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A poster from the art exhiibit "Coexistence."

Two white hands grasp two black hands so tightly, and with such force, that they start to melt together. This image from "Coexistence" captures the strength and power of the artists featured in the exhibition.

Coexistence': Helping us understand 'the other'

Helping us understand 'the other'

By Jamie Proulx

From M, summer 2004

There are those in rural places, small towns, and major cities across the world who are targeted every day because of religious or tribal differences, the color of their skin, their sex, or their sexual orientation. This sort of intolerance is born of ignorance, and it led a museum in Israel to strive for change through art. Thanks to the University of Minnesota and local private support, Minnesota will be home to this vision and this art for several weeks this summer.

The Museum on the Seam, located in Jerusalem, created "Coexistence"--an outdoor public art exhibition with 38 huge images that push people to think of and try to understand "the other" in their communities. This international art exhibit will stop in the Twin Cities from May 3 to July 6, in large part because of Stephen Feinstein, director of the University's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. While in Berlin, he discovered "Coexistence" on display and immediately moved to bring it to Minnesota. (If you think Minnesota is not as rich in diversity as a place like Cape Town, South Africa--another stop for the exhibit--remember that 80 languages are spoken in the Minneapolis public schools.)

Raphie Etgar, the exhibit's curator, urges people to open their minds and think of coexistence as more than just tolerating one another's differences. "We would do well to learn to support each other instead of weakening one another," says Etgar. "We would do well to learn to understand the differences between us and to appreciate and value those differences."

Etgar saw his message of love rejected while "Coexistence" was on display recently in St. Petersburg, Florida. Prior to the opening, several of the images were vandalized and in some cases painted with racial epithets. Surprisingly--yet in the spirit of the exhibition--local organizers chose to cover the racial epithets but to leave the rest of the exhibition in its vandalized state. It was their view that the public display of hatred was important for people to see. Etgar agreed, telling the St. Petersburg Times that he, at one point, did not understand why coming to a sleepy town like St. Petersburg was relevant. Now he saw the wisdom in it.

St. Paul and Minneapolis will both host "Coexistence" over its two-month stay in the state. It will first be on display at the Hennepin County Government Center Square in Minneapolis from May 3 to June 12 before traveling to St. Paul's Rice Park from June 14 to July 6. Several events and discussions will be scheduled around the exhibition, including a festival showing films from Turkey, Armenia, and Greece and a panel discussion on race and religion with Archbishop Harry Flynn.

"Coexistence" is sponsored by the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts and a partnership between the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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