Anything is possible when Challenging Walls

Jerusalem, Israel
30 June 2007

It’s 35 degrees and the wind is blowing hard on a quiet Sabbath day.
I am sitting at a café, reflecting on the accounts and adventures that transpired in the past couples of months spent preparing for the project Challenging Walls. Our team is two weeks away from the actual dates and the tension is escalating. It's as if our visits to Belfast, Nicosia, Jerusalem and Ramallah in March and April now belongs to a very distant past.

My eyes are red and palms swollen from stress. My colleague’s eyeballs and hair are turning all white while the other is getting a burning sensation from all the hype and pressure of great expectations.

We are all in Israel and I am already receiving phone inquiries early in the morning – thanks to the massive advertising done through the Jerusalem Film Festival, the information on Challenging Walls art installation and conference has reached the homes of our potential audiences.

As a cultural manager, I have a gamut of stories to tell from project to project, travelling with me from place to place, country to country, continent to continent, battling with unpredictable situations, cultures, peoples, personalities, languages and shifting environments, but I have to say that this one tops the charts by far.

Ruthe Zuntz, whom I met through the Marcel Hicter Foundation’s European Diploma, easily talked me out into getting involved into a “ wall dissolving project” since our initial meeting in Gothenburg in May 2005. While, I, on the other hand, found a way to engage her and her artistic collaborator from Walkscreen, Michael Reitz in projects that I was in-charge of in Tokyo, Beijing and Helsinki. Thus, amidst the time difference and the hectic globe trotting life in the past years, Ruthe managed to catch me somehow to help out in the writing of proposals and looking into the details of a highly ambitious project that was yet to secure funding at that time.

Two years later, January 2007, I found myself temporarily moving to Berlin to join the duo in their quest for Challenging Walls. I thought it was pretty cool and perhaps a lot more manageable as the partnerships and coverage is only happening within 4 countries. Compared to my previous job where one needs to figure out a way to involve 38 countries from Asia and Europe, I figured that this could be a good holiday brain exercise while awaiting for my would be next institutional posting.

I can recall the way Ruthe sold this idea to me with her energetic curls and that if I get involved perhaps my role would be to entertain the likes of Ariel Sharon and /or the Hamas, make them to look into the sky and enjoy the gigantic wall installation; establish the kind of look good, look nice aura, talk about the great weather and anything and everything which I might find suitable for a conversation piece.

This scenario, although the art installation is yet to take place is now already part of a deja vu. Instead of meeting Ariel Sharon, in April 2007, I had to settle with shaking hands with a tall man in his T-shirt and flip flops, who introduced himself to me as "Ehud" while Ruthe and I were visiting an Israeli artist, who happens to be First Lady Alisa Olmert. Sometimes, husbands do have to walk around the house and head to the kitchen and make breakfast when his wife has guests.

As the project necessitates, we spoke with high profile figure from Palestine- Minister of Information, Mustafa Barghouti, where I ended up explaining the whole concept of Challenging Walls and the significance of such an international cultural collaboration having been funded through the EU Culture 2000. Ruthe was momentarily silenced during these moments since we were on Palestinian soil. It remains rather vague to me, but apparently, she is not suppose to be there as an Israeli. Considering that I belong to none of the conflict regions, I continued to pitch about this Berlin-based initiative. Talk about multiple identities or multi-culturalism - they come in handy at moments like this. He was very receptive though there was no trace of excitement or show of emotion as he suggested some areas for projection and uttered, "It's a great project". Two weeks after this visit, he agreed to give us an official endorsement for the projections on the Palestinian side. The following day, missiles have been fired on the Gaza strip. We didn’t secure the endorsement --- but we found a Palestinian partner -exactly where the wall is situated.

Given the complex nature of the project, the place where it's taking place, volatile situation including the personalities of the initiators and everyone else involved in it - Anything is possible when Challenging Walls.

To give you a brief overview, Challenging Walls is an art peace project, which aims to draw attention to the lives of the people living within the parameters of physical and mental walls in Israel and Palestine. It is the brainchild of Berlin-based, Walkscreen: Ruthe Zuntz and Michael Retiz together with architect Anat Moshe. As youngsters, Ruthe and Anat, born and raised in Israel, and Michael originating from the former West Germany, it is not the least surprising that they are now taking full action to use their artistic talents in visualising both their personal narratives and critical perspectives about the lives of those living within wall divided environments.

This project, which pools together the expertise of researchers and creative experiences of photographers originating four regions with history of walls: Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Germany and Israel/Palestine, will come to life on 11-12 July 2007 in Jerusalem in a form of a large-scale one-day conference and two-day art installation. Sixteen international artists and experts will come together during this period in Israel and Palestine to meet with the local audiences.

