"Georgiopolis," an interview with Dor Guez

Dor Guez, Lydd Ruins 10 (Market Square) (2009), C-print
“Georgiopolis,” Dor Guez’s first museum solo show at the Petach Tikva Museum in Israel, is named after the ancient Palestinian city of Lydd, that became the Israeli city of Lod, home of Israel’s national airport. Guez, 29, follows the lives of an Arabic-Christian family, a branch of his own family, who have lived in Lod for many generations. With a sensitive eye and sincere voice, they describe their city and their lives as minorities in Israel.

Vardit Gross/Artis: Georgiopolis is initially portrayed as a magical place, with stunning images of the old city’s ruins. But it soon becomes a sad place through the stories told in the videos.
Dor Guez: You enter the show with pictures of Lod’s ruins – it’s a historic city that should have been preserved and rebuilt but instead became a city no one cares about with drugs and poverty. If you look closely at pictures of the ruins, you see that they are surrounded by housing projects. This is part of the reason I’ve taken them at night, so I can keep some of their magic and mystery. This is the public side of Georgiopolis. The personal texts are in the rooms in the back with vestiges of the Palestinian city, and in the middle is the Church, a beautiful and central tourist attraction for Eastern European Christians and an unknown treasure for most Israelis.

But do the locals use it? The priest only speaks Greek.
The people in the videos are the Church community. It’s a lively place, functioning both as a religious and cultural center. As you can see in the video, the priest uses an Arabic translator to communicate with the community. It’s an odd reality.

All of the interviewees are your family, but it is only something you reveal in the catalogue. Was it important for you to keep the family connection less evident?
Because they are my family, the subjects react to my questions on both private and public levels. Sometimes they are aware of the camera and sometimes they talk to me as family. Those are boundaries that I experience as well – on one hand, I am the artist who has the power of the camera and editing, and on the other hand I have experienced some of this on a personal level.
When it comes to work that combines art and biography, viewers often want to read the artist’s life narrative into it. Sometimes this is legitimate, but good art also has an autonomous space, touching ideas that the artist might not have been thinking about.

I experienced your show with great sadness as it illuminates how racist our culture is.
My process was less about what the show says about a specific minority in a specific time, but what it says to us as viewers about categories and labels. The heart of the show is Samira’s video, in which she asks what it means to feel Jewish or Arab. We so rarely examine the words we use for the stereotypes they are associated with.

In the videos, you ask your family: “who are you?” It only makes sense that I ask you the same question.
I have been dealing with this for years, and the truth is that I’m not sure I’m looking for an answer. It depends on the place, time and context. What does it mean to label oneself? My ID says I’m Jewish. Is this my main reference? I don’t know. This question is not specific to me or to other Arab Christians (a minority within a minority), it’s a question we all have to address.

Samira tells you how people hit on her and immediately back off once they realize that she is Arabic. She seems surprised by your surprise at this situation.
I think she is mainly referring to the fact that her name reveals her identity. Unfortunately, Jews in Israel are considered Class A citizens (which is also my status), but Samira suffers because she is Arab-Christian. Samira has been trying to get an apartment in Jerusalem for quite some time now, but when she calls and introduces herself as Samira, the apartment is suddenly not available. In her case, the confusion is greater because she is tall, blond, and has blue eyes. Everyone assumes she is an Eastern European Jew, and when they discover that she isn’t because of her name, they feel misled. Is she supposed to walk around with a sign stating her origin? I’m against being defined - don’t tell me what I am and what I’m not, I will speak in my own language using as many layers as are needed. I have the right to choose and the right to decide, as well as the right to re-examine what those definitions say about me.

There is a big generation gap between your uncles and your cousins. It seems that the older generation is actually more “Israeli.”
My four uncles were born into an Israeli reality: they attended Israeli schools, because it was a better school system and because in the 60s and 70s, they did not expect the kinds of problems that might arise from not knowing their language and their history well enough. It is a generation that sobered up and realized that even if they speak perfect Hebrew (and most of them only speak basic Arabic), they will hit the glass ceiling because they are non-Jews living in a Jewish state. That’s why they decided to send the next generation to Christian schools, not only as part of the global “back to the roots” movement, but also so that their kids know who they are, where they stand, and recognize the glass ceiling and how to deal with it.

At a certain point, I felt that you are angrier than your subjects. In “Dear Jennifer,” Jennifer reads a letter from a former teacher who writes: “I was so, so surprised when I learned that you are Arab. Why didn’t you tell me?” – she seems to be fine with it, but you aren’t.
Jennifer and Samira both tell stories with lots of humor, which is way to deal with racism, a word both of them use. I asked them to tell the story at least ten times in front of the camera, which made them realize the meaning of the story in a way they can’t ignore anymore. I’m definitely leading them, but I don’t think I’m angrier. I think that I’m allowing myself to show more anger. For example, I can shout the word “racism” while they may not feel so comfortable using the word. It is an aspect of their lives that can’t be ignored. You build your identity from the place you define it, and Georgiopolis is built from our words and from the descriptions people give it.
November 29, 2009 | Petach Tikva, Petach Tikva Museum, Dor Guez