On April 26, Israelis will come together for what could well be a barbecue so
large, it might be visible from outer space. The parades, the fly-bys, the
picnics and parties, the din of matkot percussively ringing all along the
seafront in Tel Aviv – all these things are commonplace on Israel’s most popular
of secular holidays.
When David Ben-Gurion read out the declaration of
independence at the Tel Aviv Museum on Rothschild Boulevard 64 years ago, could
he have imagined that the middle classes of his great-grandchildren’s generation
would be camping outside in the summer heat, protesting against the domestic
impact of the global economic situation in something that became dubbed “the
cottage cheese revolution”? I can’t imagine his response, but I am sure it would
have fueled as much debate and opinion then as it has proven to do now. The old
expression “two Jews, three opinions” rings true for the Israeli passion for
setting the world to rights.
The debate, however, has shifted from the
chattering narrative of the city’s cafes and park benches to the contemplative
form of the gallery in a new exhibition at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv
called “Face of the Country.” Set in a neighborhood famed for its immigrant
communities, the exhibition is already well placed to pose the questions of
identity and self-reflection.
Presenting the question “What is the face
of the country?” a group of artists provide their own individual answers. The
exhibition comprises 64 works of art to celebrate 64 years by 20 Israeli artists
using a range of mediums, set in a purpose-built gallery space of 400 square
meters. Sculpture, painting, installation and photography are all represented as
vividly as the spectrum of the opinions. Paper, cardboard, oils and glass add
yet another dimension of texture, and the end result is a collection that
three-dimensionally encompasses the diversity of expression in modern Israel. Art
can be interpreted as many things to many people, but almost all agree that
however enigmatic the dictionary definition of the word is, “art” should be
True to form, the political themes abound as the economic
situation dominates. In fact, it towers above the exhibition in two statues in
particular by sculptor Reuven Bracha. One, entitled The Economic Situation, is a
parody on the Statue of Liberty, where the skin of the figure is adorned with
headlines and articles from the height of last summer’s economic crisis. The
other, called Cactus, is a figure whose ridged long lines resemble the iconic
Saguaro Cacti of the American 1950s western films – rough, tactile, superficial
on one level, and deeply ridged on another. The work is taken from a collection
of Bracha’s work exploring relative themes of beauty where each form has a
quality uniquely its own.
Moving from heterosexual to homosexual
perceptions of love and beauty, a work by painter Rafi Peretz celebrates love
across ethnic and gender divides. Peretz’s painting Gay Love of an Israeli and
an Eritrean is a character piece harking back to the 1980s, with references to
American artists Jean- Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. To some, this may seem
to be a provocative work until one takes into account that to many people, Tel
Aviv is regarded as one of the world’s most liberal cities, with its annual
Pride festival considered the world over as a highlight on the LGBT
Moving the debate back to social protest, artist Ami Leibowitz
has compiled a work in blown glass, capturing and bottling sentences from the
transcript of a radio debate that dealt with issues of social protest. Each
phrase uttered has been almost frozen in its own space, each one becoming its
own speech bubble.
Seventeen other artists join in the debate, but what
does the exhibition say? Where are we now? What are the faces and sides of this
country Eretz Yisrael? It is fair to say that it isn’t all things to all people
but is, in fact, many things to many different people.
The debate may
have shifted from the narrative to the abstract, and everyone has his own
opinion – sometimes two of them.
The exhibition opens on April 22 at 8:30
p.m. at the Main Gallery, 5th Floor 108, Central Bus Station, Levinsky Street,
Tel Aviv and continues until May 20.