Jew in a Box Exhibit is Controversial, But Not Offensive

A museum in Berlin is showcasing a new, more personal kind of art: a Jew in a box. Yes it sounds absurd and strange, but despite the controversy it has sparked, it is actually a creative way to allow people to discuss a difficult topic.

After Norway’s Tea with a Muslim campaign, what’s so strange about asking questions to a Jewish person in a museum?

These days it is easy for one to ignore the people standing in line at the grocery, bank or any public space. Creativity is needed to encourage interaction, and this exhibit does just that.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum is called “The Whole Truth … Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews” and in addition to the “Jew in a Box” there are interviews with rabbis and excerpts of Curb Your Enthusiasm and even a handwritten sign from a New York restaurant that reads “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND OUR THANKS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE. WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMS… BUT WE ARE PROUD AND GRATEFUL THAT YOUR GOD INSISTS YOU EAT OUR FOOD ON CHRISTMAS.”

The New Yorker describes Connecticut native, Bill Glucroft’s experience of serving as the “Jew in a box.”

As he said, “When I heard I was going in the box, the first thing I thought of was Eichmann,” said Glucroft. “The next thing I thought of was Justin Timberlake.”

“Most Germans don’t know any Jews,” he added. “As a young twenty-first-century Jew, I don’t want to be defined solely by the Holocaust.”

The museum’s curator, Michal Friedlander an American-born German Jew hopes that “The Whole Truth” will help Germans challenge anti-Semitic beliefs.

In the New York Times, Friedlander said most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. “That’s the whole point, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.”

The museum defended the exhibit in a CNN video blog. 

For at least some young Germans, the exhibit proves intriguing. As Carola Jaeckel, President of a student group of the German-Israeli Society in Bamberg said, “The exhibition works with prejudices and cliches.”

Though she was disappointed by the fact that it does not go into detail, she added that, “Cliches enable an easy access to a sensitive subject such as Judaism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust for those who have not been in touch with Jews and Jewish life yet,” and she plans to visit the exhibit next week.

Picture Credit: Gawker

SecDev Foundation to Monitor Syria’s Digital Security

When Syria “disappeared” from the Internet last year, no one seemed to know exactly what had happened. Researchers later determined that thenearly-complete blocking of Internet traffic flowing and in and out of the country resulted from coordinated action by government actors. In an effort to develop more robust monitoring and analysis of events like this, the Canada-based SecDev Foundation is launching the Syria Digital Security Monitor, a site that maps and visualizes reports of disruption to critical infrastructure in Syria including internet, telecommunication, electricity and water, and reports on cyber threats.

@DSRSyria

The Syria Digital Report on Twitter (@DSRSyria)

The project is based on a crowdsourced effort that relies on reports by Syrians and extensive monitoring of Syrian social media. The data used for the monitor is captured in SecDev Foundation’s Ushahidi website and displayed on a visual timeline.

Additionally, the SecDev Foundation is sponsoring an ongoing project to support digital safety and security for Syrian civil society with resources in Arabic on secure communication tools as well as information on digital security and safety.

Developments can be followed along on Twitter via the following accounts: @DSRSyria @SMWSyria@PsiphonSyria, and on Facebook.

Tilda Swinton MoMA Sleeping: Toronto’s Queer “Bed-In” Might Prove More Artistic

You’ve heard of the sit-in, but this remix of thebed-in takes activism and art to a whole new level. I wrote last week about how Tilda Swinton sleeping in the MoMA is not art. But,Reena Katz’s exhibit, “love takes the worry out of being close: public assemblies in bed with queers” is a concept that takes art and protest to a beautifully new and thought-provoking level.

The piece converts Toronto’s Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre into a free, public hotel suite re-imagined by Reena Katz. Katz twists the famous Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s iconic picture and turns it into a Public Commons and Master Suite with LGBT folks in bed. Audiences are invited to come and go “participating in conversations, game sessions, cuddles and crafting parties for free,” according to the exhibit. Each day will feature different artists, academics, cultural workers, and musicians, exploring political issues affecting LGBT communities, ranging from intimacy and decolonization to pop culture and civic engagement, one should expect “flowers, respectful debate, radical facilitation and queen-sized love.”

