For many people, taking the bus is a mundane activity. But for Annie Albagli and Yasmine Soiffer, it is an exciting, eye-opening experience and a springboard for insightful observation and artistic self-expression. In "Bussing It," the latest exhibition at the Hadassah Art Gallery of the Merkaz Hamagshimim community center, that expression takes the form of paintings and photographs by the two, who are studying in the WUJS art program. For three days in early December, Albagli and Soiffer rode buses together in Jerusalem (and Soiffer on her own in Tel Aviv as well), gathering visual and emotional material for their joint art project. Armed with a camera, Soiffer took still photos, while Albagli and her video camera took footage to later translate into artwork. She also tried to do some sketching on the bus; but, of course, the all-too constant lurching made that impossible. For the next three weeks, the two 20somethings worked their magic - Soiffer in Tel Aviv and Albagli in her apartment in Katamon. The result was a selection of 14 photographs by Soiffer and five paintings by Albagli, mounted for the exhibition that opened on January 1 and runs until February 1. "For me," says the New Jersey-born Albagli, "the bus is a metaphor for Israel. We are all in it together, and we want to get to a different and better place. We're all waiting, and we hope we'll get there." Her artwork, comprising watercolors, charcoal, pastels and ink, reflects a harsh reality. Although she enjoyed the experience of watching people, passing through neighborhoods and marveling at the melting pot that burbled together on every bus ride, her paintings take on a haunting hue. Albagli says she was deeply affected by a short story she had read by Etgar Keret entitled "The Day the Buses Died." She then became fascinated to hear about the Egged bus farm, or graveyard, for derelict buses in Kiryat Ata. As a result, Albagli's collection is fraught with bus skeletons, forests of bus poles and abandoned vehicles, juxtaposed with one painting in which the bus is crammed with faces straining at the seams. Soiffer took her photos inside the bus, as well as shots of people and exteriors photographed through the bus window. The skillfully rendered photos depict families and individuals either riding or waiting for the bus. Where do passengers choose to sit? Who makes eye contact and who doesn't? Who gets up to let an elderly person sit down? Who helps a woman hoist her baby carriage into the bus? Which mother hands her baby over to a stranger while she goes up to the driver to pay her fare? What revealing details about people's lives are blithely broadcast through the bus as they shout into their cellphones? That, says Albagli, is the crux of the multilevel experience. "You get to observe people for a brief amount of time. Everybody has a story, and you try to read and interpret that story in the short time allotted as you watch their actions and interactions," she says. Not unlike a bus itself, the Hadassah Art Gallery takes on new "passengers" at regular intervals. Dedicated to serving as a platform for aspiring new artists, the gallery features a different exhibition every month for a month. At no cost to the artist, the space is provided for them to show their work, allowing the community to view the exhibition and purchase the artwork as well. "It is important for us to have an art center in Jerusalem. Most artists take their work to Tel Aviv, but it's difficult to get accepted to the galleries there. Here, we open the gates for new talent," says Ofra Zucker, director of both the community center and the art gallery. Although most of the exhibitions at the gallery display the work of artistic novices, Albagli and Soiffer are relative veterans. At age 22, Albagli has already exhibited her artwork in Boston, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Germany and Italy. A graduate of Boston University with a bachelor of fine arts in painting and sculpture, she also created and curated the Paradigm gallery in Boston. Born in Sri Lanka to diplomat parents, Soiffer spent her childhood in Pakistan, Israel, Japan, Virginia, Paris and the Ivory Coast. She then settled in New York, where she received her BA from Columbia University and a general studies certificate from the International Center of Photography. Her passion for photography began as a child when, because she often could not speak the language of her peers, she found image-making an effective way to communicate. Since 2003, Soiffer has exhibited her work in a number of New York galleries. "I have learned a lot about people by taking the bus," says Albagli. "They're very surprising in the way they interact, especially for someone who comes from the United States. "And taking the bus is a great way to experience Jerusalem - it's a vessel that takes you everywhere. I can't imagine my life without the buses." "Bussing It" is on display until February 1 at the Hadassah Art Gallery of Merkaz Hamagshimim, 7A Dor Dor Vedorshav in the German Colony. For information, call 561-9165 ext 204 or visit www.themerkaz.org To view the exhibition, it is recommended to call in advance.

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