The Spertus Museum’s contribution to Chicago’s Festival of Maps focuses on geographic interpretations of the Holy Land. Rare maps from the Spertus’s fine collection—some dating back to the 15th century—are displayed flat in glass-topped cases, evoking their original use in atlases or Bibles. In counterpoint, nine contemporary women artists—five Israeli and four Palestinian—address ideas of place.
In a show that favors the medium of video, Shirley Shor’s Landslide (2004) is particularly impressive. The artist projects a computer-generated shape-shifting “map” of color blocks onto a sandbox, where it depicts an ominous game of territorial encroachment: a kind of Pac-Man crossed with Risk. Other highlights include a video by Enas I. Muthaffar that chronicles her attempts to get directions to Ramallah while driving through a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The piece is amusing but alarming: Although the Palestinian city is only 15 minutes away, no one can tell her how to get there. The pain that boundaries can inflict becomes literal in Sigalit Landau’s hypnotic video Barbed Hula, which shows her on a Mediterranean beach, twirling within a barbed-wire hula hoop that leaves marks on her naked body.
The ample nudity of “Imaginary Coordinates” may shock some visitors, but what’s really gutsy is the exhibition’s balanced look at Israel’s and Palestine’s competing claims for the Holy Land. At the risk of alienating part of its core audience, the Spertus presents a powerful and moving reflection on the meaning of borders, territory and home turf.