Religion & Beliefs

Mapping Exhibit Too Controversial for Chicago’s Jewish Museum

Chicago’s Jewish museum, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, is currently showing an exhibit called Imaginary Coordinates that focuses on maps of Israel and the Middle East. The Spertus website has this to say about Imaginary Coordinates: Imaginary Coordinates is … Read More

By / June 20, 2008

Chicago’s Jewish museum, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, is currently showing an exhibit called Imaginary Coordinates that focuses on maps of Israel and the Middle East. The Spertus website has this to say about Imaginary Coordinates:

Imaginary Coordinates is inspired by antique maps of the Holy Land in Spertus' collection. The exhibition juxtaposes these maps with modern and contemporary maps of this region, all of which assert boundaries. It brings these together with objects of material culture and artworks that question national borders, as a way of charting new spaces, fostering conversation, and imagining new communities.

Included in the exhibit are antique maps, a two-minute video-loop of a naked Israeli woman hula hooping with barbed wire, and video of a woman in Jerusalem asking people for directions to Ramallah. Imaginary Coordinates opened on May 2nd, and closed after a week for “building maintenance.” Since the Spertus museum is a brand new facility opened in December after a $55 million renovation project, it seems unlikely that maintenance was really the issue. The exhibit reopened on May 15th, but now you can only be admitted to the exhibit as part of a guided tour every hour. The exhibit has also been rearranged, in order to “shift fragile items away from harsh light” according to the Chicago Tribune.

The exhibit presents both Israeli and Palestinian ideas about land ownership, cultural capital, and borders of all kinds. Predictably, there are elements of the Jewish community that are upset by the inclusion of Palestinian artifacts and art. These elements are pushing the Spertus to close the exhibit again, and are threatening to withhold funding if Imaginary Coordinates remains open. I’ve been on one of the guided tours of the exhibit, and didn’t find the material to be particularly upsetting. Yes, there are pieces that imply that Palestinians feel a strong connection to Israeli land, and even a sense of ownership over land in Israel, but so what? In the immortal words of Marriage Encounter ‘Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.’ What would be the point of denying that Palestinians feel strongly about land, that they miss the towns they used to live in, or that they don’t think Israelis have proper respect for their land? You can still think their political ideology is bad or wrong, you can hate their methods and call them stupid, but failing to acknowledge how they feel about the situation is just willful ignorance. If you live in Chicago or are planning a visit soon, I encourage you to plan a trip to Imaginary Coordinates, and to leave your hopefully positive feedback for the Spertus curatorial staff. Admission is free on Tuesdays from 10 am-12 noon and Thursdays from 3-7 pm. At other times general admission is only $7, and $5 for students and seniors. If you don’t live near Chicago, and don’t plan on seeing the exhibit, please email Rhoda Rosen, the museum’s curator, and give her your support. Here’s a sample email:

Dear Ms. Rosen, Thank you so much for reopening Imaginary Coordinates. I’m glad to hear that Spertus is tackling issues of land ownership, mapping, and patriotism is such a balanced and thoughtful way. I know that you worked on this assembling this exhibit for three years, and I applaud your efforts. I hope that you will keep the exhibit open to the public for its full run, through September 7th so that the community has plenty of opportunity to see these important pieces. Sincerely, Your name

Read reviews for Imaginary Coordinates here, here and here.

 

*** Update: Spertus seems to have closed the exhibit on the same day this post went up on the blog.  I encourage you to still email Rhoda Rosen, as it shouldn't be too late for it to be reopened.