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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The fake child artists of Gaza (updated)

From HuffPo:
Bowing to pressure from the Bay Area's Jewish community, Oakland's Museum of Children's Art has decided to cancel its planned exhibition of drawings by Palestinian children documenting their experiences during the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Organized by the Middle East Children's Alliance, "A Child's View of Gaza" was supposed to run from September 24th through mid-November; however, the public reaction against displaying the pictures convinced the museum's board of directors to halt its plan.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

It had become a distraction to the main objective of bringing arts education to all children, said museum board member Randolph Bell.

"We were getting calls from constituents that were concerned about the situation," Bell said.

"We don't have any political stake in this thing. It just became apparent that we needed to rethink this."

"We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins?" asked Middle East Children's Alliance president Barbara Lubin in a press release. "The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose."


Pictures from the exhibit, which were culled from art therapy sessions at a number of Gaza children's centers, show images like a bomb painted with American and Israeli flags crashing into a street filled with dead bodies, helicopters destroying a city and a boot decorated with a Star of David stomping on a Palestinian flag.
Well, we wouldn't want to be considered censors, so let's look at the artwork that is available online. Here is every one I could find.













Now, let's compare these to those from a similar story from 2002.
A display of pictures in a State Street coffee house drawn by Palestinian children has stirred commotion among the UW-Madison community.

The 4-day pictures display that began Sunday, entitled \Innocence Under Siege: Palestinian Children's Perspectives of the World Around Them," is presented by the Palestinian Humanities and Arts Now, a Chicago-based group, in conjunction with Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition. The pictures were along the wall at Espresso Royale Caffe, 650 State St., until last evening.

Images were drawn by middle school aged Palestinian children and focus predominantly on violence in the Middle East. One picture, for example, shows a woman cradling the bloody body of a man, probably her husband, with a person holding a gun in the background. Other pictures show Israeli tanks and Palestinian towns and children surrendering.

"Our organization put the pictures up because they present a reality and experiences that are completely silenced in the United States media," said UW-Madison senior Sarah Kaiksow, co-chair of the UW-Madison chapter of Al-Awda. "I feel like for any true peace to be negotiated between any two parties in any conflict, the reality of what those people are facing needs to be negotiated."

But members of Madison's Jewish community, including those of UW-Madison's Hillel, say they are offended by some of the artwork, including pictures on which a child wrote things like "Death for Israel," "From North to South it's only Palestine" and "Bloodshed is the language of Israel." That particular picture was drawn by an eighth-grader.




I am not an art expert, but the second set of pictures from 2002 look like they were actually done by grade-schoolers - and the newer ones look like they were done by adults trying to draw in a childish style.

The symbolism, the coloring and the motifs seem, at the very least, to have been heavily prompted by adults. Kids don't come up with this stuff on their own.

FresnoZionism asked an art professor for an opinion on these pieces. Here's what she said:
The paintings (color drawings) are highly sophisticated especially in relationship to detail. Did you see the barbed wire? Also, there is a carefully drawn Star of David in each work. The authenticity of the painting is remarkable for a child’s hand. The drawing of the planes and helicopters, the man in the tower, the dynamic brushstrokes that are well conceived and controlled all seem to project a more mature approach to art. Could these “children” be in their late teens, college age, or young adults [MECA says they were 9 to 11 years old]? According to the the quote, “much of the artwork was produced by children.” I wonder how “much”? Also, it is possible that the “children” were directed by an adult who supervised and perhaps completed the initial drawing?
In fact, the last picture from the first set above is clearly based on an image by anti-semitic artist Latuff:

An artistic acquaintance wrote this about the artwork:

I've been an avocational artist my entire life and have some experience with the styles of amateurs. The sureness of the color application -- especially in the dense, complicated scenes (which are obviously all done by the same person) -- is at variance with the primitive (faux-primitve, frankly) nature of the sketching. It's the use of color especially that gives it away to me as the product of an older person. But the complexity of the composition in the big scenes is uncharacteristic of 9-11-year-olds as well. Certainly the politicized content is atypical.

The sureness of stroke in these pictures is something you almost never find from a very young artist. The biggest giveaway I see in this regard is not actually in the complex, refined drawings, but in the more primitive ones. For example, the confidence with which the concertina wire is sketched in, in one of the primitive crayon drawings, is just not characteristic of the young. I was accounted an exceptional artist in my K-12 years, and I couldn't have achieved that confident, bold, rapid-stroking effect until I was at least 16. It's one of the hardest things to do, and you really do lack the coordination and focus for it when you're younger. A kid would draw that laboriously, with a lot of short, stubby strokes strung together -- or he would simply achieve a cruder, less symmetrical and more tentative effect.

These drawings don't look like those of unusually accomplished children. They look like trained artists imitating the style of a child.
Moreover, what do child artists do immediately after they finish their work? They sign them. I cannot find one signature in the new set of images, although each of the older ones have them.

Even more interesting, one would think that a children's art exhibit showing such precocious examples of drawing would want to publicize the names of the artists - and elaborate on their own personal stories from which sprung such eloquence and experience. The artist's story is often more compelling than the art. But, for some bizarre reason,  we are deprived of this information. Could it be that the organizers don't want the children to be interviewed?

Ultimately, it is up to the exhibitors to prove the authenticity of provenance of the works. Identify these young savants.
And if this is a hoax, well, what museum would want to be associated with something like that?

The Middle East Children's Alliance is trying to pressure MOCHA to change their mind and show these questionable pieces. You may want to contact the museum and support their decision, and also ask them the provenance of the drawings.

UPDATE: I updated this a little in The Algemeiner, and in the comments there also identified there the names of some of the art experts who chimed in here.