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Dor Guez enthralls at Rose opening

By Max Randhahn

Section: Arts, Top Stories

September 21, 2012

The Rose Art Museum reopened this evening after a summer hiatus, allowing the public to see its collections once more, and giving new director Christopher Bedford the opportunity to prove himself with the exhibit “100 Steps to the Mediterranean,” by Dor Guez. Guez, a Jerusalem-born photographer and video artist, lives and works in Jaffa, and received an MFA from Tel Aviv University in 2008. Guez’s work has appeared everywhere from Berlin to New York, and his new body of work is a boon to The Rose in his first major museum exhibition in the United States. The exhibit is incredibly personal and moving, exploring the overlooked histories of the Christian-Palestinian minority in the Middle East. The bulk of Guez’s work comes from a series of video interviews with three generations of his own family. The artist’s grandfather, Jacob Monayer, is the subject of “July 13,” a video wherein he describes the 1948 invasion of al-Lydd by the Israeli Defense Force. Monayer describes the chaos and oppression of living under Israeli occupation, and recounts his time spent in St. George’s Church, where many Christian Arabs hid during the fighting. Four years of Monayer’s life were spent in that church, only to be replaced by life in a ghetto.
Spliced together are clips of Monayer taking Guez to the church and posing inside it, as well clips of Guez decorating his family’s Christmas tree. The result is a somber reflection on the importance of family and history. “Subaru-Mercedes,” the second video in the collection, focuses on Guez’s Uncle Sami, who attempts to reconcile his identity as a mix of Arab/Eastern and Israeli/Western cultures. Sami describes life as a Christian Arab as one of self-censorship, working to avoid the genaration of hatred upon himself. Hailing from mixed nationalities, especially those in the minority, offers countless opportunities for others to brand one as they see fit. Sami attempts to describe this difficulty while his wife and children shout over him in the background, adding to the chaotic nature of his interview. The third video, “(Sa)mira,” follows Guez’s cousin’s account of an instance of racism at the restaurant where she works. After a meal in which three men expressed distaste that Samira was an Arab, her boss subtly told her that she must change the name that appears on the restaurant’s receipts, or else be fired. Samira acquiesced, but some prodding from Guez reveals that her decision was far from easy. Samira breaks down in tears about halfway through the video and demands that Guez retake the interview. The viewer can almost feel Samira’s barely-restrained rage and sadness: Her name is what identifies her, more so than labels such as Christian or Palestinian, and to change it is to change her.
“Watermelons Under The Bed” rounds out the series of videos, as another uncle of Guez’s, Samih, reflects upon Monayer’s stubborn but flexible nature and the symbols of his childhood that have become so much a part of his personal culture. As Jacob Monayer cuts up melons and cacti, Samih wonders how best to define himself, given his cultural conflict. The centerpiece of the videos is “Sabir,” a 17-minute piece of the sun setting on a beach as the elder Samira Monayer describes her life in vivid detail. Similar sentiments to Jacob’s are made: the war changed everything; the war was too long; the war made things different. These are contrasted with short anecdotes telling of Samira’s childhood and its formative effects on her. The piece is simultaneously soothing and uneasy; the idyllic setting is completely out of place with the war stories, but Samira’s other tales enhance it, as if to say, “Things were bad, but life goes on.”
Alongside the Monayer videos are a few photo galleries, including old pictures of the Monayers before and after the IDF occupation. One gallery explores a section of Lod where the IDF destroyed Palestinian architecture. Taken at night and lit only by the city lights, the photos are eerie and remarkable. Two videos of St. George’s Church are also present. One is a looping shot of the church, zooming out from the iconostasis and other parts of the church to highlight their importance and symbols. The other is of a sermon delivered by the Greek Orthodox minister, delivered in Greek with an Arab translator on hand. This illustrates the power of the Greek patriarchate, and fits well with Guez’s other works. Bedford closed out the reopening with a short speech, expressing his excitement toward working at The Rose, accompanied by Provost Steve Goldstein. Guez will deliver an artist’s talk on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and the exhibit closes Dec. 9. Guez’s work is well worth seeing; the artist delivers powerful messages simply and effectively.

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