In my Eddie Bauer backpack and Baggallini shoulder purse, I pack a laminated map of Jerusalem, a hummus sandwich with cucumbers on dark rye, a lemon Luna bar, a book (today’s: Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture ), fleece gloves, a small, spiral- bound 3 by 7 notebook, a collapsible umbrella with 2 broken spines, a pair of reading glasses, two pens (one with Khalifa Shoes Ben Yehuda Jerusalem on it), a camera, my phone , two apartment keys, a pile of shekels, a souk scarf, lipstick (Afghan Red), cards in a Palestinian embroidered case bought in Damascus, a calendar, bus numbers for the day’s trip, and a bright green wallet with new ID cards: bus, Hebrew University, Israel Museum and Cinematheque. I read the reminder taped above the door lock to turn off the space heater and head down Mt. Zion often in pursuit of “art.”
Before stepping into a sunny and green Jerusalem this morning, I had to write a report for FH360 (Fulbright), attempting to classify what I have accomplished so far in my project: “Teaching Palestinian and Israeli Identity through the Arts.” The report; full of contacts, websites, places, and even a few images; fell into these categories : visual arts, movies, dance/hip hop, music, graphic novels, schools, trips (The Abraham Path), suggestions from the Jerusalem Fund, and theatre. When I had tapped in the last comment about a potential webpage, I signed off with”Now I’m going out to find some art!
Today’s quest involved the Al- Ma’mal foundation for Contemporary Palestinian Art http://www.almamalfoundation.org/, my jeweler friends in the Souk, and the Al Hoash Gallery with detours to El Nasser’s, my Starbuck’s, for a Turkish coffee; a hardware shop in the Arab Quarter for a knife, a fork, and a spoon (10 shekels or between 2 and 3 dollars); and a sweet seller for some Turkish Delight. (Yesterday, I ate Hamantashen in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk in West Jerusalem. It is, after all, Purim). My internet search told me to enter the Old City by the New Gate, 1896; this dropped me in the Christian Quarter. Between the years of the War of Independence or the Nakbah and 1967 Arab-Israeli War the gate was closed since it delineated the border between Israel and Jordan. Apparently, Al- Ma’mal ‘s building is being restored, so a man in a leather shop – purses, belts, wallets, and sandals- sent me to the temporary offices down a cobbled alley, past some Palestinian children, and across a courtyard to the right. Inside, I found two young hip people at computers. When I explained my project, they smiled and told me everything was online: artists’ work, descriptions of past Jerusalem Shows, “curatorial point of view,” workshops, and artist in residence programs. The curatorial point of view, I discovered, includes this: “We like to see it as an attempt to intercede between the apocalyptic decadel tides of upheaval under which the city kneels, stealing time during the ebb of violence to wage an action of covert resistance to the forced hegemony of one creed and one people on the city. In a way it can be perceived as a political action.” Information in head, I was on my way to Al Hoash outside the Old City Gates and north toward the American Colony Hotel.
But first I needed my souk fix, a stop at the brothers Sinjawali . I met this Palestinian family (only men, their wives, sisters, daughters are never in evidence) four years ago when I was a summer student at Rothberg International School. Ayman, Joseph , Omar, Abdullah, and Mustafa always greet me like long lost relative and assure me that I am getting the Friend’s Price when I buy a shawl or a pair of earrings. Today, I asked Joseph and Omar if I could, at some point in the next four months, videotape them talking about traditional Palestinian arts; they agreed. While there Omar showed me a book, written in Arabic and English and read from right to left, about Palestinian jewelry and embroidery. They directed me to the shortest route, third left and then straight (through curvy narrow alleys filled with spice and hardware stores, men playing backgammon, saleb sellers, and clothing shops of the Muslim Quarter) and out the Damascus Gate. As anyone who has been there knows, it is very easy to get lost in the Old City.
Heading right out of the Gate, I was really in East Jerusalem. Every woman I saw wore a hijab and there were no tourists in sight. (It is the part of Jerusalem a student in my class at HU warned me to stay away from.) Nobody bothered with me or even glanced in my direction, and the few times I had to stop and ask directions to Azara Street, the responses were courteous and prompt. On the way, I passed markets with almonds, artichokes, dates, oranges, shishkbab lamb on the grills , piles of ka’ak, and coffee shops.
Earlier I had emailed Hanan at the Al Hoash Gallery http://www.alhoashgallery.org. In her reply, she welcomed me to the gallery and showed interest in my project. I was not to be disappointed. The foundation, housed up some stairs and behind a heavy iron door, consists of several rooms- for teaching art to children and displaying the art of professionals- and a main office filled with postcards of children’s work, booklets of past shows, and packets of promotional materials. Two people, a mother and, I assumed, an artist- teacher, were speaking French. I entered the office and met Hanan, a young woman in her twenties sitting behind a large, wooden desk. She suggested I come back to meet and interview the gallery director, but not before showering me with information in the form of pamphlets and verbal descriptions about the educational work in which the gallery is currently immersed. Al Hoash, also known as The Art Court, will shortly release a video about an art-teaching project. As Hanan said, it is difficult to convince people to make art an educational priority when they consider other skills to be more important. Al Hoash has taken four English language teachers, two on this side of the separation wall and two on the other, and trained them for a full year to teach art. This project goes hand in hand with an arts educator who is asking students to create art and writing based on their identities as individuals, part of a family, part of a community, and part of a collective history. I described my Persian Miniature project, and we pledged to get together soon.