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Art, Palestine and Waiheke (a Report)

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Video loop, Hue Ross protest, 2010--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Ex interior window with et al--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Et al chairs and tea --at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition  Window display--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Malcolm Evans cartoons--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Malcolm Evans cartoon in window--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition State of Palestine flag--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Palestinian thobe with Evans anti-apartheid cartoon--at Gallery Anomalous, Waiheke in the State of Palestine exhibition Jacqueline Fahey, Look Mum They Killed Her, 2022, oil on canvas, 835 x 1520 mm in the State of Palestine exhibition at Gallery Anomalous. Jacqueline Fahey, Look Mum They Killed Her, 2022, painted detail of newspaper account of the murder of journalist, Shirin Abu Akleh. In the State of Palestine exhibition at Gallery Anomalous

What is being done to combat these disturbing actions in the art world? These attacks on free speech and on any even mild support for the Palestinian cause or criticism of Israel's right-wing government and continuing brutally colonizing activities? A recent visitor to MOMA in New York was even blocked from entering the museum as they had a keffiyeh scarf in their bag. The museum then apologized. Who is supporting the hundreds if not now thousands in the art world globally, whose careers have been curtailed, whose exhibitions have been cancelled?

Gallery Anomalous

Artists and others were responsible in November 2023 for the flying of the Palestinian flag at the Local Board building on Waiheke. It flew as a result of presentations by the group ‘Stand with Palestine Waiheke!’ Artists and others, here and elsewhere, have been ‘flying the flag’ for the Palestinian cause for years, but in recent time more and more restrictions and cancellations, globally, of Palestine solidarity-related projects have occurred in the art world, and made news…

In January this year there was the targeting of major American visual artist, musician and film-maker Laurie Anderson. She had been appointed professor at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany, but she had endorsed a ‘Letter against Apartheid,’ (signed by 16,000 in May 2021), also signed by artists Nan Goldin, Kara Walker and Emily Jacir. Her position was reneged, she resigned. Last November global superstar artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibit at London’s Lisson Gallery was ‘paused’ (the Gallery’s term), due, the artist reported, to an ‘Israel-Hamas War Tweet’. The exhibit was effectively cancelled. This January American-Palestinian artist Samia Halaby’s first retrospective of her abstract art (at 87), three years in the planning, was cancelled. This too, the gallery said, was because she ‘supported Gaza’. And it might, apparently, have carried a ‘risk of violence’, involving the employment of more security staff. Many readers will also be familiar with the firing, in October 2023 of the then editor-in-chief of Artforum after he republished, on Artforum‘s website, an open letter calling for a ceasefire in the ‘Israel Hamas War’.

Major Russian writer Marsha Gesson’s Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought award was delayed and ‘scaled-down’ recently, as a result of sponsors withdrawing. This because she compared Gaza to Nazi-era ghettos (in a New Yorker article titled ‘In the Shadow of the Holocaust). Gesson is Jewish. Top British playwright Caryl Churchill’s (Top Girls) nomination for European playwright of the Year award 2023 was withdrawn. This was due to her support for BDS, the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement that follows the South African Boycott model in its opposition to Apartheid. The incomparable Steve Bell, British cartoonist for the Guardian (for 42 years), was dropped due to his cartoons critical of the Israeli Government, and in particular for a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - which was totally misinterpreted by staff. Were there any campaigns in support of Bell? I haven’t seen them. In Aotearoa New Zealand, November 2023 saw a Tauranga exhibit of Palestinian artists’ work at Kuwaū Space gallery, ‘scaled down’: the window display was removed at the landlord’s request, including the threat of eviction, due to one complaint.

What is being done to combat these disturbing actions in the art world? These attacks on free speech and on any even mild support for the Palestinian cause or criticism of Israel’s right-wing government and continuing brutally colonizing activities? A recent visitor to MOMA in New York was even blocked from entering the museum as they had a keffiyeh scarf in their bag. The museum then apologized. Who is supporting the hundreds if not now thousands in the art world globally, whose careers have been curtailed, whose exhibitions have been cancelled? And this is continuing, now, while the United Nations Criminal Court at the Hague pursues the case against Israel for ‘plausible genocide’ and requires Israel to stop ‘genocidal acts’. Today’s statistic of 33,000 plus Palestinians killed in Gaza will be well out-of-date by the time you read this.

