Shotgun Review

A Child’s View from Gaza

By Shotgun Reviews October 18, 2011

Writing about violence, grief, and vulnerability, Judith Butler observes that war “works to undermine a sensate democracy . . . disposing us to feel shock and outrage in the face of one expression of violence and righteous coldness in the face of another.”1 She also suggests that this emotional disconnect becomes possible when the social and political narratives we live by determine implicitly or tacitly that the suffering of some humans is less worthy of our concern than others. The events surrounding last month’s decision by the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) to cancel an exhibit of children’s drawings from Gaza provided a depressing confirmation of Butler’s thesis.

Aya Gashlan. Untitled; watercolor and pencil on paper; 10.25 x 14 in. Courtesy of Middle East Children's Alliance.

The exhibit consists of twenty-five to thirty drawings made by children who lived through Israel’s military operation in Gaza in the winter of 2008-09. Like other drawings of war by children from Iraq, Chechen, Indonesia, Darfur, and Theresienstadt, these pictures depict awful things: bombs exploding on living spaces, eviscerated buildings, tanks firing on civilians, and people bleeding and dying in the street. But seen up close, their materiality, scale, and mark-making also look devastatingly familiar. They are like the drawings our own children make—untrained, but frank, searching, and immediate. The recognition that at the level of touch and responsiveness to a lived-in world, these drawings are like the ones on our refrigerators and in our family scrapbooks brings a terrible contradiction into view. The children who made them are as alive as we are, but their testimonies and existence are shamefully precarious in our current political landscape.

While a full discussion of the events and politics driving the assault lies beyond the scope of this review, there is noquestion that the power differential between the sides involved in the conflict—the crushing firepower wielded by the Israelis and the number of civilian deaths, including 260 children, suffered by the Palestinians —was enormous. Still the idea that these drawings would be made visible to the Bay Area public so offended several local Jewish organizations that they mounted a successful campaign calling upon MOCHA to cancel the show. It now hangs in an unnamed retail space on 917 Washington Street in Oakland.

The attempt to remove the drawings from public sight amounted to a denial that the lives they are tied to matter. Theorists of visual culture have taught us that the act of looking is never neutral. If this denial disturbs you, go to 917 Washington St., and look.

________

Noga Wizansky is an artist and independent scholar based in Oakland. She holds an MA in Design and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in History of the Visual Arts, both from UC Berkeley.

A Child’s View from Gaza is on view at 917 Washington St., in Oakland, through November 27, 2011.

Notes

  1. Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London; New York: Verso, 2009), 52.

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