Exhibit on the Backdrop of the Gaza War
The Bread and Roses art sale opened its third annual exhibit on January 10, 2009, the 15th day of the Gaza War, at the initiative of the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MA’AN). The aim was to raise funds for Women and Work, a project promoting job opportunities for Arab women.
For images of the exhibited works, see here.
Curator Nir Nader noted that “Women and Work started in 2005, requiring intensive field activity, lobbying and empowerment courses for women. It needs large financial resources, so we at WAC decided to hold an art sale to support it. This is not only a means of raising funds but also an educational act, a way to reach out to public opinion. It gives Arab and Jewish artists a chance to show solidarity with working women. Most artists are glad to take part, and this year we even had to turn down some for lack of space.”
Art collectors come to the exhibit to buy. According to Nader, “Some are interested in contributing to a worthy cause, while others hesitate to take part in an exhibition with an outspoken sociopolitical agenda. The Gaza War only made things more complex.” In spite of this, “we witnessed marked interest, with visitors looking around and buying. In a way it was an island of sanity amid the madness of the war. The visitors were determined in their support of moderate voices. All in all we managed to outdo last year’s revenues.”
Bread and Roses-The Invisible Figures
The term “Bread and Roses” was coined in 1911 for a strike by female textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The strikers raised signs saying, “We want bread but also roses!” By “roses” they meant leisure, education, art and culture. Inspired by the strike, poet James Oppenheim wrote:
“Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”
Wafa Tayara of Kufr Qara, who started in agriculture but now heads the WAC office in her village, delivered a message to the artists:
“Your support for this project as artists proves that you do not shut yourselves off from the outside world and so not shirk from social commitment. Our hearts are touched by your support for us, Arab women in agriculture, the invisible figures behind the vegetables on your table.”
Tayara added that “the government continues to allow the importation of migrant workers, while blaming us for not wanting to work. We are living proof that Arab women do want to work, if only they pay us lawfully and acknowledge our rights. We do not want to be an unorganized temporary workforce used and then discarded at the drop of a hat. When WAC opened the doors of the labor market, we did not wait and started working at full force. We are still doing all we can to develop additional jobs for women in villages, providing them livelihood as well as hope.”
Solidarity and Social Contribution
Popsy Niv Ron, an art collector who has followed WAC’s exhibits since their inception, observed: “I think it is wonderful to contribute through art to something in which I believe, promoting support of the Arab population. I am a psychologist by profession, and giving a hand is important to me.”
Tayara also referred to the personal aspect of starting to work: “Apart from making a living, work opens up a brand new world to us. It pulls us out of our loneliness as housewives and enables us to become involved. It even makes us happier and less nervous. We want bread first, but also roses.”
David Glassman, one of the art collectors at the exhibit, did not just make do with buying art. He decided to cross the lines this year and devote time to expanding the exhibit, recruiting new artists and collectors. Glassman explained his motives: “I am a salesman by profession and have been taking part in Bread and Roses since its beginning. Towards the last show I realized that here was an opportunity to combine two fields important to me: art and social activity. I noticed that the exhibit lacks a professional touch in marketing. I provided counseling on this aspect.”
Anat Ahuvi was another collector who became more involved this year, coordinating contact with artists. “The aim of the show is close to my heart: I support underprivileged sectors and minorities, immigrants and migrant workers, but especially projects promoting women. This year I volunteered to help set up the exhibit, thanks to my belief in WAC’s pure conduct and the aims of this project.”
Fahed Halabi, a Druze artist living in Jaffa, presented his point of view: “We live in a harsh reality which requires social pioneers who will sacrifice for the principles of equality and true democracy. I believe in the social and political activity of the people behind this exhibit. I believe in the power of art to influence reality and in its contribution to promoting human values”.
Love and Generosity
Artist Tami Barkai, who took part in former WAC exhibits as an artist, decided this year to help in setting it up. Here is an excerpt from an article she wrote for Etgar:
Bread and Roses is not just a means of achieving financial goals, but also social ones, thus creating solidarity out of true partnership. Thanks to the featured artists and the people who helped set up the exhibition, the workers will be able to continue and persist in their work. I see this project as an array of encounters where people from different walks of life have gathered. Some of the paintings have a direct affinity to the issue of women and work, while others do not. Still, I would like to think of them all as conveying a message, like a warm handshake.”
At the opening of the exhibit, Barkai referred to Wafa Tayara’s speech: “At noon a woman by the name Wafa Tayara delivered a speech here. She started out as a worker in agriculture through WAC, and today she accompanies other women in the job- placement procedure. Had I walked past her on the street, I doubt I’d think there was a common denominator between the two of us.
“Through collaborating on Bread and Roses, which is built on love and generosity, on encounters between activists, volunteers, artists and women workers, we emphasize common denominators: the hope and willingness to fight and act towards a more egalitarian society, for workers’ rights, fair employment and the ability to earn bread and roses.”
Light in the Darkness of the War
Occuring in the midst of the Gaza War, the exhibit had a special atmosphere. The participants felt they were breaking the cycle of helplessness forced on the general public while the guns were firing.
Fahed Halabi noted, “A time of war is an ordeal for all the ideologies we used to believe in; it is a harsh moment of mixed feelings. For me, experiencing the war through the media, the pain is acute. I know there is a consensus on the streets of Israel in favor of this war. It is a consensus that favors the cruel and senseless killing of Palestinians, which is why, at the opening of the exhibit, I felt that it constitutes a small bubble, a symbol of hope in an ocean of violence, hope which may become an influential power.”
Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, one of the most prominent WAC activists, congratulated the visitors and participants at the opening event: “We hold this extraordinary exhibition of solidarity between Arabs and Jews, artists and workers, against the backdrop of a bloody war, a war that could have been prevented, one that is destined to escalate hatred and deepen the conflict, taking us ever farther away from a solution. In our day-to-day activity, and in this exhibit, we strive to break the wall dividing us. What we do right here right now is an alternative to war and hatred. We chose to follow this way many years ago and are still pursuing it, despite the difficulties. To provide work and hope, to seek understanding, to cooperate in building an alternative society, these are our methods. Persistence in them will win us the justice we so deserve.”
Long Distance Running
Bread and Roses does not offer an immediate solution to the war. It rather offers an educational way of peacemaking, helping to curtail hatred and foster comity. Only the uncompromising belief in this path may prevent the next war.
Tami Barkai concluded: “At WAC I learned the value of long-distance running along a path paved with little success stories, all thanks to the generosity and love of artists and workers willing to share their paths with us.”
Nir Nader: “This exhibition has become a tradition, which is also one reason why people keep coming. They know that the project is stable and that we’ll be here next year as well. The continuity and consistency are instrumental, because they reflect a solid political stance unswayed by the vagaries of circumstance.