What is all this lying in bed about? As Katz explains, “Though they were officially straight, Yoko and John’s infamous gesture of non-violent protest against the US-led war in Vietnam queered the idea of protest in the minds of the public.”

She adds that during a period of massive civil disobedience across the Western world, the “Bed-Ins shifted the site of dissent from raging bodies demonstrating in the street, to a bustling hotel room, packed with everyday folks, various long-haired celebrities and a pair of strong lovers who saw their honeymoon as an opportunity to model peace.”

Ono and Lennon understood how to capitalize on the potential of the late 60s, utilizing technologies such as live television and radio broadcast. Katz will be using texts, Tweets and livestreams from the bed, highlighting the interactivity of our current age. Focusing on intimacy, Katz and her crew explore the cultural resistance evident in contemporary movements such asIdle No More and LGBT Solidarity.

Reena Katz’s previous work focuses mainly on sonic information present in the human voice. In her art, she uses live and recorded talking, whispering and yelling to consider bodies as sites of knowledge, and communication as a social and political practice. Through audience participation in public space, Katz highlights the relationship between collective voice, the body politic and the empathic act of listening. Her installations and performances have been performed and exhibited in several countries around the world.

Bed-Ins as part of Hatch 2013 will take place April 9–12, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. with a Final Presentation and Discussion on April 13, 8 p.m.–10 p.m. – $10/$12 Harbourfront Studio Theatre, York Quay Centre, Main Floor. 

Students of Northeast India Protest Imposition of Hindi Language

In India, language politics have a long history. According to The Economist, the number of languages spoken in India is 438. However, the constitution recognizes only 22 scheduled languages.

Controversy arose as Delhi University has recently made it compulsory for students to study one paper in Hindi or any Modern Indian Language listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam and Manipuri). Mandatory Hindi or any “Modern Indian language“ (MIL) would be difficult for the students who speak neither Hindi nor any of the modern Indian languages.

Islamabad based Indian journalist Rezaul Hasan Laskar ‏@Rezhasan says on Twitter:

@Rezhasan (Rezaul Hasan Laskar): @rakeshmani Still no reason for folks in North India to impose Hindi on a lot of us who don’t speak the language. @MrSamratX

Students protest the imposition of Hindi and Modern Indian Languages, Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook Page

Students protest the imposition of Hindi and Modern Indian Languages, Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook Page

The North-East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS) organized a protest of around 200 people against the imposition of Hindi/Modern Indian languages upon the students of the North-East. It was reported in the Manipur news and Sanhati:

No one from the administration came out to meet us despite our constant appeal to discuss the issue. We were manhandled by the security outside the office and sexist abuses were hurled at women students.

NEFIS Coordinator Chinglen Khumukcham told Business Standard that the University is ill-equipped to teach the MILs so Hindi would be the automatic choice:

There would be problems even for the communities that speak MILs like Manipuri, Assamese etc because the infrastructure and faculty strength for these languages is too small to be able to cover the whole of university.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights has reportedly filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against the introduction of Hindi as a mandatory subject in Delhi University.

The NEFIS has submitted a memorandum to the vice chancellor of DU saying the imposition of Hindi or MILs upon the students of the North-East is unfair as most of these languages are alien to them. Protests on the issue have been held on March 22 and March 25. Khumukcham also said:

This gross neglect of the special needs of the students of the North-East is not a new thing. It is our observation that in the framing of university polices the interests of the students from the North-East is always neglected. It is for this reason that we made this fresh instance of bias an occasion for us to rise above community lines and put forward a united protest to safeguard our common interests.

