The Common Good
April 2005

A Boxed Set

by Rose Marie Berger | April 2005

Object lessons from Palestinian-American artist Rajie Cook.

As one views Rajie Cook'

As one views Rajie Cook’s boxed indictments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a sense of claustrophobia sets in. The viewer feels the Israeli security wall pushing Palestinians into tighter and tighter places. As the space shrinks, the concentrated anger and desperation grows.

"I frequently find myself getting just too emotional when verbally expressing my feelings about the injustice and suffering the Palestinians experience in their daily lives," Cook told Sojourners.

Visual clues to the history of the conflict are found in Cook’s "sculptural assemblages." In "Hope on Hold," the number 194 refers to U.N. Resolution 194. "For Rachel" is dedicated to American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in 2003 while defending a Palestinian home from an Israel Defense Force bulldozer.

"My father (who was Greek Orthodox) would tell us many stories from the Bible," commented Cook, whose Palestinian parents emigrated to the United States. "He worked as a guide in the Holy Sepulcher and in the Garden of Gethsemane. These stories were so much a part of the history of the country he lived in. He would talk about Jesus, Paul, or one of the disciples as I would talk about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Growing up in this environment had an enormous impact on my spiritual life as a Christian. But I am pained that so many Christians in America have totally ignored the suffering of their Christian Palestinian brothers and sisters. Many Christians go to the Middle East, primarily Israel, and return without ever meeting one Palestinian Christian."

Cook, who lives in Pennsylvania, has spent most of his career as a successful graphic designer and photographer, with work displayed at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Cook’s boxes started as a response to his travel to Israel, Jordan, and Palestine while serving on the board of the Philadelphia Presbytery’s task force on the Middle East.

"The artist lives to change," said Cook. "What hasn’t changed? The inner passion that motivates the artist. That ‘divine discontent’ that is given to every creative artist, which keeps him or her striving for perfection long after the craftsman would be satisfied. Whether the tool is a stick of charcoal or assemblage, the artist’s age-old craving for perfection is the one unchanging characteristic. I will continue working toward creating public awareness of the tragic living situation under the occupation and hoping for peace, the most important change of all."

Rose Marie Berger is an associate editor of Sojourners. To learn more about Rajie Cook, go to www.rajie.org.

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