Leonardo: Journal of theInternational Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, Vol. 39, No. 3, 2006.
My exhibition1 proposes that peace in the Middle East can emerge from a fresh metaphor in which the Arabs see Israel’s existence as Allah’s will. This metaphor, derived from Islamic art and thought, invites a shift in perception in which the conflict is seen as an aesthetic problem.
The central image shows a geometric pattern from a Damascus mosque superimposed on a map of North Africa and the Middle East. The Islamic pattern is painted in green, red, and metallic gold on a digital print mounted on canvas. Israel is a tiny sliver with an alternative pattern – blue stripes on a white background like the Jewish prayer shawl and the flag of Israel. An “angel of peace,” a digitized version of a Rembrandt drawing, is shown emerging from the blue stripes carrying the message of my aesthetic peace plan worldwide through the Internet. In the exhibition, actual rugs woven in Islamic lands were hanging beside my digital artworks.
Islamic art teaches Arabs to see their world as a continuous geometric pattern that extends across North Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, they see tiny Israel as a blemish that disrupts the pattern. From this perspective, Israel is viewed as an alien presence that they have continually tried to eliminate through war, terrorism, and political action. Arab television calls Israel a “cancer in the body of the Arab nation.”
Fortunately, the perceptual shift needed to lead to a genuine peace can be found in Islamic art and thought. In Islamic art, a uniform geometric pattern is purposely disrupted by the introduction of a counter-pattern to demonstrate that human creation is less than perfect. Based upon the belief that only Allah creates perfection, rug weavers from Islamic lands intentionally weave a patch of dissimilar pattern to break the symmetry of their rugs to demonstrate that they are not competing with Allah. In Islamic Textile Art: Anomalies in Kilims,2 we learn that devout Muslim women who weave kilim rugs would not be so arrogant as to even attempt a ‘perfect rug,’ since such perfection belongs only to Allah. Consequently, they deliberately break the rugs’ patterning as a mark of their humility.
Peace can be achieved when the Islamic world recognizes that they need Israel to realize their Islamic religious values. Israel provides the counter-pattern in the contiguous Islamic world that extends from Morocco to Pakistan. Just as a religious Muslim weaver introduces a counter-pattern in designing a rug as a mark of humility, so Muslim leaders can honor the diversity in all of God’s creations by perceiving Israel as the necessary break in symmetry. The ingathering of the Jewish people into its historic homeland in the midst of the Islamic world is the fulfillment of Mohammed’s prophecy in the Koran (Sura 17:104): “And we said to the Children of Israel, ‘scatter and live all over the world…and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land.”
1 Robert Guttmann Gallery of the Jewish Museum in Prague, summer 2004.
2 Thompson, M. and Begum, N. Islamic Textile Art: Anomalies in Kilims. Salon du Tapis d’Orient. www.turkotek.com/salon_00101/salon.html
Mel Alexenberg’s artworks are in the collections of forty museums worldwide. He is author of The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and Educating Artists for the Future (both published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and Head of the School of the Arts at Emuna College in Jerusalem. He has taught both Jewish and Arab students at the Ariel University Center, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Bar-Ilan University. In the United States, he was Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Associate Professor of Art and Education at Columbia University, Professor and Chairman of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute, and Dean of Visual Arts at New World School of the Arts, University of Florida’s arts college in Miami.