The number of exhibition cancellations, closures and art world and academic terminations gained momentum after October 7, 2023, a now familiar date. Palestinian artists ‘though were very familiar with restrictions on their practice after the 6-Day War in 1967, when flying the flag also became illegal. Unfortunately this date - October 7 - and its appropriately condemned atrocities, have gained an almost fetishistic focus while the decades of previous atrocities by Israel against the Palestinians have been ignored, forgotten, or downplayed by mainstream media. Consider the many massacres, house-demolitions, bombings in Gaza. Where was world-wide mainstream media outrage when an equivalent number of Palestinians (c.1400) were killed in one earlier Israeli war against Gaza (Operation Cast Lead 2008-9)? Not forgetting how the Palestinians have been existing (?) under a decades-long, settler-colonial regime, with those in Gaza under siege and virtually imprisoned there for around 16 years? Which colonized peoples do not eventually resist? Think Algeria, Kenya, South Africa…Aotearoa New Zealand…

Back to Waiheke, (and its lively activist history - its Greenpeace, Rainbow Warrior connections, the Peace Movement, the anti-nuclear movement, anti-‘Super’ city, anti-GE, the anti-marina movement…the anti-ferry fare hikes!) where the local group ‘Stand with Palestine Waiheke’ successfully encouraged the local board to be the first in New Zealand to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza in November. And also (not without a deluge of complaints mostly from off-Island) fly the Palestinian flag. While only symbolic interventions, these actions arguably gave residents a sense their concerns about Palestine were being responded to by the local branch of their government, if not by the major players. The community was able to express some sense of agency. Other local boards have followed suit.

In earlier years, Tivoli on Waiheke, a small bookstore, gallery, mini-cinema, hosted several Palestine - related displays and speakers between 2007 and 2018. These included: talks by Dr Alan Kerr, the New Zealand cardiac surgeon who for many years operated on babies and children at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the hospital described by the WHO in November 2023 as ‘no longer functioning’ - we know why; Maher Mughrabi, then foreign affairs editor at Melbourne’s The Age; Tuma Hazou, a 1948 refugee from Jerusalem at the time of the Nakba (the Catastrophe for Palestinians), who later became a film-maker in the Middle East and the first announcer in Arabic for the BBC; plus other presentations, including exhibitions of Malcolm Evans’s cartoons responding to the Palestine/Israel situation.

In August 2023, two months before October 7th, Waiheke Community Cinema, via Tivoli, hosted a 6-day Palestine Film Festival. Directed by both Palestinian and Israeli Jewish filmmakers, topics ranged from backgrounders to the histories of Israel and Palestine, to a focus on specific protests; on the ‘separation’ or Apartheid Wall; on a recently revealed massacre (Tantura); on two years in the life of the mayor of Ramallah.

Alongside that, a three week visual arts exhibition was held at Waiheke’s Gallery Anomalous, titled ‘State of Palestine’. Neither of these events were cancelled and nobody took physical exception to the Palestinian flag hoisted outside the Gallery. This now seems unimaginable in many other countries, including the US, the UK, and especially Germany. At the recent (April) ‘pro-Palestine’ conference in Berlin, co-organised by Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, this was closed down by 930 police, ‘including reinforcements from other regions’, so blocking speeches from eg. the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and another main speaker, Scottish Palestinian doctor Abu Sittah, Dean of the University of Glasgow, who had volunteered in Gaza’s hospitals in 2023.

State of Palestine‘ included a video display with ten shorts ranging from Palestinian animation through coverage of the Palestine Women’s Football team (who also play against men’s teams) and a documentary by local Waiheke film-maker Hue Ross on a community protest he had joined in Palestine at the village of An Nabi Salih in 2010.

Traditional Palestinian embroidery was displayed, including two beautiful ancient thobes (robes), made available by the Auckland group Preserved Identity. Similar work was recently displayed at Kettles Yard Gallery, Cambridge (Material Power: Palestinian Embroidery, 2023), but without, to my mind, a display giving an appropriate wider political context.