The art installation will make the 9-metre high separation wall between Israel and Palestine momentarily invisible, using images of daily life taken by 8 participating photographers. Photographers coming from the opposite sides of the wall who worked as couples to capture the nuances of day to day living in their neighbourhood was one of the primary steps taken by the project organisers to signify the overcoming of the mental and concrete divides – enabling each of them to meet the so called “other”.

The conference, on the other hand, will gather together intellectuals, thinkers, academicians, artists and the general public to a dialogue focusing on the theme of Walls, Separation and Representation at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

The great thing about it is that you can all be a part of it - if you are in the vicinity. After all the buzz, talk and hype brought about by Ruthe’s lobbying powers reciting, "mirror, mirror on wall, who is the beautiful from all" - well, Challenging Walls is happening soon. We can offer you a seat in the bus that will take you from the city of Jerusalem to the art installation and a nice reception if you promise to come.

Join us for the historical moment of Challenging Walls.

Some Exciting Moments:

March 2007 – Visit to Belfast and the team discovers that the wall is getting higher in Northern Ireland; was told by a Catholic driver that he would never drive into the Protestant neighbourhood nor will he let his kids go to a Protestant household but would welcome them to their home;

*Experienced the jubilant feeling of a historical moment in Belfast whereby both Catholics and Protestants equally gained seats in the newly elected in the government.

March 2007 – Visit to Nicosia and the team meets different personalities engaged in bi-communal activities within a week; shortly before coming to Nicosia, the part of the wall was torn down in Lydra street when we arrived, we saw the newly erected plastic wall replacement;

*We discover that we can't drive with our rented car from the Greek-Cypriot side to the Turkish part as well as the difficulty of using the pre-paid Greek telephone cards on the Turkish side –which perennially flashed “Welcome to Turkey” each time we crossed the border; exposure to extremely industrial food serving at restaurants;

*Found ourselves in a strange drive out of town in an extremely beautiful artist house on top of a hill, where an older woman (wife of the artist) started acting a bit odd – pressing the hands of Michael and Ruthe – and appearing to have strange desires for our male blue-eyed colleague;

*Ruthe getting into an accident at a party in Nicosia together with artist Serap Kanai; was brought to a hospital due a sprained ankle after slipping in the dance floor right before her flight back to Berlin;

April 2007 Challenging Walls team goes to Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ramallah to meet potential partners and supporters.

*The team accidentally drove into the military zone in the Abu Dis – failing to read the sign “No Entry” and got close to being fired at by the young soldiers who couldn’t get out of the camp because they did not have the keys to the gate. They screamed at us to “Stop” while trying to make their way out of the gates panicking. Get the picture?

Our more senior Israeli colleague, Amit Leshem, who has great experience in tough situations in Israel and Palestine – said we should drive away. Our Palestinian comrade, Steve Sabella, on the other hand, said we should stop and get ready with out IDs as we could potentially be fired at.

Amit stepped out of the car, waving her identification papers. The young soldiers finally found the keys to the gate --- they asked for our passports. Waved goodbye and told us to take care.

*Met Minister of Information in Palestine, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who welcomed us to his office. Thanks to a referral from a respected journalist, Akiva Eldar, we managed to get an appointment with an assumption from his staff that we are from the media. When I started introducing the project, he realised that our trio was into the wall topic.

*After succeeding to sneak Ruthe in and out of Ramallah, the sharp curves of the separation wall, put us close to a car accident on the way back to Jerusalem.

*Visit to Israeli artist, Alisa Olmert, who also happens to be the First Lady of Israel. Ehud Olmerts walks pass the living room in his T-shirt and flip-flops. Comes closer to us to shake hands and said “Hi! I’m Ehud.”

May 2007: Ruthe’s camera gets busted while taking photos at a Jewish orthodox neighbourhood. She crossed a restricted religious area and found herself surrounded by at least 20 men and one of them poured water into her camera. She ran away with a wet dysfunctional camera in her curls.

June 2007: Palestinian photographer Steve Sabella gets detained at police station for taking pictures in the streets of Ramallah. He was held for questioning for half an hour and luckily released when a high- ranking police officer came into the precinct, whom he met a week earlier.

Challenging Walls announcement reaches the Israeli households through the massive advertisement of the Jerusalem Film Festival and project managers start to receive early morning inquiries.

Tagged as:
challenging walls



Only registered members can add a comment. Sign up or log in at the top of this page.
There are no comments yet.