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by Jehuda Saar
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Subjective Art

Often when an artist wants to make a (mostly negative) statement about Israel, Zionism, Judaism you name it, the result can be quite shocking. Generally the intent is clear enough in the "final product". One look at the "art" and we know exactly where his opinions lie with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Gaza-offensive, settlements in the West-Bank or even the general existence of a Jewish State in the Middle-East.

But today we hear of an art exhibit in Spain that, while it leaves me a little uneasy, is still ambiguous enough about its intentions that I can't quite decide what to make of it. The artist's name is Eugenio Merino and I have to admit that I don't know much about him except for the fact that he seems to like to provoke and that others as well have found him to be somewhat confusing (most famously when he portrayed the Dalai Lama holding a machine gun). 


Two of the pieces in his new exhibit attracted the attention of the Israeli Embassy in Madrid: one portrays a "hassid" holding an open book (apparently in prayer), standing on top of a kneeling priest who in turn is on top of a prostrate muslim. The second one shows a menorah growing out of the barrel of an Uzi submachine gun. And this is where it gets complicated: the Israeli Embassy felt the need to make a statement yet did not demand the removal of the works. Part of the statement read: "Values such as freedom of speech and creative freedom are sometimes used to disguise stereotyping, prejudice and provocation for the sake of provocation". The artist meanwhile stated "The aim was to display the wonder in the co-existence of the three religions, each making a common effort to reach G-d". Leaving aside for a moment to what extent the artist's statement was or wasn't genuine and looking at it from a practical point of view, given the accepted stance for prayer in the three religions, it would have been hard for the muslim to lie on top of the kneeling priest on top of the standing hassid. One could argue that there was no need to position these three on top of each other at all of course, but that's where we get into matters of artistic expression and for every two people we will get three opinions. Arguments could be made for or against the Menorah/Uzi piece as well. 

But the rest of the Israeli Embassy's statement actually points to the complexity of this situation: "We express our opinion on this issue though we recognize that provocations like this are successful only because it is not possible not to respond" (at no point in the statement is the term "anti-Semitic" used, apparently a deliberate choice). Which really poses the question: what is the right way to react to something as ambiguous as this ? Are we better off not responding ? Are we obligated to say something even though arguments can be made one way or the other ? Do we take an absolute approach without ever making a distinction as to intent or result ? Judge for yourselves as you contemplate the "Art" in question.


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