North Eastern States Of India. Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook page

North Eastern States Of India. Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook page

Tamil blog commented:

Its Good to see youth from North-East actively voicing against Hindi imposition… Hopefully youth from various linguistic groups could start networking with each other, towards our common goal of bringing constitutional amendment that no single language is sole official language of union, all 8th Schedule Languages are official language of union and the lethargy of updating 8th schedule list must be condemned and be updated regularly.

Students are now gearing up for additional protests on the 10 of April, according to Time for Change India and the Facebook Page Stop Discriminating People From the North-East India.

Tilda Swinton MoMa: Sleeping Actress Exhibit is Not Art

When I heard some lady was sleeping in a glass box and calling it art, admittedly, I was intrigued. Is it a commentary on rape culture, a throwback to the pioneering work of Coco Fusco, or a new initiative empowering women to occupy their own space?

Sadly, it is none of these. It is simply a British actress (Tilda Swinton) showing the world how she sleeps. It is a sad day for art when some random British actress can sleep in a museum and all the homeless people have to sleep outside.

The Twittersphere seems to agree with this point. As @jscottcanion says on Twitter, “How about making Tilda Swinton hang out outside Penn Station all day and letting a homeless person take a nap at MOMA? 

Andrea Peyser’s rant in the New York Post sums it up for me:

“Tilda who? Swinton, perhaps the least-known Academy Award winner this side of her home in Scotland (she won for 2007’s Michael Clayton), is vying for the kind of fame whoredom one usually cannot buy while keeping her clothes on. She’s Lindsay Lohan, minus the shoplifting. Kim Kardashian, minus the pregnancy, greed and major booty.”

It would be a funny April Fool’s joke, but sadly it is true. The details? Swinton will be sleeping in an elevated box six more times this year. But it is all unplanned, you can’t plan your weekend around a trip to the MoMA to see her sleep. Alas! The glass box includes cushions as well as a water jug. The surprise performance piece is called “The Maybe”. A source from the MoMA toldGothamist, “Each performance lasts the whole day the museum is open,” the source also said that Swinton and her box were located near the ticket collectors, but the location may change for future “performances.”

There is a British lady sleeping in a box and the MoMA has decided to deem it art. The world of art world must be running out of ideas.

Why Are There So Few Female College Presidents?

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on April 2, 2013 – 4:27pm; tagged academiacollegefeminism,presidentsuniversitywomen.

A crowd of mostly male college presidents

Women make up a majority of college students, but at the top of the academic ladder, the percentage of women wanes: only 26 percent of college presidents are female. Why is this?

The percentage of female college presidents is actually better than the stats for other positions of leadership—women make up only 20 percent of Congress. In order to gain a better understanding of some of the intricacies in of the role of college president, I spoke with Laura Trombley, the president of my alma mater, Pitzer College.

President Trombley has clearly been busy and successful in her role as the head of a liberal arts college; Congress recently named her to the 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Notably, having chlldren is not necessarily an issue in the lack of women in the stressful presidential job. Trombley combines being an administrator with her work as a scholar, teacher and mother who also considers herself a feminist.  As Swarthmore college president Rebecca Chopp told the New York Times, “I wrote my dissertation from 5 to 7 every morning, and then got my son off to school. Having a child in graduate school helped keep me grounded.”

Instead, says Pitzer President Trombley, the gender gap comes down to both money and academic bureaucracy.

“You look at where women presidents tend to be concentrated, it tends to be at the community college level,” says Trombley. The smallest number of female presidents are at Ivy Leagues and research universities, she noted. “You can trace power, status and money. That also gives you a really interesting snapshot of gender issues.”

One problem for women in academia is that traditional departmental structures create a narrow path to the top. For women, it is often very difficult to become department chairs, because they are usually not among the most senior faculty.

“It is actually a pipeline issue. If you don’t start looking at how women can enter the administration ranks at a lower level, then you are not going to solve greater representation at the presidency level,” says Trombley.

