Saturday, September 8, 2007

Independence Paintings in Burlington, Vermont, Part 2

As reported previously, some controversy arose when it was announced that the Burlington Art Hop would include an exhibition of Peter Schumann's Independence Paintings, the work that contributed to my decision to part ways with Bread and Puppet Theater.

I learned more when Marc Awodey, a poet, painter, art critic, and conspiracy theory-debunker based in Burlington, posted a lengthy comment to the initial entry regarding how the controversy was developing within Burlington's art community.

Awodey pointed me towards an article by Ric Kasini Kadour entitled "Art Hop Exhibition Takes on Palestinian/Israeli Conflict: Wades into Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Denial" in Art Map Burlington. Kadour's article was written before Independence Paintings was shown the general public in Vermont and relied greatly on reportage from the Boston showing such as Frank Levine's letter in The Boston Phoenix and this blog. Kadour and I are in basic agreement that the act of equating the West Bank wall with the Warsaw Ghetto constituted what Deborah Lipstadt calls "soft-core Holocaust denial", an attempt to trivialize or minimize the Holocaust, often with the aim of hurting or maligning the Jewish community. He and I are also in agreement as to Schumann's deserved stature as an artist.

Kadour, however provides far greater background as to how Independence Paintings has come to be shown at Art Hop, why it is being shown, and who is responsible for the exhibition than one would get from the article by Jack Thurston (which being the transcript of a television broadcast, simply cannot go into as much detail.) The exhibition of Independence Paintings is not sponsored by an arts organization, but by an activist organization, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel.

Though the webmaster does point out a disclaimer "The views expressed in the material posted on this site are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the webmaster or Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel" it leaves one to question just what are VTJP's views, given the inclusion of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial material, notably Abdullah Dourkawi's winning entry in International Holocaust Cartoon Competition sponsored by the Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, which appears to be comparing the West Bank wall to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and repeating the canard that Israel intends to destroy the Al-Asqa Mosque. As I always ask this brand of soft-core Holocaust deniers: if Israel is repeating the crimes of the Nazis as you claim, where are the death camps? In all those years I have yet to get an answer.

Also revealing is at the very top of the VTJP website's homepage is the very first link one sees is "What if Israel invaded Vermont?" which leaving aside the absurdity of the scenario, does tell us something of VTJP's agenda. The accompanying text has too many historical omissions, and inaccuracies for me to get into here, but to address the analogy: If Israel were to invade Vermont, from where would they invade? Western Massachusetts? Upstate New York? New Hampshire? Quebec? No: The map portrays Israel's hypothetical invasion of Vermont to be from within Vermont itself. Can one invade a land where one is already present? The paradox reveals the very clear message: that a "just peace" means "no Israel"; Jews have no right to live anywhere in that land. The justification? The British Mandate's borders as the Ottaman Empire gave up the territory to Britain after WW I. This is all very disconcerting to those of us who are concerned with understanding the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and who believe that a just peace involves two democratic states with a secure border.

[Still, imagine the topsy-turvy alternate reality VTJP proposes where in 1948 Israeli-Vermont would have had to have fought off invasions from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Quebec, with additional support from Pennsylvania and New Brunswick, with the Grand Mufti of Montpelier declaring "we will drive the Jews into Upstate New York's wine country!"]

In a personal email from Awodey sent late in the evening of September 7th, after returning from the anxiously anticipated exhibition of Independence Paintings, he described the work to me as "just ragged cardboard lining the walls of a badly lit garage. [T]he scrawled text was virtually unreadable. [I]t seems to have gotten tattered and damaged in [its] travels - and just looked shabby." The work I had seen had been recently painted one and displayed in the beautifully lit Boston Center for the Arts' Cyclorama in Boston in February. I suspect that VTJP, like many political organizations I have observed, having a natural disdain for the arts, can never be bothered to present artwork in an appropriate setting when they do work with artists. Tattered and damaged, it loses much of its propaganda power and Awodey expressed doubts that there would be further press coverage of controversy with the work displayed under such conditions, but again, as something of a living legend, Schumann can get more attention exhibiting something shabby than most artists can garner exhibiting their best works. Either way, Schumann is making, and VTJP is sponsoring, a message of Holocaust denial.

Is this the end of this story?

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