This semester, The Rose has had the sincere pleasure of hosting the art of Dor Guez, a Christian Palestinian whose work, a collection of photos and videos, chronicles the tale of his family and their lives as a minority group in Israel. Guez’s work has been shown on a global scale and it is a unique privilege to work so closely with him here at Brandeis, given the sheer amount of activism and interest in the area of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He represents a unique view and an individual story rarely seen, especially here at the university.
The exhibit, titled “100 Steps to the Mediterranean,” has been on display since the beginning of the semester, and Guez himself visited campus last Tuesday to give an artist’s talk in The Rose, offering an opportunity to engage an up-and-coming, talented and globally aware young artist in conversation regarding his work.
Guez opened the talk by speaking on the origins of the project exhibited—in part—at The Rose. “100 Steps to the Mediterranean” is the story of his own family, starting with his grandparents, who lived in Lod, a then old city rife with history, at the time of Israeli occupation. Their story, Guez told a rapt audience, was unusual: when Lod was invaded, most citizens were displaced, but approximately 1,000 people hid in the church and were able to stay in Lod—Guez’s grandparents were among them. The exhibit tells not only their story, but also the story of the family in diaspora.
Photographs of family events, which would usually be found in a family album, make up a major part of the exhibit. For it is in these photos (beginning with a set found stashed under his grandparents’ bed), which are edited for the maintenance of depth and realism, that the story is found. Inspired by his own family, Guez founded an archive of Palestinian experience, and soon families began flooding his mailbox with photos. Although it is his own family that forms the substance of the exhibit, the archive is an important part of Guez’s work that was discussed at length in his talk at The Rose. Guez also discussed the modern state of Lod, which is one of the poorest cities in Israel; he expressed concern that ruins are becoming lost and unpreserved as a rich history is being built over and ignored. The archive, then, is some attempt to save what is slowly being lost through family and personal experience.
The talk itself took place deep in the heart of The Rose, creating a dim and cozy environment that encouraged an intimate conversation. This sense of intimacy, Guez explained, is in fact a part of the exhibit itself: Guez is not only a visual artist but also an exhibitionist and the layout of the exhibit is an important part of its comprehension. He described the way the entrance to the exhibit begins in reminiscence of a church, with a hallowed and high ceiling, and then narrows to create the feeling of being in the family’s very own living room, experiencing videos of them discussing their story as if in person. The very layout of the exhibit, in this sense, takes the viewer through the family’s story, centered on the church in Lod. For the span of Guez’s talk, the audience sat in a relatively dark and intimate environment, before a series of photos and a real-time video of a beach in Lod. The setup encouraged a sense of immersion and connection with Guez’s work.
Throughout the discussion, Guez greatly encouraged audience participation, preferring to base his conversation on audience questions rather than lecturing. He expressed a clear disinterest in the political implications of his work. He emphasized, in response to an audience member’s query, that his intention is not to be an ambassador of the Palestinian experience, but merely to tell his family’s particular snapshot. For a portion of the presentation, Guez talked in depth about a particular large piece on display. This particular piece, a photo of a pair of Palestinian riders in a pine forest, is apparently also a commentary on the altered landscape of Guez’s homeland: The pine forests are an artificial addition of the last few decades and have greatly hindered the growth of native plants.
Guez’s input was highly valuable in providing a deeper understanding of the art. The opportunity to listen to the artist regarding such a personal and fascinating artistic story was a rare chance to understand a unique story—a highly foreign experience to most members of the Brandeis community. As a presenter, Guez was eloquent and engaging.
Guez’s presence made for a wonderful artist’s talk, just as the presence of his art enhances the university’s museum and encourages open discussion of an often contentious issue, particularly at Brandeis. Although there will not be further opportunities to meet with Guez, his art remains a valuable addition to The Rose.