Yoko Ono, the artist, musician and widow of the late Beatle John Lennon commemorated what would have been her slain husband's 62nd birthday Wednesday by presenting the first Lennon-Ono Grant for Peace. The award was given to world renowned Israeli and Palestinian artists, who were nominated by experts in the field for their inspirational works at a time of intense political struggle.
During the awards ceremony at the United Nations, Yoko Ono invoked the words she sang with the late John Lennon, which have come to represent the couple's goal to promote a better world. "Imagine all the people living life in peace. Give peace a chance, give peace a chance, give peace a chance."
Ms. Ono has awarded $50,000 each to two artists, Israeli Zvi Goldstein and Palestinian Khalil Rabah. She says through their work, they have shown that they are committed to causes that promote global understanding. "This grant is specifically set up to focus on issues that need healing and I thought this is a good thing for us to do. I say us because John's spirit is still here," said Ms. Ono. "We are all getting the benefit of John's statements and his idealism and all that he was expressing."
Ms. Ono says she was first impressed by Israeli and Palestinian efforts towards peace during a 1999 trip to the region. Since then, the situation has deteriorated as Israeli-Palestinian violence has continued for two straight years.
It took Mr Rabah, an architect, video, installation and performance artist who lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah, three days to reach New York City to receive the award because of Israeli curfews and road closures. The Palestian artist says because of that reality, it makes more difficult for him to collaborate with his Israeli counterpart. But he says work of artists in itself fosters peace by highlighting aesthetics. "You can not create a formula that art is going to promote peace. It is not like that," he says. "Art is about itself let us say. It can go beyond if there is cooperation between people, like this grant where there is a necessity to promote art because it is about elevating people to a higher level of understanding and awareness and cooperation."
Israeli sculptor Zvi Goldstein, who lives in Jerusalem, agrees. Despite the conflict, he says he and Mr. Rabah share a bond as artists. "We are a small community and there is not much difference if one is Palestinian and one is Israeli. Art is our common denominator."
Both Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Rabah say that by rewarding Israeli and Palestinian artists, Ms. Ono was encouraging normalcy in the Middle East, often overshadowed by ongoing violence.
Although the two artists are uncertain about their future cooperation, they say they are looking forward to visiting museums in New York and discussing the art they see.