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World - Middle East

Glass artist hopes to break Mideast ice

sculpture

October 9, 1999
Web posted at: 10:54 p.m. EDT (0254 GMT)


In this story:

Melting wall of ice a metaphor

'It's a kind of political propaganda'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Inspired by a tradition thousands of years old, celebrated glass artist Dale Chihuly has produced works on display in Israel of exceptional contemporary originality.

Some have admired the modern message of Chihuly's 10,000 glass pieces, on exhibit in the courtyard of an ancient citadel. But a handful of critics contend that the Seattle- based artist's work presents a naive view of a historic conflict.

"It's an homage that he is making to Jerusalem on the eve of the millennium," says Deborah Lipson of the Tower of David Museum. "Chihuly is very aware of the historical nature of Jerusalem, the fact that it's a city that is so important to Jews and to Christians and to Muslims."

Melting wall of ice a metaphor

Spurred by the success of the exhibit, Chihuly flamboyantly erected a wall of ice outside the 16th-century walls. The glassblower considers the melting of 64 tons of Alaskan ice a symbol of dissolving barriers between Israelis and Arabs.

"Maybe it could be a metaphor for the melting of tensions for this part of the world and especially for this city Jerusalem," the artist offers. "Maybe they could go into the new millennium with more joyous, more peaceful thoughts."

Glassblowing took root in the Middle East more than 2,000 years ago. The techniques still practiced by Palestinians have served as an inspiration, Chihuly says. Among the 300,000 visitors in the first three months, however, few have been Palestinians.

'It's a kind of political propaganda'

Palestinian artists, while lauding the work, scorn what they call an uninformed political message.

"For the Palestinians, it's a kind of hostile place. It does not give them a hospitable feeling when they go there," says Sliman Mansour of the League of Palestinian Artists.

"It's a kind of political propaganda for the Israelis and their history in this land, and they wipe out any history for us and other people here."

The glassblower's magnum opus, however, is beyond politics. In his Crystal Mountain, light and heat sensors embedded in the crystals are connected to a computer programmed to create and play sounds in response to sunshine penetrating the glass. The sounds are based on the prayers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

"This is a very sacred area, and glass is the most magical of all materials," Chihuly said. "It's the most extraordinary material that man makes. You take only the sand from the desert and you put fire with it and you have glass.

"What more incredible material could you possibly have ... and then the light comes through it and makes unbelievable colors."



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Chihuly
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