The permanent exhibit of the Umm el Fahem Art Gallery focusses on the history of the region rather than on contemporary Arab art. For, as director Said Abu Shakra explains, one cannot understand the present without first understanding the past. Therefore, a certain percentage of the gallery’s efforts is aimed toward collecting, preserving, and documenting the history and memories of the region’s population.
The exhibit Memories of (a) Place began as a temporary exhibit utilizing the resources of the gallery’s archives and work by curator Guy Raz and Open University of Israel history professor Dr.-Mustafa Kahba. It has become a permanent part of the gallery, located on its lower level.
One enters the exhibit and becomes immersed in a warren of rooms, some of which dead end. This environment was created intentionally, according to curator Raz , to approximate the sense of the winding roads, and twisting paths of the city of Umm el Fahem.
Near the beginning of the exhibit are the earliest photos of the area that have been found. These pictures show the archeological excavations at the ruins, near Umm el Fahem, of Tel Megiddo (also known as Armeggedon!) at the beginning of the 20th century, and also photos from the battle at Megiddo between the British and the Turkish armies in 1918. That battle ended Ottoman rule in Palestine.
Further into the exhibit are photographs depicting rural life, harvesting olives with a ladder and long stick, plowing with camels, and with donkeys, threshing and grinding wheat, a view of large outdoor ovens. There is a wonderful scene of a father and his daughter, the girl in ornate traditional style, the man in traditional clothing and headgear, plus a sports jacket! (41) There are people dancing. men playing mancala (truly an international game.) We see a village barber, and a grain merchant,(62) each plying his trade outdoors. Each picture is an insight into a lost society, due both to time and to the incursion of other cultures.
We then move on to photographs depicting military scenes, from the 1930’s and 1940’s, but also weddings, and visits between Arab and Jewish inhabitants of the region. Into the 1950’s and 60’s, there are again rural scenes, photos of children at school, a children’s choir singing on the occasion of the state of Israel’s 10th anniversary. There is a wonderful set of two photos showing a man posed in front of his old, traditional home, and then in front of his new modern home, both dated 1960.
The exhibit continues and moves forward in time toward the present. There is a small room with pictures of professional soccer teams, including teams from Umm el Fahem. Interestingly, many current teams have a combination of Jewish and Arab players. There are more current everyday scenes, of a pomegranate juice seller, a cook preparing large quantities of a lamb and rice dish for a banquet, perhaps a wedding. And, whimsically, one room features studio portraits of children in a variety of settings, one posing with a stuffed tiger, another with a seashore background, and more. (choose one, they aren’t in the book!) These photos are traditionally taken at the time of the major Muslim holidays, Eid Al-fitr and Eid Al-Adha. The children, when invited to the gallery opening, were thrilled to see the photographs of themselves on the walls. And these, though recent, are memories as well, for every time an image is captured it becomes part of our collective memory.
The exhibit doesn’t shy away from conflict or controversy. There are photographs of demonstrations and also of the Green Line, the barrier separating Umm el Fahem from the West Bank. There are also pictures showing Arab men in traditional dress, holding banners saying Peace Now, in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. (251)
Interspersed throughout the exhibit with the still photographs are a series of videos depicting various subjects, ranging from a wedding to the last time snow fell in Umm el Fahem, some 20 years ago.
In the last room of the Memories of Place exhibit is a recreation of a traditional Arab living room, with a number of mattresses and cushions on which visitors are encouraged to sit. On the walls are formal photographs of some of the elders of the city, posed in their own home surroundings. These give, in addition to the portraits themselves, a fascinating glimpse into the living spaces, some more traditional, some more modern, of the older residents of the city. When you visit, we hope you will take time to rest in this room and ponder what you have seen in the exhibit, surrounded by the portraits of some of the city’s elders. (406 or 411)
This special exhibit was created in cooperation with the Gallery Archives. This in an ongoing project documenting the life of the city through both images and memories of its older residents. The continuing work of the archive includes recording and transcribing the memories of the city’s older residents, with the intention of eventually compiling them into a book.
The gallery, in its mission to encourage dialogue between Arabs and Jews through art, encourages both residents of Umm el Fahem, and visitors from Israel and abroad, to visit and experience Memories of Place as well as the gallery’s other exhibits featuring Arab and Israeli artists.
We hope this has given you a taste of the permanent exhibit, Memories of Place, and you are invited to visit the gallery and the city of Umm el Fahem and meet some of its residents in person. We are waiting to welcome you!