three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; as a geopolitical focus in the 21st century; and as a vibrant, diverse democracy in the midst of the turmoil of the Middle East, far outweighs its tiny size and population.

Yet, many in the United States know relatively little about Israel beyond what they read in the media. They especially aren’t aware of its vibrant contemporary expressions of art and culture, because only a little Israeli art makes it to the U.S.

Also, the issues that the artists of “Visions of Place” are grappling with in their works are not only the issues that are so pressing in Israel, but they are also some of the most important issues of the world today. These would be the issues of geography in the broadest contemporary sense, of competing views of history, of relationship to the land, of identity, and of co-existence in a complex, diverse society,

In this sense, Israel is a microcosm, from which all of us can learn a great deal. One of the most important potential effects of such an exhibition is that it demonstrates that Israel is a complex, diverse society, in which many different perspectives can be expressed and even supported by the government – even when some of the ideas expressed are critical of various government policies.  This is an important lesson for all societies, including our own.

When artists are boycotted all over the world only for being Israelis, were you considering that gathering solely Israeli artists could lead to a possible threat to the welcome of the display?

We and our host institutions, Rutgers University and Towson University, oppose all aspects of the BDS movement, including the artistic boycott. As educators, we find the idea of an intellectual or artistic boycott abhorrent, and the fact that Israel alone is being singled out for this treatment is preposterous.

Our answer is to create an exhibition featuring the outstanding works by a diverse group of 36 artists, all Israeli citizens, to try to open people’s minds, to educate them about Israel in all its complexity, and to promote thoughtful dialogue. Although we are certainly aware of the organized efforts to demonize and isolate Israel, we were not deterred one iota by these efforts in our determination to organize “Visions of Place.”

Anything else we should know about the exhibition?

The exhibition is at Rutgers-Camden in Camden, New Jersey, from September 17-December 17, 2015. In Spring, 2016, the exhibition moves to Towson University in Towson, Maryland. We are also exploring the possibility of a national tour. On our website, you can view a short documentary about the exhibition; get information about all the artists and works, and related programming.

Photo credit: Adi Nes, Hagar, 2006, c-print, 40 x40 in. (101.6 x101.6 cm),<br />
Courtesy of the artist, Sommer Contemporary Art Gallery, Tel Aviv, and the Jack Schainman Gallery, New York.
Photo credit: © Adi Nes.

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