Jill Tucker, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — An Oakland children’s museum, citing pressure from the community, canceled a planned exhibit of artwork by Palestinian youth that depicted the Israeli assault during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict.
The Museum of Children’s Art was scheduled to display the art from Sept. 24 to Nov. 13. The exhibit had been in the works for several months, with an opening reception to feature poetry and special art activities for children.
The drawings in the exhibit were created by children ranging in age from about 9 to 11 and included bombs dropping, tanks and people getting shot.
“They are pictures of what these children experienced. It’s their experience,” said Barbara Lubin, executive director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which was organizing the exhibition.
Museum officials notified Lubin on Thursday that they were pulling the plug on what had become a controversial exhibit that was pulling the children’s museum into the long-standing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
It had become a distraction to the main objective of bringing arts education to all children, said museum board member Randolph Bell.
“The pressure was … well, we were getting calls from constituents that were concerned about the situation,” Bell said. “We don’t have any political stake in this thing. It just became apparent that we needed to rethink this.”
The complaints came from Jewish groups as well as others in the community, board members said.
Museum officials said the exhibit space is in a multiuse area that brings in children as young as 2. While art should “provoke people and generate emotion,” the museum couldn’t handle the divisive issue in that space, said Hilmon Sorey, the board’s chairman.
“Our aim, as with all exhibits, is to foster insight and understanding,” Sorey said in a statement. “However, upon further review and engagement with the community, it became clear that this exhibit was not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children.”
Yet it wouldn’t have been the first time the museum has featured wartime art by children.
In 2007, it exhibited paintings made during World War II by American children in the Kaiser shipyard child care center. The art featured images of Hitler, burning airplanes, sinking battleships, empty houses and a sad girl next to a Star of David.
In 2004, art by Iraqi children hung on the museum’s walls. The pictures, made shortly after the U.S. invasion, included a picture of a helicopter shooting into a field of flowers.
The art by the Palestinian children was similar in content.
In one colorful picture, a row of buildings burns as five tanks move through the area. In the foreground, women and children are crying as are trees and the sun. What looks like a small, abandoned teddy bear lies face up in the street.
In a simpler image, a frowning girl with a bandage on her forehead faces out from behind prison bars.
“Even while the children in Gaza are living under Israeli policies that deprive them of every basic necessity, they managed through art to express their realities and hopes,” said Ziad Abbas, the associate director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, in a statement. “It’s really very sad that there are people in the U.S. silencing them and shredding their dreams.”
The alliance said Friday it would seek another venue to display the children’s art.