Friday, September 5, 2008

Once Again: Disturbing News From Burlington, Vermont

Recent correspondence with Michael Strauss an artist and scientist who teaches at the University of Vermont, both by email and on his blog has alerted me that once again the deceptively named Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) are sponsoring the exhibition of Bread & Puppet founder and artistic director, Peter Schumann's artistic representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While, I have not seen the work that is on display this year, it was Schumann's misrepresentations of this conflict (as well as misrepresentations of conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto) that caused me break off relations with Bread and Puppet Theatre in February of 2007 after having performed in all Boston-area shows since November 2003.

Strauss came to my attention when first began to address Schumann's connections with VTJP's anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, and Holocaust denying agenda. In a blog entry entitled "The Art of Social Consciousness? I Believe Not", Strauss examined Abdullah Dourkawi’s winning entry in the International Holocaust Cartoon Contest at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and why an organization that claims to be committed to a "Just Peace" would publish such a cartoon on their website. This has caused Strauss to continue examining anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic cartoons featured on the VTJP website and to address the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has begun to appear in the peace movement.

VTJP, as it happens, is exhibiting Schumann's "The University of Majd" at Flynndog in Burlington as part of a show entitled "Palestine in Resistance: 1948 - 2008." The dates are interesting, as 1948 is the year that the UN Partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into both a Jewish and an Arab state. Unless the curators mean also to include resistance to Jordan and Egypt, they mean to label any Israeli sovereignty anywhere as an invasive occupation (which as I have pointed out previously, is precisely what VTJP does claim.)

I did not see the "The University of Majd" when it was exhibited in Boston in February of this year for reasons explained in this interview with Greg Cook of The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, so while I am uncertain of the exact content of the work, I do know that it is specifically aimed at casting Israel in a negative light without discussing the over all context of the conflict.

Thus far, the reportage from Burlington on the situation seems to be harder to come by than last year, and I had only come upon a single article by Sally Pollak in the September 4, 2008 edition of Burlington Free Press entitled, "Art Hop draws more exhibitors than ever":

Schumann’s art will be part of a group show at the Flynndog, a gallery on Flynn Avenue that participates in the Art Hop. His piece is part of an exhibit called “Open Eyes: Open Minds: Open Hearts,” curated by Bren Alvarez.

“This man has a lifetime of producing artwork that really looks at, and creates awareness about, humanitarian issues,” Alvarez said. “What I felt passionate about was being absolutely certain that Peter Schumann is welcome in Burlington.”

Schumann’s piece, on display at the Flynndog through late October, is called “Wall with Checkpoint.”

“Peter’s been interested in walls, walls, walls,” said longtime puppeteer Linda Elbow, who helped with the installation. “The wall around the Warsaw ghetto, the Berlin wall, the Palestine-Israel wall and the wall between Mexico and the U.S.”

Unlike last year, where Schumann spoke for himself, longtime Bread and Puppet member, Linda Elbow, served as his spokeswoman and created the context of Schumann's anti-Israeli propaganda, by once again creating false analogies. The Berlin Wall was built by the East Berlin government to maintain a police state by preventing East Berliners from leaving or from having direct contact with either West German citizens or their economy; the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto was build by Germany in order to deliberately segregate and starve the Jews that had been deported to the ghetto, thus five-hundred-thousand to six-hundred thousand Jews, roughly 20% of Poland's Jewish population was killed over a period of two years. The Israeli built wall and checkpoints that separate Israel from the Palestinian territories have eliminated suicide bombings in Israel and eliminated IDF counter-strikes to those attacks (obviously walls can be circumvented by rockets, which invite further counter-strikes.) However, the result has been a rebuilding of the economy and a decrease in violence on the West Bank, as well as renewed peace talks between Israel and the Fatah (Hamas, the government in Gaza, is quite another story.)

The point is that the Israeli-built wall that has caused Schumann's ire for two years simply cannot be sensibly understood as analogous with the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Berlin wall, or currently imaginary wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. When Israel's attempt to defend its citizens from terrorism is likened to an instrument of genocide, one simply engaged in a 21st century version of the blood-libel. It's not the "hard-core" Holocaust denial advocated by such figures as David Irving or Bradley Smith but a "soft-core" Holocaust denial that seeks to trivialize the significance.

The piece is made from brown papier-mache with black-paint definition and includes hand-printed banners from Schumann’s 17-question series.

Among the questions: “Whose money?” and “Whose pleasure?”

Based on additional documentation on the Flynndog's website, the "17-question series" in question is a series of wood-cuts entitled "17 questions about the War in Iraq: an elementary Iraq war inquiry." The attachment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while a common ploy amongst anti-Israel propagandists the world over, is nothing more than unsupported lies.

And this is the crux of the problem: It's not that art should not tell the truth; it's that art should not lie.

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