The peeling of an onionPosted: April 19, 2013
This morning I met with my hostess – let’s call her Sarah for now – for an introductory rundown on the facilities at the studios. Sarah is a ceramic artist. I looked up her work online before I came here (as one does) and got a slight inkling from the titles of her pieces that she might have been an artist with a political edge. Either that, or words like ‘seam line’ mean something altogether different for her. I think the peeling an onion metaphor is a suitable one for the way in which our conversation unfolded.
She asked what my research was about; I gave her a version of my rehearsed airport-security-friendly response; I was here to look at the new and old architecture of Israel and the way it helps to shape or reinforce identities. She showed me round, I asked about recycling, and was told that not many guests do this. She took me to the (very) local community garden of a group she is involved with, which comes complete with a carpentry studio and a composting area, which will help me to fulfill my commitment to travel sustainabily (as pledged in my application to the William and Betty MacQuitty Travel Scholarship). She then told me a bit more about this group, who also do art within the community, and lead weekly tours of the area. I asked if Palestinians (who of course are very near neighbours of this area) were involved, and she said they try to involve them but are met with resistance from local residents who think the group too left-leaning. I asked if she was left and she admitted that ‘Well I am, but…’.
We talked a little bit more about practicalities such as where to shop and how to do laundry, and then she recommended a visit to the local Museum on the Seam (that word again, and this time definitely political – this seam is the 1949 Green Line the museum and my accommodation sit upon) and gave me a brochure for ‘Green Olive Tours’ (which have a slightly political edge). She told me she rarely mentions this politically-edged tourism to her visitors, who are mostly messianic Christians here to see the religious sites. I confessed that I was here to see and discuss just that – ‘the political’ – and she confessed that there is another group she’s a member of – women carrying out daily observations of the checkpoints – who also offer political tours, but that she normally keeps her lips sealed about such things. I acknowledged that I was aware I needed to keep my lips sealed too, much of the time that I’m here. And so the onion was peeled, revealing two like-minded spirits towards its core. Then I told her what my research was really about. And she agreed that she might just give me an interview herself!
In many other encounters during this visit, the onion will remain safely in its skin, or will have only several outer layers removed. This is the approach that I will be taking in my interviews, gradually peeling back layers until I meet with resistance, discomfort or discord, at which point the peeling will stop.
[I did go to the Museum of the Seam, and experienced a blood-bath of an anti-animal-cruelty exhibition of modern art that I expect will give me nightmares – especially the film of a woman disgorging a cow and climbing inside it…although admittedly they did warn me that particular exhibit was not for the faint-hearted so I’ll only have myself to blame!]
View along the Green Line to the Old City, from the rooftop of the Museum of the Seam