State of Palestine‘ included books ranging from novels to cookbooks to histories by both Palestinian and Jewish writers, and information on the Palestine Solidarity Movement in New Zealand (the umbrella organization PSNA, Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, is chaired by John Minto), including on the New Zealand Jews against Occupation group Dayenyu. One of the books featured was by Jewish-Australian writer Anthony Loewenstein (Disaster Capitalism), who in July 2023 was a guest speaker at several New Zealand venues: ‘The Palestine Laboratory, How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World.’

Works by major New Zealand artists were included in ‘State of Palestine‘: the et al. collective, Fiona Jack, and Jacqueline Fahey. The et al. window display consisted of components from their April 2010 installation and performance piece in Khartoum Place, (one-to-many-and -many-to-one, Living Room 2010, A Week of Goodness) which referenced Palestine. Broken, maimed and amputated chairs featured, a selection hung in the window of Gallery Anomalous.

Fiona Jack’s beautiful fabric banner ‘Stand with Palestine‘ was originally made for the activist group Kia Ora Gaza. Most years they attempt to take medical supplies into Gaza, either by Flotilla (Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson joined in 2016), or by road. A new Flotilla is taking off this week, as I write, with a contingent of three Aotearoa/New Zealand doctors.

The Gallery walls featured many brilliant, incisive cartoons relating to Palestine/Israel by Malcolm Evans, who lost his job at the New Zealand Herald (in 2003) for largely the same reasons as Britain’s Steve Bell twenty years later in 2023. They included his notorious ‘Apartheid’ cartoon. This depicted a devastated Palestinian village, its ruined walls displaying the ‘Apartheid’ graffiti text, settler hilltop buildings in the distance. Now, of course, the term Apartheid for Israel’s regime, is commonplace and adopted by many mainstream human rights groups, including Israeli.

Jacqueline Fahey’s outstanding 2022 painting ‘Look Mum they killed her’, while initially offered by the artist, was instead made available in large-scale digital reproduction form via the artist’s dealers, Gow Langsford. Depicting herself painting at her Grey Lynn home, window looking out into the marvelously described luscious foliage of her back garden, the work has the artist’s daughter bursting into the space with a newspaper cutting showing a photograph of the killing in Jenin, in 2022, of widely admired Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shirin Abu Akleh. The painting, like others by this artist, brilliantly fused a moment of localized domestic creativity with highly significant wider global events - a take now so prescient of course in relation to the current situation where, in the ‘comfort of our own homes’, on Waiheke and in the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand, on television or online, we are directly faced with the facts of genocide.

Earlier this year on Waiheke, the ‘Stand with Palestine‘ group’ organised more film screenings, alongside talks by both Maori and Palestinian speakers, with koha going to MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians).

A leading figure in Stand with Palestine Waiheke! was legendary activist, writer, artist and poet Susi Newborn (founding member of Greenpeace in the 1970s, also driving force behind the Rainbow Warrior anti-nuclear, anti-whaling project.) In 2009 she co-directed (with Claudia Pond Eyley), the award-winning documentary film on anti-nuclear protest involving two wonderful Waiheke wahine ninety-year-old peace activists: ‘Kit and Maynie: Tea, Scones and Nuclear Disarmament‘. Susi died suddenly on 31st December, and was accorded the honour - unusual for a Pākeha - of a two day tangihanga at Waiheke’s Piritahi marae.

The Palestinian flag was a prominent feature on the roro, or apai - the front wall of the whare whakairo - and, alongside hundreds of others, a contingent of Palestinians from Tamaki Makaurau Auckland were in attendance. Acclaimed photographer John Miller filmed the flag flying at the Local Board building in Ostend and Susi’s casket being transferred, framed by Palestinian flags, to the vehicular ferry at Kennedy Point, where it sailed across the Gulf to Tamaki Makaurau Auckland.

Art and activism, in its many guises - and particularly in recent time due to the appalling situation in Palestine - were central to Susi Newborn ‘s life. They have also been a strand of cultural practice on Waiheke for some time. That’s why, when a certain member of Auckland Council in 2020 referred to Waihekeans as ‘lunatics and activists’ many of us were perfectly happy to endorse him!

Liz Eastmond

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Opening of A Graphic Reminder: Kurt von Meier's Elam 1962-64, at Waiheke Community Art Gallery Te Whare Taonga o Waiheke. Curated by Hamish Coney.

Kurt von Meier Collection on Waiheke




Group exhibition

A Graphic Reminder: Kurt von Meier’s Elam 1962-64

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