Monumental Dutch exhibit: Zionism built ‘a house, a cage, a UN shelter… a zoo’

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ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism Photo: Johannes Schwartz

ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism is a far-out exhibit at an architecture center NAIM /Bureau Europa in the city of Maastricht, The Netherlands . It’s also an adventure, an exploration into an unexpected world of architecture in conflict.

First conceived by Israeli architect Malkit Shoshan, the founder and director of the Amsterdam based architectural thinktank FAST (the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory), “ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism” was an extension of her award winning book Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine.


The venue is NAIM/Bureau Europa, and after I started exploring this exhibit, I entered a mental and visual tunnel I’ve been in for days. It is an interpretation of architecture under destruction but on the surface it tells a story about construction and adaptation beginning with a  donkey turning into a zebra at a zoo in Gaza; an adaptation under conflict.

Shoshan has turned Bureau Europa into an interactive zoo, from their website:

“The installation is a hybrid of a house, a cage, a UN shelter, a zoo…

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Photography: Johannes Schwartz

“The archive, inspired by ‘A for Animal’ by Gilles Deleuze and by the lexicon of ‘The Atlas of the Conflict’, can be seen as a search engine, rather than an academic research. It consists of snapshots of realities, stories, anecdotes, and statistics on a variety of terms concerning the zoo and the Gaza Strip, such as modernism, behavioral sink, proximities, donkeys, pigeons, rats, the exotic, classification, walls and paradise.”

There’s an element of confinement viewing these adaptations of Gaza’s beach.

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ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism Photography: Johannes Schwartz
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  Photography: Johannes Schwartz

In Mapping the disappearance of a nation, Adri Nieuwhof interviews Malkit Shoshan for EI in March of last year, from the introduction:

Malkit Shoshan’s The Atlas of the Conflict — Israel-Palestine won the annual book design competition in the “Best Books from all over the World” category at the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany on 18 March. To produce the book, Shoshan, an Israeli architect and designer who was brought up in a Zionist context, painstakingly mapped the creation of Israel, which erased Palestine in the process. The atlas is the result of her determination to understand the full scale of the creation of one nation and the disappearance of another.

The Atlas of the Conflict offers insights into the development of regional and state planning. An international jury at the Leipzig fair selected the atlas out of almost 600 books, and praised the book’s design which “brings structure and light to the chaos.” The jury considers the book to constitute “visual communication of the highest order. An instrument to facilitate understanding, discussion and reflection. Not a gratuitous design book but one which is both essential and eminently usable.”


Photography: Johannes Schwartz

Shoshan mentions in the interview she would like to see her book as a public space. It’s fascinating to me this exhibit materialized. There’s an unease in recognizing ourselves, or others, in these urban settings. It all started with a donkey, and a creative mind looking for solutions.


Régine Debatty at We make money not calls it an “approachable and moving extension of the book”:

The first animals you meet in the gallery –if you visit it during the weekend– are donkeys. Unpainted and peacefully eating their hay. They symbolize the daily struggle to lead an almost ‘normal’ life in the Gaza Strip where regular trade continues to be prohibited, where almost no construction materials or raw materials is allowed to enter, where the population is isolated and subject to electricity cuts of 4 to 8 hours per day, where there is no longer access to regular, clean water and where, according to the World Food Programme, “The evidence shows that the population is being sustained at the most basic or minimum humanitarian standard.”

Apart from the donkeys, Bureau Europa also hosts rats. Nested in tunnels, running around or playing on a wooden wheel. The lovely rats evoke human beings living in an area, the Gaza Strip, that is running out of space…..Fortunately, Gazans manage to keep a remarkable sense of humour and many still hope that peace might one day prevail. Hence the third group of animal present in the gallery: doves.

The walls and windows around the installations are covered in posters that illustrate and provide facts and figures about the history of zoos around the world, the human zoos of the 15th to 18th century, how most of the animals of the Gaza zoo had died of starvation or because of bombing during the Israeli war on Gaza, how wild animals are smuggled through the tunnels, the movement for animal rights, the black market, architecture in Gaza, living conditions in the Gaza Strip, etc.

For more information about the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory check out:

Archive of Displacement

Through the use of media F.A.S.T. hopes to mobilize public opinion regarding this situation and to create an international pressure toward the State of Israel in order to first stop the next transfer that is planned for the Bedouin population in the Negev and second recognize their existence.

And check out some extra links from the site.

An interview with Malkit Shoshan by Arjen Oosterman and Timothy Moore, Magazine Volume, issue 26 (pdf):

Malkit Shoshan 1
Malkit Shoshan

“[A]rchitects and architecture were not just instruments used to execute certain agendas. They can undertake an reclaim the instruments that create spaces in which society exist, and bring it back to basic human values, like designing a good space where different groups can co exist. I think it’s very much in the line of unsolicited architecture, about asking the questions yourself rather than reacting on a straight-forward commission. The first engagement starts with an experiment, to see as service givers if we can position ourselves in a position to change reality.”

More photos of the exhibit at NAIM /Bureau Europa.

(Hat tip MW commenter justicewillprevail )

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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26 Responses

  1. OlegR
    May 20, 2012, 11:01 am

    There is a nice adjective phrase for this sort of artistic work in Hebrew.
    זבל יומרני

    • Shmuel
      May 20, 2012, 11:25 am

      How post-post-postmodern of you, Oleg.

      • OlegR
        May 20, 2012, 11:47 am

        I think this art work author tried to be post post post something
        really hard.

        What’s your opinion Shmuel?

