BIRZEIT, Palestinian Territories — The fact that the Palestinian Museum even exists may surprise some people, not because of the wealth of talent that clearly exists in these lands, but because it suggests a type of normalcy to life in an area that continues to be under occupation. When the project was first announced there were conversations about creating a museum that would reflect the reality of Palestinian life, recognizing that not all Palestinians would be able to even visit it because of Israeli border restrictions against people of Palestinian origin. Then the roughly $30-million transnational museum opened without a major “exhibition,” or at least the type of exhibition we typically envision in art museums. It was a more low-key affair, focusing on objects we often associate with historical displays, but that was also because of the real problems of occupation.
“Until Israel recognize[s] most of the Unesco protocols which protect imported goods in the museum world,” Museum Chairperson Omar Al Qattan told The National, “we can’t really bring anything in except under consular or ambassadorial cover, which means it’s always going to be a problem borrowing or exchanging exhibition objects.”
That challenge is important, because a museum today is still often categorized by its landmark treasures, the works that attract crowds. It’s a reality that has inspired artists to think creatively, and one Palestinian artist, Khaled Hourani, highlighted it best in his incredible Picasso in Palestine project back in 2011. That year, Hourani was finally able to bring a Picasso to Palestine. We may take Picasso’s work for granted in Western capitals, but in places under occupation there is real power in the presence of such “masterpiece” objects since shuttling treasures across borders reveals who is actually in control — the fact is that the Palestinian Authority has very limited authority over its own boundaries.
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