Redmond officials urged artists to remove the word ‘Palestine’ from public artwork
The annual month-long arts event, hosted by the City of Redmond in its downtown park, is intended to celebrate the “winter vacation traditions, cultures and beliefs of the diverse community of Redmond,” according to the city’s appeal to art. It was Sourour and Khalaf’s first public artwork, the cornerstone of Months of Work.
Along with other statements, including “No to Racism” and “Compassion, Forgiveness, Patience, Mercy,” one of the faces of the cube featured the statement “فلسطين † في † القلب †”, which translates to “Palestine is in the heart ”, with the words, in English,“ Remember Palestine. “
A few hours after finishing the installation, the duo’s joy had dissipated. Instead, Sourour and Khalaf felt a deep sense of disappointment when they hid the word “Palestine” in Arabic and English. Later, after the rain washed away the paint, they scraped off the letters with the metal edges of a pair of scissors and a palette knife.
The artists, both Egyptian software engineers and calligraphers living in the area, said the city’s cultural arts administrator, Chris Weber, told them the word “could be considered political or offensive to some, “Sourour and Khalaf said. (Weber declined to be interviewed for this story.) The artists said their freedom of speech was restricted.
“We were asked to either paint on it or remove the panel or scratch it off, or risk the whole art project being deleted,” Sourour said in an interview Monday night. After defending their cause to no avail, the artists said, they finally complied because they did not want to remove the entire work of art. “We were going to comply, of course, because these are the instructions from the public city-state, but we weren’t happy with the instructions,” Sourour said.
“Rather than ending the evening in a festive mood, we kind of spent it consoling ourselves as we vandalized the works of art that we spent a month and a half building,” he said. .
“It was a very emotional moment for us,” added Sourour. “We came to the United States believing – and we still do – that it is a country where you are free to express yourself, you are free to express your identity.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the city’s director of parks and recreation, Carrie Hite (who oversees the arts department and also declined to be interviewed for this story), apologized to the community at large, but not with artists in particular. “The purpose of the actions of city staff was not to participate in the active erasure of Palestinian voices and culture,” Hite wrote. But she maintained that the city was blinded by the difference between the artwork and the artists’ original proposal, which provided for something on the theme of astronomy. In an email Tuesday, City of Redmond communications manager Jill Smith said the phrase on the artwork “may be seen by some to be inconsistent with the theme of the event.” (Smith declined to say who she meant by “some” and said the edited artwork would remain visible).
But in a second statement, released Wednesday, Hite reversed the decision to leave the work cleared, saying the language would be restored. “After further discussions, discernment and conversation with one of the artists, I better understand the meaning and significance of the original message for the artist and many members of our Palestinian community,” she wrote. “After these last days, it has become clear to me what the removal of the words ‘Remember Palestine’ means for the members of the community, and for that, I offer my sincere apologies… After further reflection, it is important that this celebration honors the artists [sic] process and product.
“The intention was not to harm anyone; but it became clear that the damage was done, ”Hite continued. “As we seek to do our part to ensure that all members of the community have a sense of belonging, the artist will restore the artwork. ”
“I greatly appreciate the city’s response,” Sourour wrote in an email Wednesday. “I thanked the director when she called me on the phone, and I got a call from Chris [Weber], the event project manager to coordinate with me an hour to go and restore the work of art. It was of great support, providing a canopy and a radiator to speed up the drying of the paint during the implementation of the restoration. I really appreciate it, and it was unfortunate that it had to happen from the start. On Wednesday evening, the artists finished repainting the work and restored it to its previous state.