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Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Quest to Build a Palestinian Art Museum

The following article appeared on the front page of the LA Times Arts & Music section today

Quest for a Palestinian museum

An idealistic lawyer hopes art can help forge a new identity for his people, to show the humanity overshadowed by terrorism.
By Michael Z. Wise, Special to The Times
July 1, 2007

A painting by Sliman Mansour, from Qupty’s collection. “These are the orange fields that we lost in Jaffa,” Qupty says.

Jerusalem — A muezzin calls to prayer from a nearby mosque as Mazen Qupty fills goblets with Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon, pops a disc of oud music into the stereo and starts to lay out his plan for the brilliantly colored paintings that fill his East Jerusalem home.

Creating a national art museum for an as-yet-nonexistent country is an ambitious if not quixotic goal. But that's what Qupty hopes to do with his growing trove of Palestinian paintings — the largest collection of its kind. The prosperous, silver-haired lawyer is also intent on emphasizing secular values at a time when the radical Islamist Hamas has gained the loyalty of many Palestinians.

"We want to show visitors and the media all over the world that we have a long heritage that goes back at least 100 years," he explains between bites of hors d'oeuvres served by his wife, Yvette, stylishly dressed in capri pants and high-heeled mules. The couple own 170 Palestinian artworks by some 50 artists from the 1920s through the present. Already Qupty has founded a nonprofit gallery with temporary exhibits and workshops in East Jerusalem and has helped create a Palestinian art academy in the West Bank city of Ramallah with European government backing.

Although Qupty and his wife have a keen aesthetic sense — they favor a diverse range of canvases created by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, within the current boundaries of Israel and in exile around the world — he also has a clear political agenda. Qupty aims to use art to help forge a new identity for a people he fears are primarily regarded as terrorists. "In the last few years, Palestinians have been shown in the media as suicide bombers. We want to show the Palestinians have a human face through art."

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