Portraits of Palestine

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An exhibition of photographs of Palestine, in the Barron Theatre, tries to foster dialogue.

Hosted and organized by the Mutual Respect and Dialogue for Palestine Society (MRDPS), a photographic exhibition in the Barron on Thursday night presented a vignette of the experiences from students in Israel and Palestine. Hoping to facilitate dialogue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a relaxed atmosphere and separate from an overtly politicized message, the event organizers aimed to spread awareness to a new audience.

The photographs were arranged in a minimalistic fashion around the theatre and music played, guided by disc jockey Jean-Michel Fatti, while guests snacked on pita and hummus. All of this contributed to an event that successfully stimulated relevant conversations. While MRDPS has hosted other events such as film screenings, boycotts and speakers, the photographic exhibition witnessed the greatest attendance in the history of the society.

In response to the proposal that such lighthearted events could be criticized for subsuming the gravity of those victimized in the conflict, contributing photographer Polly Delaney acknowledged that in such attempts there can often be a “fine line between tokenistic efforts and sincere solidarity.” She emphasized, however, MRDPS’s sincerity in spreading awareness and cited the society’s attempts to widen access to the university for Palestinian students. The Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has created two scholarships to be provided to Palestinian students at St. Andrews. While the scholarships cover tuition, MRDPS hopes to alleviate the financial burden of accommodation and other expenses through the sale of photographs and other fundraising strategies.

MRDPS member Jordan Berger, whose involvement in the society stems from a visit to Palestine that confronted an upbringing under a Zionist narrative, hoped to create an event that would make a conflict often considered overwhelming more approachable. “People ask if we [MRDPS] are pro-Palestine; it’s not about that. We all have different ideas of how this conflict should be resolved, and it is a process for everyone.”

Fellow organizer Humaira Ahmed emphasized that “the medium of photography, in particular, allows people to create their own opinions,” and hoped the exhibition would provide a platform for visual engagement with the region. Apart from creating an approachable format, the photographic exhibition allowed MRDPS to depict a Palestine not purely composed of the violence often associated with the region. “Palestine should not just be associated with grief,” fellow organizer Cecilia Uddenfeldt-Wort told me. “It’s a real place.”

The exhibition includes images one might expect, such as the Israeli West Bank Barrier. The juxtaposition of such commonly disseminated images alongside shots of Jerusalem’s architecture or children playing contributed towards the society’s attempt to portray a multi-faceted Palestine. Exhibition visitor Phillip Sorgenfrei, who has traveled extensively throughout the Palestinian territories, felt that the images accurately matched his own experiences. “You witness the impact of the conflict on every street corner,” he said, biting into his pita. The exhibition demonstrated the impossibility of separating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the normal life of the region’s residents. The society’s decision not to focus solely on images that underscore the violence of the conflict paired with their wish to create a space for neutral dialogue.

Kim Kipling

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