      • Shmuel
        May 20, 2012, 12:05 pm

        What’s your opinion Shmuel?

        I’ve read reviews and seen excerpts from Shoshan’s Atlas of the Conflict, which impressed me a lot – enough to be intrigued by an exhibit conceived by Shoshan and described as “an extension of the book”. The exhibit could be good – or not. I’d have to see it for myself.

        A priori disdain for conceptual art is also a kind of פוזה, wouldn’t you say?

      • Annie Robbins
        May 20, 2012, 12:16 pm

        post post post something
        really hard.

        speaking of really hard ..check out this map.

        she’s very creative ;)

      • OlegR
        May 20, 2012, 5:13 pm

        Ah no you got me wrong here it’s not about conceptual art in general
        though my personal taste does struggle with it more often then not.

      • OlegR
        May 20, 2012, 5:13 pm

        broken link

      • Annie Robbins
        May 20, 2012, 6:48 pm

        try it again oleg…

      • OlegR
        May 20, 2012, 7:28 pm

        A lot of statistic data.

        The Uganda map at the end is weird not sure
        what point does it serve.(Unless it’s some sort of artistic expression in which case the question is mute)

      • Annie Robbins
        May 20, 2012, 9:46 pm

        i literally spent days googling her and these projects. i can assure you these are not just artistic expressions. the lines actually represent boundaries or migrations or property restrictions etc etc. did you read the text of the article above? “Not a gratuitous design book but one which is both essential and eminently usable”

        that particular report territoria included a section by eyal weizman. it says ‘mutations brought about by circumstance, tension, and violence. also, if you scroll down you can see several maps the table of contents are superimposed over, my hunch is these maps are then superimposed over eachother and the final is partly a result is of those maps including edo amins contributions in the tale of two cities (more maps and a duplicate of the featured map)and if you read the report is puts it in context, unusual as that may seem.

    • Annie Robbins
      May 20, 2012, 11:40 am

      i always feel so privileged when oleg gets the first comment on one of my articles.
      of course since i don’t read hebrew..i can’t fully appreciate the compliment.

      aside from the artistic work what did you think of the review oleg? more זבל יומרני ?

      • OlegR
        May 20, 2012, 11:45 am

        Now how could i reach an opinion
        about the artistic value of this piece if i didn’t think
        that the review did a good job describing it ? :)

      • marc b.
        May 20, 2012, 12:45 pm

        Now how could i reach an opinion
        about the artistic value of this piece if i didn’t think
        that the review did a good job describing it ? :)

        try another pose, olerg. you don’t do ‘clever’ convincingly. presumably you could have read other reviews, including those linked by annie, which, for all you know, could have contradicted her review. or you could have visited the exhibition personally. or you could have concluded that annie’s review, brilliant as it is, doesn’t provide sufficient basis for an informed opinion of about the artistic value of this piece. or maybe you could admit, in an uncharacteristically lucid moment of humility, that you aren’t equipped in the first place to have an opinion about the artistic value of this piece. so many possibilities, and yet you quickly reach one brittle, myopic conclusion. a pattern of behavior, i’d say.

      • AllenBee
        May 20, 2012, 5:21 pm

        did you visit the exhibit in Maastricht? What are other visitors saying?

    • libra
      May 20, 2012, 1:24 pm

      Oleg, is that Hebrew for “degenerate”?

      • Sumud
        May 21, 2012, 4:17 am

        libra ~ I’m going to fill out your reference for those not so familiar with 20th c. art history:

        Wiki / Entartete Kunst

    • seafoid
      May 20, 2012, 4:42 pm

      Certainly someone who is ideologically frozen is not alive but neither are they dead. They are in a third state and Zionist is the word I would use to describe it

    • eGuard
      May 20, 2012, 6:57 pm

      OlegR writes, in Hebrew: “crap”. Yep, there is no English word for that.

  2. seafoid
    May 20, 2012, 12:53 pm

    “, painstakingly mapped the creation of Israel, which erased Palestine in the process.”

    I think that the first point made in the Israel entry on wikipedia has to be the following : Israel is built on 78% of Palestine. The rest is just decoration.
    But I don’t think Palestine was erased. It was just built over. The land is still there. Hebrew names are just names.
    If it wasn’t so tenuous a grip Zochrot wouldn’t be so explosive.

    The exhibition looks fantastic.

  3. eGuard
    May 20, 2012, 4:04 pm

    Of course, Maastricht, The Netherlands is also Maastricht, Holland. Allison and Annie both are correct, again.

    • Tzombo
      May 20, 2012, 6:02 pm

      Maastricht is very far from Holland. Telling someone from Maastricht they are from Holland is about as good an idea as telling a Scotsman he’s from England.

      • eGuard
        May 20, 2012, 6:42 pm

        Depends. Again: If your language is English, Holland is OK for Maastricht.

  4. Citizen
    May 20, 2012, 5:14 pm

    Not so much of the land is still there as a practical matter for the natives. A certain type of American jew is doing this with the support of the Jewish Establishment in America: Lee Whitnum is telling the truth you won’t see in mainstream media here in USA. How long will Jewish Americans get 2 go 2 Israel & murder & displace the natives? link to

  5. seafoid
    May 21, 2012, 8:20 am

    The book “Mapping the atlas of the conflict” looks like a must buy

    link to

    • Annie Robbins
      May 21, 2012, 11:57 am

      i know…it really does. the more you poke around the more fabulous the idea becomes. noticed you said earlier The exhibition looks fantastic.

      ;) i agree!

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