Bethlehem Beyond the Wall: An Exhibition Organized by the Museum of the Palestinian People
Bethlehem Beyond the Wall invites viewers to see a familiar place from a new point of view. Everyone recognizes Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, few know that the city has a rich modern culture. Throughout history, Bethlehem has been a site of tragedy and struggle. Today the area including Bethlehem and its surrounding villages is home to 100,000 people, the site of three refugee camps, and four generations of refugees. The city is divided by the Wall first erected by the State of Israel in the West Bank in 2002. This exhibition seeks to move beyond both myth and politics to show Bethlehem from the point of view of the men, women and children who lived here.
The exhibition time span — roughly 1880 to the present — coincides with the era in which photographs of Bethlehem traveled around the world. We draw from photographs which the American Colony Company made between 1880 and 1945 for postcards, lantern slides, illustrated books and magazines. We use photojournalism from the past and present, as well as images from family albums and private collections. The dark years from 1947 through 1949, known as the Nakba, are narrated by individual survivors, interviewed in 2013 for the documentary film Voices Across the Divide. The most recent viewpoint appears in the form of original art, by young painters whose work also appears as graffiti and murals on the walls that line the streets of Dheishe Refugee Camp.
By developing selected themes over time, Bethlehem Beyond the Wall will show rarely seen views of ordinary life against a background characterized by familiar landmarks as well as relentless change. We recognize the walled Nativity Church and its surrounding market square, the narrow stone streets through town. Once remote refugee camps, like Dheishe, Aida and Azza, have become part of the modern city.
The constant state of struggle against a succession of colonial powers — from the Ottoman Empire to the state of Israel today — has produced a refrain common to all Palestinian people: to exist is to resist.
The effect of this unending challenge can be seen in the art of the newest generation. These young artists turn the walls that surround them into bold celebrations of history, and heroes, and graphic expression of defiance, all executed with a distinctive mix of humor, bravery, sincerity and optimism.
Exhibition materials come from The Library of Congress (Washington DC), Institute of Palestine Studies (Washington, DC), Voices Beyond the Divide/Alice Rothschild, private collections, individual artists and photographers. Co-curators: Mary Panzer and Bshara Nassar.
The exhibition includes roughly 50 photographic images organized into discrete sections, 7 paintings (acrylic on canvas), 4 video interviews, and a series of maps to help viewers locate Bethlehem inside shifting political boundaries. An illustrated checklist and brochure as well as a digital poster accompany the exhibition, ready for download and distribution.
Bethlehem Beyond the Wall requires 100 running feet of wall space, two video monitors and headphones, and a secure exhibition space.
Sponsorship and hosting opportunities are available