The centrality of peace: A journey to the Peres Peace House

An invitation to the opening of the exhibition “An individual journey to poetry” offered the opportunity to visit the Peres Peace House, the home of the identically named centre in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Hosted by the Austrian Cultural Forum Tel Aviv, the exhibition mainly featured photographs from Middle- and Far Eastern female artists.

Although the exhibition was meant to address fundamental (gender) questions, it was rather difficult to get involved with the artworks to the necessary degree. At least I had some troubles with the overall atmosphere. However, some of the raised questions were touched upon, such as the general notion that the arts have the potential to open up minds and take both the artist and the spectator to a journey beyond “reality”, although this should be self-evident. It was apparent that the language of art is international and it would have been hard to match the photographs to the respective artist, or country respectively, were there no name plates. Concerns whether (feminist) art can be assined to a particular national context can therefore be brushed off. For me there is no link between a national background and the art produced there, as questioned in the explanatory notes of the exhibition. This does not mean the cultural background is irrelevant, on the contrary. Cultural diversity is essential and a driving force, particularly in the arts, but what I reject is the affiliation of a certain culture with the accidental and artificial borders of a state.

This (subjective) assessment certainly ties in with the wider context of this blog and my research. It was the feminist movement – next to environmental initiatives or concerns about children rights – that lead the bottom-up side of what is usually referred to as globalisation. By doing so, it countered the apparent exclusivity with which international capital first created and then internalised this seemingly unrestricted international sphere. The feminist concerns and movement have emerged worldwide out of a very different cultural contexts and have shown how diverse and hybrid, but at the same time universal, oppression is.

However, as title and subtitle of this post suggest, there is another story to this trip. Instead of squeezing myself through the daily evening rush-hour, I decided to take a walk to the Peace House. Since I roughly knew where it was and one can always ask for the way, I did not look up its location in detail before I set off. After a good hour´s walk and the time of the opening approaching without a sign of the centre, I started asking people how far it was. To my surprise nobody, neither Israeli-Jewish joggers, nor Israeli-Palestinian youth playing football, who both enjoyed the nice park south of Jaffa, were able to tell me. I was confused, did I not leave home with the thought that everyone in the city must know about Peres Peace Centre if I know about it? Nevertheless, I kept moving. A stop, asking Palestinian youngsters gave the same result, nothing. I thought that is impossible. Maybe I got it completely wrong and the centre is somewhere else. Wanting to give it one more chance, I decided to walk the 50 meters up the hill and look out for it from there, and: there you go, the Peres Peace House, only a stone´s throw away.

So, what do the facts that the Peace House has been exiled to the last corner of the city, and that nobody, not even people who live right next to it, know about it tell us?

tel aviv-jaffa - satellite image

© borderlandlevant

Besides the fact that it is actually situated at the outermost edge of the city, the gesture of endowing a rather poor (Arab) neighbourhood of Jaffa with a fancy concrete and glass box is inappropriate, in the best case. Furthermore, the Peace Centre is obviously well funded, but does not have a reputation of faithfully contributing to an enduring reconciliation, as many not so prominent Israeli and international NGOs do. The question arises whether the building and its story rather function as a fig leaf than demonstrating hard work for viable and peaceful togetherness.

To also drop a word about the architecture, the Peace House was designed by the Italian architect Maximiliano Fuksas. Its layered structure might refer to a step by step building up of trust. In addition, the concrete and glass layers may symbolise a degree of openness to reach out to the respective ‘other’. It’s embeddedness into the steep bankside and its opening up towards the sea can be read as uniting stability and uncertainty. Using a subjunctive language, however, reveals my scepticism. The terraced park next to the Peace House appears much more ‘relational’ and ‘communicative’, as hundreds of both Jewish and Arab families had their barbecues there, which I noticed on another visit.

Peres Peace Centre 01

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© all pictures by the author

All rights reserved: Sigi Atteneder, 2013