“Two white donkeys dyed with black stripes delighted Palestinian kids at a small Gaza zoo who had never seen a zebra in the flesh…” — (Reuters, 8 October 2009)

ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism focuses on the role of architecture in times of conflict. It shows that architecture can be used as both a constructive and a destructive force.

The Israeli- Palestinian conflict demonstrates time and again how architecture — from that of the landscape to that of the settlements — is used both as a political lever and a strategy of war.

The exhibition is based on the book, Atlas of the Conflict, Israel-Palestine, by Malkit Shoshan.

In her book Atlas of the Conflict, Israel-Palestine, Malkit Shoshan illustrates the processes and mechanisms behind the shaping of Israel- Palestine over the past century through hundreds of detailed maps.

The Atlas of the Conflict is the anchor point for a new project: ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism. The story that starts on page 437 of the book has been developed into a fascinating exploration of the ideas, snap-shots and associations conjured by seeing (or imagining) a white donkey, tethered with a rope and zig-zagged with beige masking tape.

A white donkey, transformed into a zebra by a Palestinian zookeeper, in order to fulfill the desire of the Gazans for normality, which in this case means possessing a zoo as a space for urban leisure.

Tho overlapping narratives that defined the first ZOO project are as follows: Shoshan herself reflects on the two words that are categorized under the letter ‘Z’ in the book’s lexicon: Zionism and zoo.

She explores these seemingly unrelated themes within the context of the Gaza Strip and traces them both back to the Age of Reason, the epoch of the classification of nations and animals. Hancock, an architect and former zoo director, examines the phenomenon of the zoo and concludes that this cultural institution is unable to respond adequately to the ethical questions it raises. Roy paints a poignant picture of the current harsh living conditions in Gaza, while Amin describes how imagination and fantasy — including the conjuring of a donkey into a zebra — become powerful tools for survival in a climate of systematic oppression.

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Photography: Johannes Schwartz

Films, part of the exhibition archive

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