The Monayer Family: Three Videos by Dor Guez

March 14 - September 7, 2010

Visual artist Dor Guez offers perspectives on identity and history from different generations of a Christian Arab family. Counted among 125,000 Christian Arabs, the Monayers consider themselves a minority within a minority.

In a series of videos, Dor Guez offers perspectives on ethnic identity, citizenship, and prejudice from three generations of a Christian Arab family. Originally from the multiethnic, multifaith city of Lod—or al-Lydd, as the municipality is known among Palestinians—the Monayer family members include Jacob, the family patriarch who recounts the expulsion of al-Lydd’s citizens after the 1948 war; his son Sami, who describes growing up among Jews as an Israeli citizen while simultaneously claiming a Palestinian identity; and Jacob’s granddaughter Samira who recounts her experience of prejudice as she is mistaken for being Jewish. Counted among 125,000 Christian Arabs in Israel, the Monayers consider themselves a minority within a minority with respect to the Muslim population. To further complicate matters, a branch of Guez’s family is Jewish.

When asked to define his identity, Guez responded in an online interview for Artis, “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 have the right to choose and the right to decide, as well as the right to re-examine what those definitions say about me.”

In the first of three videos, July 13 refers to the date when the Israeli army entered al-Lydd in 1948. The artist’s grandfather Jacob Monayer describes the occupation, the plundering of possessions and homes, and the establishment of the Lod ghetto for those Palestinians who remained. The video includes footage of Jacob posing at St. George’s Church where many Christian Arabs hid during the 1948 war, and of Guez dutifully decorating his grandparents’ Christmas tree.

The title of the video Subaru-Mercedes serves as a metaphor for Arab Christian identity, a hybrid of Arab/Eastern (Subaru) and Israeli/Western (Mercedes) cultures. While Guez’s uncle Sami Monayer attempts to articulate his multiple nationalities, his off-screen wife and children interject their opinions and interrupt his narrative. Like Sami’s sense of self, the scene is chaotic and contradictory.

In (Sa)Mira, Guez’s cousin recalls an incident at a Jerusalem restaurant where she works part-time while pursuing a degree in psychology at Hebrew University. Samira, who is European in appearance and speaks flawlessly accented Hebrew, received complaints from Jewish customers who discovered that she is an Arab. As a result, the restaurant manager asked Samira to refrain from signing checks with her given name. Filmed in multiple takes, the repetition of Samira’s narrative ultimately leads her to painfully confront racism in Israeli society.

Dor Guez (Israeli, b. 1980)

July 13, 2008–9, digital video (color, sound), 13 min.18 sec.
Subaru-Mercedes, 2008–9, digital video (color, sound), 8 min.10 sec.
(Sa)Mira, 2008–9, digital video (color, sound), 13 min. 40 sec.
Media Programming is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties.

The Israel Office of Cultural Affairs in the USA provided travel assistance.