AXES OF ACCESS, 2014
Archival inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper, 6.7 x 10.5 inches each set
Aspirations for“a wall” loomed large in the 2016 presidential campaign. An actual wall looms large in Israel. The West Bank “separation barrier” or “security fence” or “apartheid wall” or “anti- terrorist fence” was supported by both major party candidates. It is regarded as a model for Trump, who promises to build a wall that would keep out another people from a land they once inhabited and who share the same aspirations as all human beings. Few presidential candidates (past and present) have dared to challenge a lynchpin of American foreign policy: its continued support of Israel. To continue, reshape or withdraw that support is an issue that immediately polarizes.
Life in Israel and Palestine is also polarized; it is rife with divisions of all kinds. There are lines between those in control and those who are controlled, barriers between the visible and the invisible, chasms between the displaced and the settled. The instruments of these divisions, arising from political and ideological abstraction, often obscure what is happening on the ground, whether ground conditions are benign or repugnant.
AXES OF ACCESS presents images divided by poles, edges of walls or doorways. Each axis is either a linear glimpse of ordinary life or a threshold between free entry, exchange or its denial. Sections of the Separation Wall flank each axis or act as claustrophobic backdrops; the wall is always present mentally, if not physically.
The wall’s graffiti are marks of protest; when magnified, they resemble gestures of American Abstract Expressionism, a painting movement that was promoted by the CIA and State Department as an instrument of the cultural Cold War. Abstract Expressionism stood for autonomy: the autonomy of art in abandoning its mimetic role of representing the world and becoming absorbed in its own possibilities, as well as the autonomy of individuals to engage in pure expression. Its abstract nature resisted specific meaning or problematic content, despite the actual politics and intentions of its artists, and was presumed to be apolitical, safely serving to promulgate American principles of individualism and freedom of expression. This glorification of autonomy is selective when applied to peoples abroad.
Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. Its policies effectively deny autonomy to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. The Separation Wall is part of that denial. Abstracting its graffiti may parallel all the political niceties that seem to lead nowhere, beautifully excising all meaning from its raw, scrawled slogans. But neither beautiful words nor images can disguise or minimize the structure’s impact. They cannot temper the injustice that the wall perpetrates, ease the hardship it inflicts or eradicate the ignorance it perpetuates. This barrier blinds Israelis to life as it is lived behind the wall, both the deprivations it causes (inadequate water, travel bans and restrictions, denial of permits that would allow modern amenities and updates, constant inspections and interrogations and more) and the small pleasures that persist in spite of it (birthday parties and cotton candy, adorning one’s hair and dressing up, TV shows and soccer balls). These are not abstractions.
Not knowing instills fear. Not seeing the humanity of one’s supposed enemies keeps them enemies. Instead of “axes of evil,” we need axes of access.