Artsbridge closes culture gap between Israeli, Palestinian and American students


Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Artsbridge, Inc. 2014 Summer Showcase

WILLIAMSTOWN -- You look at her, and the woman looks back at you. Her eyes are beautiful, swirled with hazel and green, but her brows are furrowed in anger, in anguish.

Her hammer hovers in action as she appears to be shattering through a wall of bricks, many now crumbled around her. She is a revolution on canvas.

"She's very angry. She's angry because of the stereotypes people are building up around her, because of where she lives, because she's a woman. She is trying to break through that wall of stereotypes," said Rawan Silbak, 16, of Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel.

She co-created the artwork in the art studio of the Buxton School campus with her partner Yonatan Baruch, 16, of Neve Shalom. Also known as Wahat-al-Salam, the young man lives in a village jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, located midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

This seemingly unlikely partnership is made possible through a program called Artsbridge Inc., which holds a summer residency on the Buxton campus.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, the community is welcome to an exhibition of the students' artworks, all very much inspired responses to the current conflict in Gaza.

Baruch said it's been a process for him like no other. "I'm excited because it's my first artwork," he said.

It's also the first time he's really addressed the issue of stereotypes relating to gender inequality. "It's good though. I believe in equality, and that every human should be [equal] to everyone," he said.

The art showcase, the culmination of the 3 1/2-week program, includes two daily intensive sessions: three hours of dialogue in the morning followed by three hours of arts activities. It includes 24 Israeli, Palestinian and American students, along with alumni counselors, staff and guest instructors.

The program is now in its seventh year. Its founder, Debbie Nathan, said this summer in particular has been a roller coaster. She has instituted a cellphone ban to prevent from distraction and to keep students from being exposed to a steady stream of media about the violence in the Middle East.

"Because of this, I made a commitment to talk about it every day and give them the latest news, as objectively as possible, by looking at many different sources," Nathan said.

The frustrations, concerns, sadness, anger and anxiety all surfaced during the confidential dialogue sessions, she said. But they also talked about ways to address their concerns productively, proactively and peaceably. They've been learning ways to be heard, and to listen; their thoughts, hopes and ideas expressed today in the forms of paintings, sculpture, mural, video, music and spoken word.

"I think our work is a reflection of reality," Silbak said, "and also a reflection of what's important to us."

Nina Miller, 15, of Newton; Shirly Abkin, 16, of Haifa, and Mohammad Najjar, 16, of Palestine, created a 21 2-minute stop-motion video of white origami flowers, which become splattered with red paint, representing bloodshed.

Another group of students worked on a piece that resembles a sort of diorama or dollhouse. Its creators include 16-year-old Amira Corbett of Attleboro; Lina Ali, 15, of Haifa and Adam Tallouzi, 17, of the West Bank.

Their artwork shows two rooms, one for Palestinians, and one for Israelis. The wall in between looks more like an iron gate with barbed wire running through the top of it. On each side, there are clay figures of people.

"They're trying to reach each other, but they can't because of the border," Ali said.

Around the outside, the Corbett painted the exterior walls each with holes cracked into them. The hole on the Palestinian side shows a serene mix of blues and greens. The Israeli side shows dark skies and doom. It's meant to show what each culture believes could happen if the barriers were broken, the young artists said.

"I've learned a lot," said Corbett. "This program makes youths confront anything that's put before them, not just about the conflict but anything in life, and in life, you have to be able to talk to others."

When students return to their home regions, they'll continue dialogues through follow-up seminars and by serving as peer leaders in their communities.

Najjar said he feels empowered. "Part of the reason I came here was to know myself better," he said. "When you know yourself you're able to do more. I'm tired of this conflict. ... But I am hopeful that there's going to be change and that this generation can be a part of it."

If you go ...

What: 2014 Summer Showcase of Artsbridge Inc. Includes original paintings, sculpture, video, music and spoken word performance produced by Israeli, Palestinian and American students. A barbecue lunch will be available.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today

Where: Buxton School, 291 South St., Williamstown

Info:, (781) 592-7431 or

Cost: Free and open to the public, though donations are welcome. RSVP to

To reach Jenn Smith:,
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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