Establishing the Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art
From Vision to Reality
Said Abu Shakra, Founder of the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery and the initiator of the idea to establish the Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art
Umm El-Fahem, an Arab city in Israel, sits on top of Mt. Iskander and the nearby hills. It watches over the important and historical route that once connected large and distant regions of a war torn country. Many people and various cultures wound their way along the Wadi at the foot of the mountain, turning it into an important crossroads for the future development of the entire region.
Almost 50,000 people reside in this now fast-growing settlement, a settlement that is destined to become a central and cultural meeting place for the surrounding high density Arab population by virtue of its location and its unique qualities. For hundreds of years the local residents have cultivated land that became the source of their dignity, pride and livelihood. This prolonged connection with the land has given rise to a diverse and fascinating culture encompassing poetry, pottery, building, clothing and various customs and traditions.
With the breakout of the war in 1948 this rich and delicate cultural fabric was torn. In the first days following the war the large settlement became a place of shady corners and dark alleys. Families were scattered, leaving behind years of hard work and a devastated culture. The once rich and sprawling settlement was now poor and struggling to survive. Its residents were no longer lords and masters but now fugitives in both existential and physical peril. Poverty, unemployment and identity crisis brought about one of the worst battles for survival that the city has ever had to face. Under difficult social and political circumstances the settlement forged ahead with a clear message of protest, becoming the vanguard of the Israeli Arab population.
It was into this difficult and complex reality that the Art Gallery of Umm El-Fahim was born. Within a short period of time the gallery became a center of culture and activity for the whole region. A sense of commitment to the past as well as to the future of the place motivates the people who continue to steadfastly and lovingly work on behalf of the gallery. The mission is clear: whatever was destroyed by the war should be rebuilt. This should be done at once, without compromise, and with a g
reat effort. We realise that we have taken the heavy and long-term responsibility for rebuilding, collecting, studying, commemorating and presenting all that was destroyed that had to do with Arab and Palestinian culture. The output of this work will be incorporated into a large building, the first ever Arab museum to provide a bridge between past, present and future, a home to a vision which will bring back happiness, pride and a sense of belonging to the people.
The concept, of establishing a museum, was born into a vast and anguished void, a devastating lack of professional staff, resources and infrastructure. Out of a sense of awareness and responsibility for the future, the gallery started to operate, aiming to chart a new path. The means are meager and the road is long and difficult. With only the existing means we have embarked on several different activities. Artists, curators and other professionals from different countries and different cultures have been invited to take part in this joint collaboration. The gallery has become an important social and cultural meeting place. The creative workshops, seminars, gallery talks, symposiums, large number of art exhibitions and unique display spaces have turned it into a central place in the local and international culture scene.
The gallery is on its way to becoming the first Arab museum of modern art. This museum will be an inviting place, capable of embracing and enriching; bridging gaps and connecting different cultures. All of this in the heart of a troubled, war weary, region. We will raise a generation steadfastly true to its culture and to its identity, a generation able to take responsibility for its life and its future. A generation of proud and deep-rooted youth, committed to pursuing peace and reclaiming the wilderness.