“To say that we live in complex times is an understatement. Not just because of Covid, but also because of political shifts globally, we are experiencing a kind of turbulence that we have not known since emerging from World War II. We are seeing in some parts of the world a drift toward nationalism and accompanying trends of supremacism and racism, and in other parts of the world a social awakening that underscores the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. Pervasive everywhere is also the phenomenon of global migration that is creating a culture of exile — of exile as home — at a level that is without precedent in modern times.
In this context, while art and politics remain distinct, art has become increasingly engaged with social activism. Art and art history offer examples for this phenomenon, and museums such as MoMA and the Israel Museum are able to tell these stories with clarity. As an example, the political upheaval of the period between World War I and World War II in Europe produced the Dada and Surrealist movements which forged a new definition of artists as creative practitioners. These creative makers expanded their mediums and their ways of working, forging an engagement between art and activism that then spread globally with the migration of artists from Europe to the Americas and to the emerging Soviet Union. This phenomenon remains foundational for art-making today.
Few cultures have ever existed in isolation, and how they live, work, and create is always subject to the influence of those living, working, and creating around them.
The notion that all things connect across time and geography could not be more meaningful than in an era as complex as ours. Universal museums embrace distinct cultures globally and demonstrate how these cultures resonate with others that share their place on the timeline of history. A museum such as the Israel Museum notably demonstrates how the world is always a mosaic of cultures — an example of definitional diversity — and the stories it tells place these distinct cultures in the context of others. Often these stories also demonstrate the cross-cultural engagement among individual cultures that history otherwise might portray as disconnected. An iconic example might be the museum’s 2016 exhibition Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story, telling the story of the time around 1,600 b.c.e. when the Canaanites lived in Egypt and then, a century or so later, when the Egyptians ruled in the land of Canaan. Their practices and aesthetics became merged — and even the seeds of monotheistic belief were formed in this time — and these two cultures became integrated and engaged. In today’s divisive world, examples like this can be enlightening.”