Joint Arab-Jewish Art Museum to Open in Sakhnin

Opening speeded up in order to create something positive that would defuse tensions in the wake of the Gaza war.

A new museum with a collection of roughly 2,000 items of Palestinian Arab heritage and about 200 works of contemporary art will open in December in Sakhnin, an Israeli-Arab city in the lower Galilee.

Established by Belu-Simion Fainaru, a Romanian artist who lives part of the year in Haifa, and Avital Bar-Shay, an Israeli artist, in cooperation with the Sakhnin municipality and its mayor, Mazin G’Nayem, the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage (AMOCAH) will be located in Sakhnin’s Old City.

Fainaru and Bar-Shay conceived, curated and ran the Mediterranean Biennale in Sakhnin in mid-2013.

Although the museum has been under construction for some months, Fainaru and Bar-Shay said that work had been accelerated since Operation Protective Edge in order to counter rising tensions between Jews and Arabs with something positive.

“During the military operation, the atmosphere in Sakhnin was tense, and there were demonstrations,” Fainaru said. “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.

“This is a kind of marriage, since both sides want it. The museum is an opportunity for Jews and Arabs to meet. That is the goal. Every exhibition or thought creates a meeting between both sides, and this creates dialogue. Art is the meeting platform. All the decisions are made jointly, which is not always taken for granted and is not always easy.”

The museum’s first exhibition will be entitled “Hiwar,” the Arabic word for “dialogue.” Curated by Amin Abu Raya of Sakhnin, it will present works of contemporary art alongside items of Palestinian heritage. The contemporary artists whose works will be shown include Marina Abramović, Larry Abramson, Jannis Kounellis, Abeer Atalla, Christian Boltansky, Mohammad Said Kalash, Johannes Vogel, Raed Bwayeh, Hermann Nitsch, Hoda Jamal, Mounir Fatmi, Mahmoud Badarneh, Buthaina Abu Melhem, Micha Ullman, Asad Azi, Dani Karavan, Nidal Jabarin, Tamir Lichtenberg, Meirav Heiman, Zuhdi Qadri, Rani Zahrawi and David Wachstein. Fainaru and Bar-Shay were the ones who chose the artists whose work would be displayed.

According to Fainaru, besides the meeting of Jews and Arabs, the museum’s creators hope to enable the city’s residents to encounter art. “In Sakhnin, the museum will be located inside the neighborhood. People live near it. The intention is that the community will have access to it, that art will exist together with the residents and not just for its own sake. So it is also important to choose works that will not offend the residents’ sensibilities, since this is a very sensitive and volatile place. We don’t want to create opposition; we want to create success and attraction.”

The museum will also launch a residency program that will invite Israeli and international artists to live there and create art works under its inspiration. The first artist to be invited was Johannes Vogel, who lives in Berlin and in Vienna. Although Vogel was supposed to arrive this summer, his arrival was postponed until November because of the war. He will be creating art works together with the inhabitants of Sakhnin.

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