Picasso in Palestine for the Very First Time: An Interview with Khaled Hourani
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
This summer, for the first time, an original painting by Pablo Picasso was exhibited in the West Bank city of Ramallah. What’s the big deal, right? Museums and galleries loan each other works of art all the time. But in Israel and the West Bank, where politics, borders, and security concerns rule the day, organizing a public exhibition of Picasso’s $7.1 million “Buste de Femme” turned out to be no easy feat. Who would insure the painting? How could its physical security be guaranteed? How would it be transported across military checkpoints?
For the last two years, Khaled Hourani has been doggedly figuring out answers to those questions together with the Van Abbemuseum in Holland. Hourani is arts director at the International Academy of Art Palestine (IAAP) in Ramallah where the “Buste de Femme” was on display. The Van Abbemuseum holds Picasso’s painting in its collection. Theirs is a story of a cross-cultural team triumphing over bureaucratic hurdles.
The Van Abbemuseum sent us over one hundred pictures documenting the painting’s careful voyage from Holland to Ramallah. The photographs tell their own story with the “Buste de Femme” as a silent, cipher-like protagonist. The painting is a magnet for attention and inspection and yet it also seems a little lonely and plaintive as it winds its way through customs and checkpoints into the IAAP’s exhibition room.
We reached out to Hourani to learn why he wanted to exhibit a single Picasso painting in Ramallah, and how the experience of working on this project affected him personally. Here’s his answers to my questions via email:
There are several reasons for this choice. The students of the Art Academy were at the center of the selection process from its early stages. The students voted in full consensus for Picasso as an artist and for the chosen painting in particular.
The Academy conducted a thorough research in Palestine about “who is the most popular international artist in our region?” The answer was Picasso. I recall asking my mother about the most well-known artist or painting she favored. Her answer was Picasso as an artist, and “Mona Lisa” as her favorite painting.
I had other personal reasons for selecting Picasso. His name was carved in the memory of my childhood in the early stages of my upbringing. When I was a child and used to paint, my teachers nicknamed me “Picasso.” Later in my life, when I started working, the name Picasso accompanied me. In our culture it is very popular to give a nickname to someone after a well-known figure; and, for me, Picasso became my nickname.
Curating the Dead Sea Scrolls
Shubha Bala, associate producer
In late May, a listener from Mississippi, Emily Haire, was walking through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and noticed an advertisement for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. A few days earlier, she had listened to our show podcast about manuscript preservation in “Preserving Words and Worlds” and submitted this interesting observation:
“Walking through the MSP airport this morning, I noticed advertisements for the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum. I had just listened to the SOF a few days ago. I’m wondering how museum curators of religious artifacts interpret, or navigate, the distance between very academic topics and the knowledge base of the general public.”
So, we decided to contact one of the curators and ask her question, along with some questions of our own. In the audio above, Mike Day, a senior vice president at the Science Museum of Minnesota, sheds some light on the decision-making made by their team about how they present these unique artifacts.
Also, in the unedited version of my interview (download mp3), he expands on how the exhibit touches people, and he even discusses the inclusion of the Saint John’s Bible. When the tape stopped rolling, he told me that the shape of the cave entrance in the photo above is an exact replica of one of the scroll fragments.
Excavations of the caves above the ancient settlement of Qumran yielded thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments. This particular cave, Cave 4, held approximately 500 manuscripts that were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1952. The scrolls stored here were placed on the floor or on wooden shelves, and the complete fragmentation of these fragile documents made it difficult to reassemble all the pieces. (Ed Fleming/Science Museum of Minnesota)