City Sights: Street Art

A new Jerusalem Municipality project has harnessed the talents of some of the city’s artists to add aesthetic appeal to the grubby market milieu.

Yehudit Eisenberg: Grazing sheep 311 (photo credit: Yuval Yosef)
Yehudit Eisenberg: Grazing sheep 311
(photo credit: Yuval Yosef)
Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem has, for some time now, been much more than just a place to get fresh veg and fruit and various other vittles and goods at decent prices. There is an increasing number of handsomely appointed cafés and bars dotted along the shuk’s various arteries and, particularly during the summer, a wide variety of cultural and entertainment events take place in the evening.
That rich aesthetic has started to spill out across the geographical boundaries of the market and has begun pervading the character-filled but grungy urban environs of Agrippas Street and some of the nearby narrow thoroughfares.
The local creative endeavor is currently receiving an incremental boost as part of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Tabula Rasa (“clean slate”) project, which has harnessed the seasoned talents of some of the city’s leading artists to add some visually pleasing and spiritually uplifting ornamentation to the grubby milieu.
Tabula Rasa also involves the market stall owners’ New Spirit NPO and the Lev Ha’ir community administration.
Yehudit Eisenberg is happy to be involved, with her contribution comprising a delightful mural on Hadekel Street of a flock of sheep seemingly grazing in a pasture. The wall that provides her “canvas” has very little in the way of appealing aesthetic virtues and is made of soulless gray blocks overlaid with a thin layer of cement.
As Eisenberg toiled away in the morning sun, her evolving work evinced a smile or two from passersby on their way to the shuk to get their Shabbat food, and some of the older locals were happy to share their memories of the spot with the artist. “I remember sheep grazing near here,” said one silverhaired gent. “Don’t those sheep look alive?” he added with undisguised admiration.
“I checked out some old pictures of the area,” says Eisenberg, “and where King George Avenue is now, there were just rocks and grass with sheep and goats grazing. Everything was just nature there. So I think my painting sort of revives some of that atmosphere.”
The artist was encouraged by most of the responses she got from the public. “You know, artists often try to do big things to get noticed by people. They want the public to notice their work. But making things outdoors means that people see them all the time, and you don’t have to try to make your work too prominent. And I think we all need nature, and we want to see greenery and rustic scenes, like grazing sheep.”
Mind you, not all was sweetness and light, she admits. “One man suggested I paint in a women in a bikini,” laughs Eisenberg. “That isn’t exactly what I have in mind. Then someone else said there aren’t any brown sheep. As you can see, there are a few in my painting, but I believe in some degree of artistic license.”
Around 20 veteran and recently graduated artists are involved in the project, such as Einat Steckler, Itamar Mends-Flor, Shlomit Sagur and the celebrated Americanborn Israeli post-graffiti artist who goes by the name of Know Hope. Steckler’s contribution to the project is a large portrait of late legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek made of hundreds of plastic bottle tops that the 47 year old Jerusalem-born, Eilat-resident artist collected. Steckler classifies herself as a recycling and trash artist.
Clearly, what the artists and Tabula Rasa organizers have in mind is adding some light, color and extraneous visuals to the otherwise lively area which plainly could do with some sprucing up. Unsightly blocks of cement, trash cans and roadside walls on Hadekel, Hashikma and Beit Ya’acov streets are all getting a pleasing makeover. The team includes painters, sculptors, photographers and graphic designers who, as the project name suggests, have been given free rein to produce works of art that evoke the unique ambiance of Jerusalem and, in particular, the shuk, its environs and some of the characters that people them.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Ein Kerem resident Mends-Flor drew the inspiration for his wall painting from the heart of the market. His two-figure creation, featuring a veteran stall owner named Haim and a passerby, was made using a peeling and relief technique applied to a somewhat dilapidated wall.
The 27-year-old Sagur, who studied in the Visual Communication Department of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, chose a work by an icon from the Tel Aviv cultural world as the substratum for her piece, opting for Hanoch Levin’s poem “There’s No Room for Two on an Electricity Pole.” Sagur’s painting depicts a large woman sitting next to a bird on an electricity cable. The artist says that for her the poem symbolizes urban solitude.
After years of enduring a city turned into a virtual building site as the light rail slowly evolved, the municipality’s efforts to beautify the urban environment are to be applauded, and one hopes for more where Tabula Rasa is concerned. The works of art are due to be completed by September 18.