September 4, 2003
Leaders of the world have called him irrelevant, and indeed he has been largely replaced in world affairs. But in an exhibit at Tel Aviv's Dvir Gallery, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is as relevant as ever as the foil for a young art curator's homage to Israeli culture.
Consisting of about 20 illustrations and photographs, "Guess Who Died" aspires to be a mirror of Israeli society and its relationship with the Palestinian leader who has served as the culture's ultimate anti-icon for the last three decades.
In a digital photo montage titled, "Death Row," Arafat's head has been crudely pasted onto the body of late rapper Tupac Shakur as he walks alongside Marion "Suge" Knight, founder of the hip-hop record label Death Row Records, surrounded by bodyguards. It's the Palestinian Authority à la gangsta rappers.
The curator, 24-year-old writer and art critic Ory Dessau, calls the exhibition a post-traumatic shock reaction to the Palestinian uprising. Though in grappling with Israel's view of personification of Palestinian nationalism, "Guess Who Died" includes pieces that date from the 1970s, when Arafat first burst into the national consciousness.
"My starting point is that Arafat is an Israeli cultural construct," he said. "I want to take the entire Israeli debate about Arafat, reproduce it and take ownership."
Dessau explained that the exhibit's title refers to a "hierarchy" of death that's part of the conflict. In both Israeli and Palestinian societies, the significance of a killing varies depending on whether the victim is a child civilian, a soldier, a settler or a potential suicide bomber.
"We're in a situation where there's no distinction between civil life and military life," he said. "This is our life, there's no difference between the front line and the homefront."
A self-described Israeli leftist, Dessau supports a two-state solution. But he says that unlike other exhibitions in Israel that have been organized to criticize Israel's military occupation or support for coexistence, his has no agenda. Instead he calls it "an objective reflection of the state of bloodbath" that comes with a sense of humor.
Adam Rabinovich, the Israeli artist who put Arafat's head onto the body of the rapper, said the montage is meant as a humoristic parallel between the way Israelis look at Palestinians and racial tensions in the United States.
"To be Israeli and not deal with Arafat is impossible," Rabinovich said. "It just comes out."