Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Sobering Graphic

Banned from MOCHA, the Palestinian children's art exhibit is indeed graphic, but it's also instructive.

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Caving in to pressure from the Jewish Community Relations Council and other concerned citizens, Oakland's Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA) decided to cancel an exhibit of drawings by Palestinian children living in Gaza, many of which depict violent imagery of war. That decision stirred up controversy, both from the nonprofit Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), which sponsored the exhibit, and from people who accused MOCHA of censorship. The two parties met to sling mud at each other on KQED's Forum last week, launching into a dead-end argument that, according to host Michael Krasny, mirrored that of Israel and Palestine.

Parents called in to accuse MECA director Barbara Lubin of exposing their kids to content that would require years of therapy to process. The discussion continued online, where commenters accused both Lubin and her fellow guest, Jewish Community Relations Executive Director Rabbi Douglas Khan, of bigotry. It's clear from the long and acrimonious comment thread that many people had overlooked one important facet of the whole debate: the actual art.

So, how is it?

The exhibit, now relocated to a storefront on 917 Washington Street in downtown Oakland and bearing the headline "Censored Palestinian Children's Art," could be described by two adjectives: "sobering" and "graphic." The artworks, drawn in crayon, marker, and colored pencil, vary in quality as much as one would expect — these are school children, after all. Many of them draw the sun as a yellow half-circle, jammed against the edge of the page. They depict people with dots for eyes and triangles for noses. Their trees are little green-brown lollipop shapes. But the subject matter is exceptionally violent: tanks, planes, ambulances, rockets dropping grenades, bombed embassies, Israeli soldiers, bullets showering from helicopters, people running, chunks eaten out of buildings, bodies left to rot in the streets. In a weird way, it's all heightened by the crudeness and innocence of the composition.

No, a child who witnesses this exposition probably won't need therapy. Kids imbibe all sorts of graphic content from pop culture, and it usually comes without context. That said, it's a hard exhibit to take in, and there definitely seems to be a didactic purpose behind it — more than just "allowing children to heal," as befits MECA's mission. Nearly every drawing in the exhibit includes a bombing, which would lead an observer to believe either that the children were instructed to draw scenes of war or, on the flip side, that war is a stronger part of their everyday lives than, say, family, school, or an ice cream truck. That in itself is pretty harrowing.

At 917 Washington St., Oakland. Free. MecaforPeace.org

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