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Weeks of Terror, Raids and Clashes Did Not Deter ‘East and West’ From Breaking the Fast Together

The Ibdaa School of the Arts, the first Palestinian visual and performing arts school, hosted an iftar (Ramadan break-fast meal) for guests from East and West in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Only five years old, the school serves students between the ages of 14 and17, Elise Bernhardt, founder and director of the Jerusalem International Fellows residency program for performing artists, choreographers, visual artists, architects and urban planners from around the world, told The Media Line.

Bernhardt and Elana Ben-Haim, the programs manager of Jerusalem International Fellows, excitedly welcomed guests of all languages and backgrounds as they walked through the door. In March, four artists arrived from India, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, respectively, for the new program’s pilot 10-week residencies in Jerusalem.

The program provides a space for global artists to collaborate with independent artists and organizations in both east and west Jerusalem. The goal, as stated on its website, is “to be a catalyst for interdisciplinary, cross-genre, cross-border conversations through creative collaboration; to expose and connect the burgeoning Jerusalem cultural eco-system to a worldwide creative network; for fellows to be invited to return to Jerusalem; and for fellows to return home with a deep and nuanced perspective on Jerusalem.”

Sofia Borges, a visual artist from Brazil, was the artist of focus during the iftar celebration. Tables were set in a “U” shape, facing a projector screen and Borges’ table, with her art hanging all around the room. After plates were filled with a delicious array of traditional Palestinian foods, the program began.

A talented student of the Ibdaa School of the Arts, introduced by Principal Melhem Amen Bader, stunned the crowd with a piano piece. It was an inspiring display of the work being done at the school.

A student stunned the crowd with a piano piece at the Ibdaa School of the Arts in Jerusalem, April 13, 2022. (Crystal Dunlap/The Media Line)

Borges then took the stage to describe her personal art form and the program she is creating and implementing at the art school. Each resident is spending eight of their 10 weeks with a local host organization in Jerusalem. Borges is spending her time teaching and collaborating with the youth at the Ibdaa School.

Borges, an esteemed conceptual artist, shared her interest in the concepts of forming and of strength. She recognizes that youth are in a period of constant change, in their bodies, and for the youth in her program, in the city. She is helping the students understand who they are and the self-narratives they carry. Her goal is to take these “fossilized” ideas and stories of self, form them into images, and then express them through art. “Art is about expressing yourself,” Borges said.

(L-R) founder and director of the Jerusalem International Fellows residency program Elise Bernhardt, Principal Melhem Amen Bader, and artist Sofia Borges, at the Ibdaa School of the Arts in Jerusalem, April 13, 2022. (Crystal Dunlap/The Media Line)

The Brazilian artist shared that one of her big personal life lessons led to a breakthrough with the students.

“You can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to be strong,” she told the crowd.

Borges said that she is learning from the students while they are learning from her. They broke the mold of her preconceived ideas, and she is not ready to say goodbye. They are discussing and planning a longer, more extensive program with the arts school, she announced.

Bader closed out the night in gratitude and by quoting the late Professor Boris Schatz, founder of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, as saying the only way to bridge the gap is through art. “I feel this happening tonight,” Bader said.

Crystal Dunlap is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.