Mr. Kupti is a successful lawyer who defends the interests of Christian churches in the holly land. There is no visible relation between his work and the art world. “What I can tell you is that thanks to my success as a lawyer I could invest in art and become an art collector. I am an art lover by essence” he tells me during our meeting in his Law office in East Jerusalem. His passion for Palestinian art began while Mr. Kupti was a student at Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem Universities. His first art piece acquisition dates back to the mid 80s and he owns today a rich collection of about 170 drawings, starting from the 20s (even before the creation of the state of Israel) until today…
In 2006, Mr. Kupti decided to take the first step in order to make his dream come true. He united the efforts of some 20 artists and Palestinian businessmen who share common beliefs and dreams and brought to life the Art gallery – Al Hoash (meaning the courtyard), a non profit organization. Based in Jerusalem, it is the home of the future museum. Mazen Kupti has already declared his intention to donate his beloved personal art collection to the future museum.
“Thanks to Al Hosh’s serious activities in the Palestinian community since its creation, and thanks to the growing interest we are receiving from the International Media, our credibility locally and internationally has increased; more and more organizations are interested in our idea and support us financially.” Says kupti “we succeeded in convincing the Norwegian government of the need of a museum, the Norwegian national museum has adopted our idea and we are collaborating together in order to make this dream a reality. Governments, such as the Spanish and the French, are starting to support us. We are also working on fundraising opportunities coming from Palestinian businessmen and international bodies.”
International bodies, as Mazen Kupti wishes it, have started to realize the need for a cultural space enhancing the cultural status of Jerusalem, especially as visual and plastic arts are concerned. Al Hoash came to fulfil this need and to become a home institution for the artists and their artworks. In addition, this organization has the ambition to become the bridge that connects the cultural art movement in Jerusalem with the Palestinian cities, the Arab countries and the rest of the world.
Several factors in the Palestinian artistic life urge Mr. Kupty and the personalities that support him to build a home for Palestinian art. First of all, “there is no doubt that Palestinian art, as any other cultural field in Palestine, is a way to express the situation and problems that the Palestinians face, and there is no doubt that the Palestinian artist tries to bring a political message to the world through his art.” says the lawyer.
Besides, art schools in the Palestinian territories lack technical experience. One can see a big difference between Palestinian artists who studied in Palestinian art schools and others who studied in Israeli or European schools. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for a Palestinian to study art abroad unless he gets a scholarship. Another main difficulty lies in the mobility limits imposed on Palestinians due to security measures taken by the Israeli army; sometimes it is forbidden to circulate, even from one house to another between the West bank and Jerusalem or Gaza. These restrictions lead to oppression and dishearten Palestinian artists. Travelling abroad for an exhibition or getting a permit to fly abroad at least their artistic works prove to be too often an impossible mission, deplores Mr. Kupti.
These difficult conditions led to a wave of exile of Palestinian artists abroad, a phenomena that effected also their work to… the better! Thanks to their education in western art schools, Palestinian artists could express themselves in a more complex way and they became more popular abroad than in Palestine. These artists have reached a very high technical level and participate in well recognized international exhibitions.
I wondered if these foreign influences did not prevent Palestinian artists from reflecting their society. “Generally speaking, the attention to art in the Middle East is weak. There is only a small portion of society devoted to art. That is why many Palestinian artists seek other places like Europe where they can develop their art. Thus, it does not mean that they forget their history, on the contrary, they try to explain to the world the Palestinian problems through their art.” confirms Mazen.
Socio political problems occupy a big space in Palestinian art and Palestinian artists feel totally free to express themselves on these issues, but when talking about other issues such as sexuality, things become more complicated. Taboos do exist and Palestinian art reveals the conservative orthodox nature of the artist... “it is rare to find a Palestinian male artist raising the woman issue or a man’s nude body. On the other hand, Palestinian women use the nude body a lot as a means of self expression.”
Although the Hamas-led Palestinian Education Ministry recently caused uproar by removing an anthology of folk tales from school libraries because they were deemed to contain sexual innuendo, Kupty voices confidence that Islamic militants will not succeed in stiffening artistic free expression. The decision was later rescinded after protests by writers and other intellectuals, but only after Hamas had destroyed some 1500 copies of the book. The civil war between Fatah and Hamas that shook the Gaza Strip last month and Hamas’s military revolution, is neither encouraging, but Mr. Kupti stays optimistic: “No matter who is in power, art will always be a message and a means of self expression. I hope that art in Gaza won’t be harmed because of recent tensions. Anyhow, here in the West Bank, we don’t face problems in the field of art freedom.”
One of the main obstacles that stand against Mazen’s Kupty and his friends in their adventure is the lack of qualified personnel. Until late 1980s, the Israeli military authorities banned the education of fine arts in Palestinian Universities. “This joined the same idea of banning the usage of the Palestinian flag or to prohibit selling certain books” said once Rima Fadda, Director of the Palestinian Association of Modern Arts. At the time, and to a certain extent, it’s always about setting impediments against any expression form of a collective identity.
For ideological reasons, Al Hoash Association does not request funding from Israeli potential funders, despite the fact that it is registered legally in Israel. Mr. Kupti seeks financial aid uniquely from international organizations and institutions. “International Funders who are active in Palestine place culture on their lowest scale of priorities” he regrets, “they focus more on issues related to food, security and human rights, therefore, most of the cultural Palestinian organizations suffer from a lack of funding and they live difficult lives trying to exist. The problem today is that international funders finance only projects, they do not provide core funding and this situation threatens the survival of Palestinian cultural organizations”.
Today Palestinian Artistic community is broken apart. Many Palestinian Artists live abroad, Mona Hatoum in London, Vladimir Tamari, native of Jaffa, in Tokyo, and they all expose in International art capitals. This situation does not frighten Mazen Kupti who hopes to resemble pieces of all the Palestinian artists under one roof and prove that all Palestinian artists wherever they are, share the same roots. “I hope that in four or five years from now, we will be able to announce the good news: the birth of the first ever Palestinian National Museum of Contemporary Art… And I believe that we are on the right track” says Mazen with a warm smile.