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November 2011, Page 51
Music & Arts
UNconditional: An Artist's Rendering Of the U.N. "Games"
The Jerusalem Fund Gallery at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC held an opening reception for artist Nadira Araj, whose exhibition "UNconditional" was on view from July 8 to 26. "UNconditional" is an artistic rendering of the "games" the United Nations has played with the Palestinian people over the past six decades.
The work consists of a long line of playing cards Araj collected from Palestinians socializing in coffee shops, with sets of cards arranged chronologically into the U.N. Security Council resolutions relating to Palestine. On the backs of the cards are excerpts from these resolutions. The joker cards represent a veto.
"It's a stressful life," Araj said of Palestinians living in the region. "This type of art gives me peace."
At the end of the line, cards cascade in random order to represent potential future resolutions. Words on the backs of the cards are the most commonly used terms in the resolutions. On the floor beneath the chronology, at the end, Araj created a pile of trash—using items like used coffee cups and labels from Palestinian products that she brought with her—among discarded playing cards to symbolize the way she feels the U.N. has a tendency to throw away the Palestinians like trash.
Araj, a lecturer in business administration at Bethlehem University, expresses herself through her artwork and jewelry-making. A selection of her sterling silver "Peace Next to Your Heart" jewelry collection, crafted by casting olive leaves, was available for purchase at the showing, and Araj wore several of the pieces herself.
"They are part of me," she said of her jewelry. "The olive leaves for us in the Middle East have a meaning. It's a holy tree, the olive tree."
Each piece is handmade by casting unique olive leaves in a process that takes nearly 36 hours. Many of the chains for her necklaces also are handmade, each taking hours to construct from scratch.
Araj spoke of a great desire for Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side peacefully. The idea to use playing cards to construct "UNconditional" was inspired by the decks of cards created during the Bush administration to depict the most-wanted terrorists, she said. Araj explained that she created the piece because she wanted people to be aware of the situation and push for the implementation of resolutions like the one currently on the table to create a Palestinian state, which will be up for vote in September.
"If it's implemented," she said, "people will live peacefully together."