Mapping Middle East Politics
When you mix cartography with Israeli-Palestinian politics, controversy is sure to result. That was recently discovered by Rhoda Rosen, director of Chicago's Spertus Museum.
Imaginary Coordinates was envisioned as the museum's contribution to the city's Festival of Maps. As reported by Chicago Reader, the exhibit "..juxtaposes antique and modern maps of the Holy Land (mostly from Spertus’s own collection) with the work of eight contemporary Israeli and Palestinian artists." Ms. Rosen told the Reader that she wanted to “explore the limits of mapping,” and “invite discussion.”
Any discussion was quickly cut off when the exhibit inexplicably closed a week after its May 2nd debut. The Reader reports that elevators wouldn’t take visitors to the tenth floor exhibition gallery, and museum staff were saying that the show would be closed indefinitely for “building maintenance". However, rumors began circulating that the exhibit was too controversial for some key members of the Spertus audience. One executive of a major Jewish charity confirmed to the Reader that he had canceled a major fundraiser at the museum because the exhibit "wasn’t appropriate”.
So a “tweaked” version of the exhibit reopened on May 15th. The new exhibit only allows visitors on to be admitted as part of guided tours. Museum director Rosen, who worked on the exhibit for three years, notes no items were removed from the show during the closure, although wall cards were revised and objects were rearranged.
In an essay in the exhibit's catalog Ms. Rosen says that the core of the exhibit is the understanding that “maps have less to do with landscape than with the intention of their makers.” What she apparently didn't fully consider was the effect some maps can have on their viewers as well.