Organizers of Art Festival in Sakhnin Hope to Ease East-West Tensions

Second Mediterranean Biennale, which seeks to foster coexistence, is scheduled to open in the Galilee Arab town of Sakhnin in October with dozens of works by 60 artists.

The second Mediterranean Biennale is scheduled to open in the Galilee Arab town of Sakhnin in October with dozens of works by 60 artists. The event is a follow-up to the first Haifa Mediterranean Biennale of contemporary art, held in that city in 2009, and is being organized by the artists who were behind that festival, Belu Simion-Fainaru and Avital Bar-Shay.

The theme of this year's biennale is "reorientation," a concept that Simion-Fainaru and Bar-Shay say bridges the idea of the "Orient" and the notion of new directions. Most of the works will address East-West tensions.

The organizers say that in Sakhnin they will attempt to create "a framework for art, culture and coexistence." The first biennale featured works by artists from Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey along with local Palestinian artists.

"Israel lives in a sociopolitical reality that alienates it from neighboring countries and connects it to far-away centers in Europe and the United States," Simion-Fainaru said at the time of the first biennale.

"As a result of various historical processes Israel came to view itself as being closer culturally to the West and to cultural centers in Paris, London and New York," Simion-Fainaru explained then. He said that Israel's alienation "prevented us from identifying artistic work in our own region, in neighboring countries with similar climates and similar cultural components." He said it was important for him "to create opposition to contemporary Western artistic perceptions."

The second biennale will take place over a period of two months. Most of its NIS 1.5 million budget will come from the Mifal Payis national lottery, which regularly funds cultural, educational and sports activities around the country. It will be sponsored by the Sakhnin municipality.

Simion-Fainaru and Bar-Shay say it is significant that this year's biennale will be held in Sakhnin, a relatively small community that is considered part of Israel's periphery. "It is important that the periphery develop art and high-quality culture," they said. A variety of venues will participate in displaying and hosting the biennale, including the College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education, the town's theater and a local church and a mosque.