The show, which was to run until Nov. 13, included harrowing images of bloodshed and loss during the Israeli bombing of Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, which began in 2008. In one drawing, a little girl with a bandage on her head stares out from behind prison bars. In another, tanks roll through a burning town as women wail and children weep.
These and other artworks created by Palestinian children ages 6-14 were to have been included in “A Child’s View of Gaza,” which was to open with a day of cartooning workshops and poetry readings.
Hilman Storey, chair of MOCHA’s board of directors wrote in a statement that while the museum supports art that fosters “insight and understanding,” an exhibit of art about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children.”
The museum has previously shown art created by children during conflict, including images depicting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And they haven’t shied away from exploring violence in Oakland. But Storey said in an interview that the board felt the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too divisive an issue.
“This wasn’t something we felt as a board that the organization could responsibly exhibit,” he said. The museum has no guidelines or policy on what it deems appropriate for exhibition. Almost all artwork shown at MOCHA is by children.
Storey also said that some community members had raised concerns about the exhibit but would not elaborate on who those community members were.
The decision to cancel the show, reached at a museum board meeting just two weeks before the exhibition’s opening, has left organizers stunned.
“I was sad. Shocked,” said Susan Johnson when she learned the exhibit had been shelved.
The Pennsylvania resident had arranged for the pictures to be brought to the United States after touring various children’s centers in Gaza in 2010 and viewing drawings and paintings created by preschoolers in art therapy reflecting their memories and feelings about the Gaza War.
Many of the drawings have been exhibited in galleries, libraries and churches across the East Coast and Midwest. Johnson said that some people had told her that the more graphic images of war were too difficult to view. But this is the first time a venue has pulled out of exhibiting the art. “It’s very unusual for a museum or a place that encourages free speech and free expression,” she said about MOCHA’s decision to call off the exhibit.
Berkeley’s Middle East Children’s Alliance was also stunned by the show’s abrupt cancellation. The nonprofit organization had spent nearly a year working on the display, which was to feature writing and photographic portraits of the artists. The show also included photos of murals painted by Oakland’s Estria Foundation at water purification and treatment plants in Gaza.
But the show’s highlight was the 50 pieces of art created by Palestinian children.
And while many of the drawings depict the harsh realities of war, including fighting and bombing, there were also drawings of hope, curator Sophia Ritche explained.
“There were ones that showed their dreams of the future, their connections to the land and farming communities, of what it means to be free,” she said.
Exhibition organizers are seeking alternate spaces to show the art, including venues in Oakland.