Galilee’s Joint Arab-Jewish Museum Opens in December

Art bridges conflict between Israel and Palestine.

When the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage (AMOCAH) opens in Galilee in December, both Jews and Palestinians will be able to take the credit. Though the museum is largely dedicated to Palestinian Arab culture, it is run by Jews, creating a unique opportunity for collaboration and cooperation between the two groups, reports Haaretz.

The museum’s holdings will include about 2,000 objects related to Palestinian Arab heritage and roughly 200 contemporary artworks. AMOCAH, located in the Old City of Israeli-Arab city of Sakhnin, is the brainchild of Israel-based Romanian artist Belu-Simion Fainaru and Israeli artist and curator Avital Bar-Shay, and has the support of local mayor Mazin G’Nayem.

Rather than delaying the project due to the Gaza War, the pair has worked hard to expedite the opening, citing the importance of having something positive to counter the region’s escalating conflict since Israel launched Operation Razor’s Edge in July.

“During the military operation, the atmosphere in Sakhnin was tense, and there were demonstrations,” Fainaru told Haaretz. “But now, people are waiting for something different, cheering and positive in Sakhnin too. That’s the significance of opening the museum. We come as Jews and cooperate with the people who live here, and seek to create artistic cooperation between Jews and Arabs.”

Fainaru and Bar-Shay have teamed up in Sakhnin before, founding and curating last year’s Mediterranean Biennale. Fainaru describes the new institution as “a kind of marriage” and “an opportunity for Jews and Arabs to meet,” as “every exhibition or thought creates a meeting between both sides, and this creates dialogue. Art is the meeting platform.”

Arab Museum of Modern Art and Heritage

The Arab Museum of Modern Art and Heritage in Galilee.
Photo: Courtesy of the Arab Museum of Modern Art and Heritage

Unusual Curatorial Concerns

Nevertheless, the tensions in the region mean the museum has some unusual curatorial concerns. “It is also important to choose works that will not offend the residents’ sensibilities, since this is a very sensitive and volatile place,” Fainaru admits. “We don’t want to create opposition; we want to create success and attraction.”

The inaugural exhibition, “Hiwar” (Arabic for “dialogue”), is curated by Sakhnin’s Amin Abu Raya and juxtaposes contemporary art and objects of Palestinian heritage. Marina Abramović, Abeer Atalla, Christian Boltansky, Mohammad Said Kalash, Hoda Jamal, Micha Ullman, Dani Karavan, Rani Zahrawi, and David Wachstein are just a few of the artist selected by Fainaru and Bar-Shay to appear in in the show.

An artist residency program, originally scheduled for this summer but delayed thanks to the war, will also launch next month at AMOCAH with Berlin and Vienna-based artist Johannes Vogel, who will work with the people of Sakhnin to create art.

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