Facing up to conflict


The solution to the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians isn’t in the laughing visages of the imams and rabbis depicted the Face2Face exhibition which is touring Europe. Still, much is said in the way street artist “JR” and his friend Marco paired the laughing faces of Israelis and Palestinians.
The conflict has become increasingly difficult for Westerners to follow. Without diligence, it is difficult even to delineate between the agendas of Hamas and Al Fatah, both Palestinian groups. It is in this climate that the French photographer brings Israeli and Palestinians together in a 28-millimetre frame.

“Although neighbours, they only see each others through the media,” JR says. “For an Israeli, a Palestinian is a terrorist that commits suicide attacks on a market place killing women and children. For a Palestinian, an Israeli is an occupation soldier who humiliated him at the checkpoint and shoots civilians and ambulances.”

Visitors to Amsterdam’s Foam Museum smile as light-hearted images of the human components of the two perspectives flash across a cinema screen.

“With a 28 millimetre lens you are 10 cm close to the subject, you feel his breath. We took people which had the same job on both sides, hairdressers, actors, musicians, teachers, etc. We chose them for their faces,” JR narrates.

The camera rolls as JR asks both Israelis and Palestinians to make funny faces, faces they would have made as children.

“The idea is to post their portraits face to face in huge formats, in unavoidable places on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides,” he said.

In Amsterdam, the portraits of Face2Face are posted on the façade of Foam Museum on Keizersgracht 609, as well as inside the museum. The outside posters will stay up until they fade naturally.

The custom-made film about the project rolls all day long inside the museum. It shows the artist as they display billboard-sized images of Israelis and Palestinians, face to face, on both sides of the Wall of Separation/Security Fence, as well as in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities. As the film rolls on, a man on the street is asked to say which photo depicts an Israeli and which a Palestinian. Omar has no doubts.

“This is the Israeli,” the man said. “They are more power crazy.”

Omar, a middle-aged black man, says he formed this opinion in part because of what he’s seen on the news.

The film also gives a snapshot of the worlds of two religious people.

“The Torah teaches that every human being is created in the image of God, so if everyone has different faces that they give, those are also the faces of God,” says Reb Eliyahu. His words are similar to those of Cheick Abdel Aziz.

“I see God’s image in everyone. So if you see God’s image in every person you look at, regardless of what religion he is, when you love god and respect God so you respect the person in front of you.” Their faces are the cover of the project, next to Brother Jack’s open-mouthed mug.

JR continues to work on new ways of exhibiting his work, always in urban areas. According to the artist, the streets and other locations in which he exhibits his work must reveal the meaning of the pictures he posts. The pictures on the façades of buildings are left to fade in time, bearing the signals of time upon them.

In Amsterdam, it will not be the heavy rains that will make them fade away, but the municipality that wants them to be removed from the façades of the Athemauem, the Foam museum and Paradiso, as the artist didn’t respect the ‘façade advertising regulations’ of the city council.

The director of the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts calls this reaction ‘narrow-minded’. He defends the original exposition plan, which ‘stretches the limit of what is art, and addressed a social issue in a strong way’. He adds that it is becoming more and more difficult to realize projects in public spaces, as it is necessary to ask licences for everything.

Face2Face will be on display at Foam Museum in Amsterdam until 2 September. To see where else it will travel, click here.