I am usually wary of art exhibitions described as “dialogues” among Israelis and Palestinians — often they are less dialogues than sustained arguments, pitched shouting matches, or one-sided monologues.
But an inaugural exhibit by The Middle East Center for the Arts (MECA) at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City lived up to its billing — as a dialogue and a “neutral ground for artists to engage in collaborative processes.”
Represented among the 60 or so works are Jewish, Arab, Druze, and Bedouin artists, all working or living in Israel. Few of the pieces are overtly political — although it’s hard to view any serious piece of Israeli art or literature without trying to read between the lines or add significance that is or isn’t there.
The real message of the exhibit, called “Spring, 2012,” comes through in the juxtaposition of works — a Jewish artist sharing wall space with a Palestinian, a Bedouin’s painting of young shepherds staring across the gallery at a star of David “mandala” itself featuring the Dalai Lama.
David Wakstein (right), the curator, likened the exhibit — and MECA’s plans for future exhibitions, performances, and film screenings — to the mosaics that he creates — each small piece has its own integrity but creates new meanings in concert with others. Chen Yerushalmi of MANA, who is staffing the project, said an exhibit featuring artists as diverse as these would be rare in Israel itself.
Mana Contemporary is itself not to be missed — a former factory in an exhausted part of town that opens up into a sparkling, cavernous space housing galleries, art studios, a cafe, and workshops serving the needs of the plastic arts community: storage, framing, crating, and conservation.
A fashionable slice of Israel’s local expat community turned out for the opening, many coming in chartered buses from Manhattan. MECA aims to be an “inclusive environment for artists of all backgrounds to come together as a unified community.” Better this should happen in Israel than in New Jersey — but it’s a start.