On the surface, Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awad are an unlikely pairing.
Damelin is an Israeli grandmother, while Awad is a Palestinian 30-something. But the two share a tragic common bond in that they both lost close family—Damelin’s son and Awad’s brother—in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since the deaths of their loved ones, Damelin and Awad have each dedicated their lives to promoting peace, dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
One way they are encouraging dialogue and understanding between the two peoples is through art, specifically through ceramics. On Nov. 2-4, “Offering Reconciliation,” an art exhibit of 135 ceramic bowls created by 135 prominent Israeli and Palestinian painters, sculptors, designers, and photographers on the theme of reconciliation, will be displayed at Festival Hall on Chicago’s Navy Pier as a special exhibit of the exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art (SOFA CHICAGO). Damelin and Awad accompany the tour, telling their story to visitors to the exhibit.
The exhibit was commissioned by the Parents Circle – Families Forum, a grassroots organization of more than 500 bereaved Israelis and Palestinians, including Damelin and Awad, who have lost loved ones during the conflict and promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and violence. Originally launched in Israel in May of 2006, the exhibit in the United States is made possible by the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA), along with contributions from former World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
The Israeli and Palestinian artists, representing many faiths and countries of origin, each created unique artwork from identical ceramic bowls. “The vessels serve as a common denominator for artistic depiction of the pain-filled, yet hopeful, stories of the conflict,” according to the exhibit literature. “Their fragility symbolizes the fragility of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.”
This year marks the fifth straight year that SOFA has featured the work of AIDA. “Through showcasing our work at SOFA as well as other programs, we try to give another face of Israel and a face of Israel beyond the conflict of modern-day Israel, of artists not soldiers, of paintbrushes not Uzis,” said Erika Vogel, director of AIDA.
Sometimes art can start a dialogue in a more powerful way than words can. “Art in its pure form can speak to an inner self in ways not approachable through the spoken language,” said Mark Lyman, vice president of DMG World Media, which produces art exhibitions including SOFA. “Art as a focal point can bring up a social and political discussion that can gather attention and focus.”
AIDA was co-founded at the height of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2003 by the husband-and-wife teams of philanthropists Andrea (who unexpectedly died a few months before the exhibit launched) and Charles R. Bronfman and art collectors Dale and Doug Anderson. Because Israeli tourism was sluggish at that time, they launched AIDA to provide artists from Israel with an international platform outside of Israel.
The exhibit, which includes artwork by Aliza Olmert—wife of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—reaches the last leg of its U.S. tour in Chicago, after showcasing in Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and New York City. In Chicago, the ceramic bowls will be auctioned off with proceeds supporting educational programs directed by the Parents Circle – Families Forum.
“The best part about the exhibit is it hasn’t been explained in a book,” said Damelin. “For instance, there is one bowl that is completely blank. When I first looked at, I thought, ‘What is he doing?’ The artist just put five pencils in a blank bowl. Then I realized that it’s a clean slate for someone to write an agreement. Any art form is a wonderful healer and a creator of bonds between people.”
For more information on SOFA Chicago and the “Offering Reconciliation” exhibit, visit www.sofaexpo.com.