Even Trees Can Be Political

Ariane Littman The Olive Tree

Ariane Littman. The Olive Tree (2011). Hizme checkpoint, Jerusalem/Rina Castelnuevo

The exhibit “Encounters at the Edge of the Forest,” on view at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gallery 400 until June 14, explores trees as political entities, which are “standard-bearers of nationalism” and are “burdened with soldiering on behalf of the nation state.”

“The original idea grew out of and is an extension of my interest in mapping in contemporary Israeli and Palestinian art. Trees are themselves powerful lines of demarcation,” says Rhoda Rosen, an adjunct associate professor of art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and curator of the exhibit.

Trees can both provide roots for a population — as with Jewish National Fund tree certificates — and uproot others, according to Rosen, who says that 40 percent of the land claims in the West Bank are about trees. Forests also conceal military bases and hide remains of destroyed villages, she adds.

“Sometimes Palestinians determine the boundaries of where their property was by looking for surviving tree roots in the remains of destroyed villages, because trees themselves were used to demarcate property,” Rosen says.

Read more of my article in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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