The art of bondage and boundaries

'I am actually on top of the fence looking at both sides,' says Tel Aviv artist Irit Rosenberg.

By BY STEVE LINDE, BRIAN BLONDY
February 11, 2010 09:14
3 minute read.
Irit Rosenberg

Irit Rosenberg. (photo credit: Steve Linde)

Tel Aviv artist Irit Rosenberg says she was inspired to explore the controversial issue of fences between countries not by Israel’s security barrier, but by one aimed at stopping illegal immigration from Mexico into the US.

When Irit, her American husband, Jon, and two children lived in the US, the newspapers were filled with stories of plans to build the barrier.

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“There was a lot of racism and anger,” she said. “I was reading Robert Frost’s quote that ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ From then on, I became very involved with the issues regarding the wall here in Israel.”

Rosenberg began to research the topic and found that some six dozen barriers exist around the world. This triggered an idea for a body of work.

Several pieces from her project on how such barriers impact people, titled Fences and Chains, are now on display, as a window installation, at the Tova Osman Art Gallery on Tel Aviv’s Rehov Ben-Yehuda.

A heavy-looking chain greets visitors. The large chain, created from clay, has words such as “Occupation” and “Separation Fence” glazed on it.
Rosenberg feels that the chain is “very symbolic of what we do to ourselves sometimes in relationships. I think it relates somehow to the things that separate us, bind us, and keep us out.”

Much of Rosenberg’s work on fences is made of clay.

“I like using clay in particular because it is an excellent medium coming from the earth,” she says. “What are we separating? The earth, whether it’s by a man-made fence or a wall.”

Her work combines silk screens of maps and images of separation fences and walls around the world with found objects and corroded metal fragments.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a multi-media, layered portrait depicting the separation of three peoples on two sides of a border.

This particularly striking piece, titled “Behind the fence/wall, Belfast/Israel,” juxtaposes silk-screened images of an Irish mother and child from Belfast and a Palestinian man from the West Bank.

Yet another work, ceramics encased in steel, is a mishmash of maps of countries in conflict, including Turkey and Cyprus, and North and South Korea.

ROSENBERG STRONGLY believes her art has a universal message, and does not target any particular country.

“My work represents fences and walls all over,” Rosenberg stresses. “This is a worldwide problem. It is not specific to our country.”

In making her art, she says, “the idea is that I present the intertwining of people and fences from different parts of the world.”

Rosenberg is hesitant about taking an overtly political stand on Israel’s fence.

“People immediately ask, ‘What side are you on?’ My answer is that that’s not what my work is about. I am actually on top of the fence looking at both sides. I want people to be aware of what is going on.

“Walls are very ugly, emotionally and philosophically. I don’t love them. Are they doing a job? Yes. Is there another way? I don’t know. We should explore that. I don’t think we should stop exploring that. I think there is work to be done to bring people together.”  

Rosenberg was born in Israel but raised in the US by Israeli parents. She studied at Jerusalem’s Bezalel School of Art and Design and earned undergraduate degrees in art from New York’s Hunter College and New York School of Visual Art. She received an MA from Fordham University in New York.

Rosenberg is currently an art teacher at the American International School, where she has taught since 1994.

Her next exhibition opens in March at the Beit Hagefen Arab and Jewish Coexistence Gallery in Haifa, and then later at Beit Kahana in Ramat Gan.

Although she has exhibited art for many years, this is her first foray into such a highly charged political issue.

“My work is about educating and having people understand how our emotions bring out how territorial we are,” she says. “Walls and fences evoke a lot of anger and insecurity in us.”


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