That means the problems with a gender gap at the top of the ladder stem in a large part from workers not having an equal footing when they start the climb. The gendered pay gap in academia isn’t as bad as in many careers, but female faculty members earn 19 percent less than their male colleagues—a number that hasn’t changed in thirty years. Instead of sticking around in academia for decades and following the regular academic “pipeline,” some of the most prominent female college presidents have landed through nontraditional tracks, landing the job after building successful careers in media and politics.

As with all discussions of why gender differences exist at the top of the heap, we can’t just look at what’s going on at the top. The problems begin much deeper.

Photo of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitee via Treehugger.

Read the rest of the Lady in the Ivory Tower series about feminism and academia!

Emerging powers and the Indian elephant

This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera opinion

India is in the red colour zone with a ranking of 105 in the international ranking on the gender gap [AFP]
As Superman once said, and it has since been quoted by President Obama, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Looking at the emerging power of the BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – what are the responsibilities?

In the wake of the Delhi gang rape and news of the Swiss woman’s rape, I propose the BRICs – with India as a leader – take steps to act responsibly when it comes to women’s rights and violence against women.

The BRICs have gained attention since 2001, when the term was initially coined. From 2000 to 2008, the BRICs’ share of GDP rose from 16 to 22 percent. The Times (London) has quoted a financial adviser predicting that by 2050, the BRICs nations will “dominate the globe”. Each BRIC country has its own view of power and responsibility. Each BRIC country also has its own record when it comes to human rights and women’s issues.

International Ranking on the gender gap ranks Brazil 62nd out of 135. Russia comes in at 59 and India is in the red colour zone with a ranking of 105 and China still makes it into the orange zone at number 69.

Gender violence is a global human rights concern and should be considered an even greater concern for the BRIC countries to continue to be competitively responsible economic leaders. According to Nicholas D Kristof:

“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence then because of cancer, malaria, war, and traffic accidents combined.”

In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that domestic and sexual violence impacts 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries. A new film, Girl Rising, highlights some of the issues that young women face, arguing that the key is to invest in girls and women.

As co-author of the Gender Gap study, Laura D Tyson, SK, and Angela Chan, Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, say:

“Gender gaps can be closed with the right policies. As countries experiment with policy choices in this area, they should share the lessons from their experience to accelerate progress.”

Of the 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of 2012 in New Delhi, there was only one conviction. There is something seriously wrong with this. A wide range of policies and actions should be put in place to ensure that rape and violence against women do not continue to be accepted in society.

 Swiss tourist ‘gang-raped’ in India

Are the BRIC countries responsible stakeholders? Looking at the case of India, we see it is both an awkward elephant in its own desire for a stable region and a responsible partner in creating world order.

In contrast to Pakistan, India sides with the West and has cooperated in the “war on terror”, especially after 2008 Mumbai attacks.

India is set to be the fourth largest economy in 2025. The high-tech industry is booming along with its growing population. It is already a nuclear power, in addition to being a force for soft power through its Bollywood movies and music.

While it would like a place on the UN Security Council, India still struggles with human rights abuses, as evidenced by reports from the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. India has not signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but of course, it has not been ratified by the US either.

In addition, India serves as home to the Tibetan government in exile – which along with domestic disputes, regarding Naxalites and Maoists in the Northeastern provinces, threaten its ability to work in conjunction with China.

Still, India is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council, nor does it receive a plethora of preferential treatment through any global institutions. Despite Bollywood, the tech industry and a diaspora that covers much of the globe, for India to be a power player, it must be given greater responsibility and it must take action to eradicate violence against women.

Here there is a challenge. If India has to take on a greater role, it needs to be given greater responsibilities. But, if the global community has to give it greater power, India has to demonstrate that it can use the power responsibly.

Given India’s history, these greater roles and responsibilities will not be able to come from the West or the rest of the world. It must come from an Indian desire, in an Indian way and perhaps at an Indian time to speak up and speak out.

If the BRICs want to continue collaborating in a way that makes a difference beyond economic policy, they should start with acting to stop global violence against women.