The exhibition “Unlike Other Springs” is an attempt to examine the process of how a public art collection such as the one at Birzeit University (BZU) has been realized and developed. The BZU art collection is unique because it serves large audiences from all walks of life, whether students, academicians, or members of the community.
Vera Tamari, curator of “Unlike Other Springs,” who has witnessed the inception of the BZU art collection and has worked for more than 20 years on its development, sees that this exhibition is a celebratory event, above all things. It is to celebrate the individual stories behind the various art works and the particular circumstances of how they arrived at Birzeit University. The exhibition is to honor scores of renowned Palestinian, Arab, and international artists who, in a gesture of appreciation for the university’s national educational role, have generously contributed their works as gifts. Most importantly,“Unlike Other Springs” is a way to showcase the versatility and uniqueness of the collection, documenting how it developed through the years to become a wealthy source of knowledge on modern and contemporary art practices.
The year 1994 marks a significant date in the evolution of the Birzeit University art collection. At that time, renowned Swiss artist, late René Feurer, in recognition of the Oslo Accord peace prospects for Palestinians, donated six of his monumental paintings to the university. BZU is proud of the fact that subsequently and gradually, it has received more than 250 noteworthy artworks as gifts through personal initiatives by artists and university friends. Although not many people are aware of the university’s art collection or know how it was developed, it forms an impressive corpus of outstanding works. The collection claims amongst its contributors highly renowned artists such as Samia Halaby, Kamal Boullata, Marwan Qassab Bashi, Vladimir Tamari, Sliman Mansur, Mona Hatoum, Leila Shawwa, Emily Jacir, Khalil Rabah, Sharif Waked, and many more. While the BZU collection is versatile with regards to its sources and motivations, it has a strong coherence due to the intrinsic personalized relationship between the artists, the donors, and the university. Further importance lies in the individualized stories of how and why those works arrived at BZU, as this documents the many connections and liaisons the university has formed in its history; and last but not least, the collection’s value stems from the high aesthetic quality of the works themselves.
This exhibition fulfills one of the museum’s main missions since it serves as a source of knowledge and inspiration and engages the university community and the larger audiences with the art collection and all that it represents and embraces. “Unlike Other Springs”makes a significant contribution to the museum’s thematic exhibition program and associated learning activities by introducing, through works contributed by more than 25 artists, original samples of modern and contemporary art practices. Furthermore, and emerging from the very local context, it is embedded in and guided by strong educational and social responsibility. The Birzeit University Museum plans its annual programs and exhibitions around the value that art adds to our lives by being a tool for learning and thinking. Its various programs are specially designed to fuel creative and conceptual channels of knowledge and to prepare the cultural environment suitable for the near-future establishment of an arts faculty at Birzeit University.
The exhibition opens on March 19 and runs until June 30, 2016 at BZU Museum. In parallel, there will be a panel discussion at the museum on March 26 on art collecting in Palestine, and a BZU architecture student intervention inspired by Lois Nakhleh’s exhibition of Palestinian watercolor flowers on April 2 at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center.
The title for this exhibition “Unlike Other Springs” has been chosen not only because the exhibition coincides with the start of the Spring season, but because of other innuendos one finds in the meaning of Spring. The art works in the exhibition are likened to burgeoning Spring flowers who’s seeds-from every species and kind - have flown from all corners of the earth, finding their roots in Birzeit University, in a field where they were nurtured and cared for, blooming in a cacophony of beautiful colors and shapes and creating a source of enjoyment and wonder to all. “Unlike Other Springs” is also a critical reference to the other recent “Springs”, where “our” Spring, as in the story of the BZU collection, becomes a source of hope and growth instead of destruction and loss.
As Palestine is currently witnessing an unprecedented frenzy in private art collecting, one is bound to stop and to question that phenomenon. Is this frenzy an echo of a rising fad in the Arab world today? Is it a manifestation of an intrinsic practice, deeply rooted in the conscience and history of Palestinian art and culture? Who are the collectors? What is the level of connoisseurship and knowledge about collecting? Are most collections privately owned, and how are they conceived? Are they locked up in private homes and vaults, where they remain personal “trophies» of a financial ruse crowning the wealth of a few individuals? or are they open to the public, welcoming audiences to partake in their beauty and aesthetic value?
The exhibition “Unlike Other Springs” is an attempt to examine the process by which a public collection such as the one at Birzeit University has been realized and developed. The uniqueness of the BZU art collection is that it serves large audiences from all walks of life whether students, academicians or members of the community. The uniqueness of this collection is also that it is imbedded at the heart of the University’s educational mission and objectives, that of generating and nurturing knowledge.
Working on the exhibition had a special momentum for renewing dialogue between the University and the artists/donors. “Unlike Other Springs” has also been a way for soldering partnerships with the various BZU faculties and the different Palestinian cultural and academic institutions and individuals in the society.
To parallel and reflect on the rich diversity in the art works and the rich narratives they hold, the curatorial approach uses a mixture of production modes involving video interviews, white cube displays, written texts, sound installations and so on so forth. While the main display of the artworks is in the BZU Museum, other smaller displays of art works are distributed in various locations on campus, as well in venues outside the university, all this to highlight the important value of the University’s art collection and the distinctive role of the Museum in engaging different publics.
Curated by Vera Tamari
Locations of the Exhibition: Birzeit University Museum.Main Gallery, Yousif Ghanim Main Library,& Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center.