Maria Khoury: First Class Entering Academy of Art

By Maria C. Khoury.
Special to

This September 2007, The International Academy of Art Palestine opened its doors to the first set of ten students to study for four years in the experimental program leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree in contemporary visual arts. Such a unique project is an effort to support institution building and capacity building during these difficult times in the Occupied Territories. The leading artists of Palestine consider this event a significant cultural achievement aiming to establish the academy as a distinctive higher education institution.

While the academy project seeks accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education, degrees will be granted by the partner institute, the Oslo National Academy of Arts (KHIO) who collaborated with The Palestinian Association for Contemporary Art (PACA) on establishing this unique art institution funded solely for three years by the Royal Norwegian Foreign Ministry in June 2006. This ambitious project is being carried out amidst harsh circumstances that Palestinians live daily yet seeing in art a tool to resist injustices and oppression.

Promoting the highest level of art lectures and studio practice applicants and their portfolios were evaluated by a steering committee of local and international artists in April during what will become the Annual Spring Encounter to recruit incoming talent. Over forty-five student applications were received from all over Palestine and twenty-five applicants were specifically invited for a week of evaluation at the academy. The committee exclusively selected the first class of ten students to graduate 2011.

The committee consisting of the Arts Director, Khaled Hourani; Academic Director, Reem Fadda; Project Advisor on behalf of Olso, Henrik Placht included two well known Palestinian artists, Nabil Anani and Tayseer Barakat and Dean of the Academy of Art Malmo, Gertrud Sandquist who is also serving as member of the curriculum committee.

The Academy aspires to have an independent campus dedicated solely to the arts that will guarantee the technical needs for a better education. To do so, land must be located and funds raised for a new building that encompasses state of art facilities including a modern and specialized library, digital art labs, large exhibition halls, auditoriums, workshop spaces, and studios as well as all administrative and technical facilities. Sami Bandank, originally from Bethlehem has been inspired to help create an endowment fund to help sustain the academy for future generations. Rita Janssen, the former director of the Cultural Palace is helping establish policies, systems and guidelines for the academy. These two expert consultants are the new big force behind the academy.

The International Academy of Art Palestine will take a new positioning in the global art world by offering the local population and the international community new images of Palestine and Palestinians. Contemporary visual arts will be used as a means to help maintain the collective Palestinian memory, history, and identity.

“Building an Academy was a dream for a group of us Palestinian artists. It started off through Birzeit University in the early 80s” state Suleiman Mansour, leading Palestinian artist and Nabil Anani having served as Chairperson of Palestinian League of Artists. Both agree: “… the academy will facilitate communication between the local and international art scenes and will provide for a new and innovative openness to the world. It also adds to the civilized aspects for our society.”

The individual who has made a huge difference behind the scenes is Henrik Placht, an accomplished artist from Norway, who has worked hard for more than four years to organize, lobby, curate, network, and fundraise. Henrik came to Palestine during the Second Uprising and met with many local artists in 2002 including Suleiman Mansour, Nabil Anani, Khaled Hourani, Sameer Salameh, Tayseer Barakat, all helping to initiate the project to establish the International Academy of Art in Palestine. Dr. Musleih Kananeh, professor of Birzeit University was the link between the Palestinians and the Norwegian artists who accompanied Henrik.

Henrik remembers from his early visits: “…we received many support letters, especially from high-ranking officials such as the Palestinian Minister of Culture at the time, Yasser Abed Rabbo and many cultural personalities and centers.’

“We thought that through art we could express more about our spirit and our heritage and the importance of this era and how it has very rich and mixed culture. We thought through art we can show this culture and also we can express our life and our aims to be free,” are the reflections Tayseer Barakat holds for the importance of the academy.

Samir Salemeh describes his vision: “My hope for the academy is to have a good foundation and to help develop artists by using good methods and having a good program for students. There should be a place for this artistic development and it was my job as an artist to participate in the discussions and share the dream in establishing the academy. What we hope is to see a movement in Palestinian art.”

The staff and students are pleased that the chairperson of the Board of Directors at The Palestinian Association for Contemporary Art (PACA) is Mazen Qupty, a renown Palestinian philanthropist and patron of the art. The new nine-member board also includes Tayseer Barakat, Suleiman Mansour, Nabil Anani, Mohammed Odeh, Iman Aoun, Dina Gazal, Ibrahim Emzian and Dr. Mohammed Shaheen.

As a renown Jerusalem lawyer, Mazen suggests: “I foresee that there should become a Board of Trustees for the Academy, which is mainly made up of qualified and substantial artists and intellectuals that can support the Academy in the future. These individuals should also be chosen by merit and by how they benefit the Academy; this should be the only judging factor for such honorary membership.”

Funds for sustainability are most critical and the academy of art seeks networking on a local and international level to gain the partners it needs for long-term success. A fundraising initiative started at the launch seeks a donor to name the only “white cube room” in Ramallah at the current location. Please contact the Academy if you can help. As Khaled Hourani believes: “We hope this nice fruit will make us so proud to have this institution in the right time and the right place and the fruits will be different for sure, not all apples or apricots. A nice fruit should be free to be in its own character. “

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