There are more than fifty Jewish museums operating throughout the world, while institutions dedicated to Islamic culture are few and far between. The recent openings of the Islamic Art galleries at the MusÈe du Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar, are all welcome additions.Still, there is a distinct lack of establishments devoted to the rich cultures of the Arab World. This is even truer with regard to contemporary art.
The Middle East Center for the Arts (MECA) has embarked on a groundbreaking new initiative, to create the first Arab museum of contemporary art in the city of Umm el-Fahem, in Israel. MECA, a non-profit foundation has joined forces with the American Friends of Umm el-Fahem (AFUEF), a philanthropic group established to support this historic undertaking. Together, they will host fundraising events, public exhibitions, lectures, and performance series.
The Arab city of Umm el-Fahem lies in the eastern part of Israel near the seam line separating the State of Israel from the Palestinian Authority. Fifty thousand people reside in this city that serves as an urban center for both the residents of and the villages surrounding it. In 2006, Said Abu Shakra, a prominent figure within Israelís Arab sector and the founder of the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery, announced plans for the museum, which will serve as a legacy of Arab artists in Israel. “We will raise a generation steadfastly true to its culture and to its identity, a generation able to take responsibility for its life and its future.”
The Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery was founded in 1996, following an initiative of local residents and artists who wanted to bring quality contemporary art to the city, showcasing Arab, Palestinian, and Jewish artists. The Galleryís symposia, creative workshops, and seminars have drawn large audiences, establishing it as an important social and cultural meeting place. The future museum will be a natural extension of the Gallery, accommodating all of its current activities and scholarly work. Through donations and gifts, the Gallery has already begun acquiring a collection for the future museum, with works by artist such as Assam Abu Shakra, Tyseer Barakat, Asaf Evron, Menashe Kadishman, and Suleiman Mansour.
A major component of the new museum will be a historical archive to preserve the rich photographic and oral legacy of Umm el-Fahem and the Wadi Ara area since the end of the 19th century. Established by the Gallery in 2008, the archive will subsequently be transferred to its permanent home in the museum. The architectural plan will allow for the museum to be constructed in phases, as the financial resources become available. The building will include exhibition galleries, a library, an auditorium, classrooms, as well as a cafe.
On January 20, 2013, MECA will host its first fundraising event for the Umm el-Fahem museum. On this occasion, the foundation will unveil Women Lay Bare, a new exhibition of videos by eight female Palestinian artists, curated by Said Abu Shakra in collaboration with Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri. The show will offer a provocative look into the lives of women from the Middle East, addressing topics such as sex, violence, and the body. Amongst them will be Raida Adon, Anisa Ashkar, and Fatma Abu Rami. Women Lay Bare will coincide with a series of lectures exploring women artists and the depiction of the female form, as well as the dominant use of video in contemporary Middle Eastern art.
Furthermore, MECA has recently created a website for the museum project that includes information about the buildingís architecture and its innovative design elements. It is also a place for individuals to submit online contributions and to facilitate the donation new art to be housed in the future museum.
To learn more about the Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art and ways to support the project, please visit www.friendsofummelfahem.com.
– Chen Yerushalmi