Art Forces works in the intersection of trauma, memory, creativity, resilience and resistance, making visible the connections between struggles for social justice globally and histories that have been obliterated or forgotten. The project aims to engage the public on multiple levels to create potential spaces for critical thinking and action that advances progressive social change.
Art Forces works across movements- using culture to create alliances as well as perceptual ‘ruptures’ or ‘disturbances’ wherein people have the opportunity to see connections that they had not seen before, and to imagine new possibilities. Art Forces works in partnership with a wide range of organizations, from mental health programs in Gaza, to environmental organizations, to organizations providing material aid, to those organizing non-violent resistance. Our ultimate goal is to use culture as an organizing tool to bring people together across movements. Our cultural products are then used by activists and organizers in their work to touch and move people.
Susan Greene founded “Break the Silence Media and Arts Project” (BTS/MAP), in 2001, after the start of the second Intifada. BTS/MAP was rebranded as Art Forces in 2012. Greene’s involvement with the issue, however, dates back to 1989 and the first Intifada when she was a founding member of “Break the Silence Mural Project,” directed by Miranda Bergman. Break the Silence Mural Project goals included bringing Palestinian narratives about daily life for Palestinians under military occupation back to the USA to raise awareness. (The confusing similarity of the names of these two projects is addressed in the rebranding of BTSMAP to Art Forces in 2013.) The 1989 group, Break the Silence Mural Project, consisted of four American Jewish women artists, Marlene Tobias, Dina Redman, Susan Greene and Miranda Bergman. The group lived and worked in a Palestinian refugee camp in Ramallah for three months. This was a life-changing experience for Greene and put her on a now almost 25-year exploration of relationships between trauma, art and resilience; with the occupation of Palestine and its connections to other oppressions as a fulcrum.
“Break the Silence Mural Project” returned to the Bay Area in the fall of 1989 and organized numerous community presentations across the US to talk about the conditions facing Palestinians and the power of art to move and organize. “Break the Silence Mural Project” was one of the first projects to bring the issue of Palestine to the US and the response was energetic. Then in 1993, the Oslo Accords presented a possible diplomatic, if greatly compromised, resolution to the occupation. Among many things, Oslo amounted to a set back for much of the international Palestine solidarity movement and “Break the Silence Mural Project” disbanded.
In 2001, with the collapse of the Oslo Accords and the start of the second Intifada, Greene was re-activated to return to Palestine solidarity work and founded BTS/MAP. Greene had been awarded a doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 2000, which further grounded her in the connections between art, trauma, creativity, resilience and resistance.
The context for international solidarity had significantly changed between 1993 and 2001. For example: there were now dozens of organizations including: Jewish Voice for Peace, founded 1996; Palestine Solidarity Movement, founded 2000; Brit Tzedek, founded 2002 and the International Solidarity Movement, founded 2001. BTS/MAP, now Art Forces, began to reassess and develop new strategies to best contribute to the struggle.
Since 2001 Art Forces, has focused on the following areas:
- Embodying and making visible connections between movements and struggles.
- Strengthening and deepening connections with activist and community organizing.
- Diversifying participants beyond Jewish women.
- Honing more nuanced political and critical positions including a visible position against Zionism, support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and using World Systems theory to articulate the global implications of the occupation of Palestine.
- Developing technological and multiple media platforms that augment outreach, organizing and cultural productions, making it possible to move from the local to the global and engage more people in a wider range of ways.
- Knowledge production through action research and activist ethnographic research.
In alignment with these areas Art Forces, has accomplished numerous projects since 2001 including the execution of 8 public art projects in the West Bank, Gaza and USA. Most notably:
- 2006 – present: “The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project” located in Olympia WA; co-produced with the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.
- Four thousand square feet. Imagery from more than 150 groups and individuals worldwide making visible connections between issues and locations.
- Innovative use technology with ‘Call the Wall’ programs where viewers can hear audio tracks associated with all the images in the murals, deepening the interaction with the mural.
- ORSMP has played a role in community organizing in Olympia WA.
- ORSMP is now poised to be used as organizing tool. Ongoing community meetings are being held to envision and carry out organizing strategies using the mural, surrounding areas and virtual world.
- 2011- present: “MAIA Mural Brigade” Gaza, Palestine. Collaboration with Estria Foundation, USA; Middle East Children’s Alliance, USA; and Afaq Jadeeda and Gaza Community Mental Health Programme in Gaza.
- 11 people from USA in MAIA Mural Brigade 2011; worked with hundreds of Gazan youth from UNRWA Summer Camps and local artists.
- Completed 8 murals on MECA’s water filtration systems in Gaza.
- BTS/MAP, now Art Forces, and MAIA Brigade engaged with Palestinian youth via Graffiti style of Estria artists.
- Project will be used for concrete organizing such as raising funds for a new water filtration system in Gaza.
- Use of social networking has resulted in 7,000 views on Flickr, Twitter and Websites.
- Connection with issue of environmental justice brings in new audiences and participants.
- 2 exhibitions are planned for 2013 in Bay Area and Washington DC.
- 2006-present: Videos, websites and other media are in progress in preparation for multi-platform presentations. This includes the development of HANDALA.org. A website showcasing the work of Naji Al-Ali, creator of cartoon figure Handala.
In the past 20 years the mission Art Forces, has developed to include a greater focus on the intersections between oppression of Palestinians and other oppressions around the world, particularly in the United States.
Currently Art Forces is working to integrate technology, new media and social networking developments into its work, with the goal of reaching more people on multiple levels.