Exhibit showcases Israeli artists alongside artists from Eritrea and Sudan

In her exhibition ‘Other Name,’ curator Yael Fibak Ilan presents works by known Israeli artists alongside unknown artists from Eritrea and Sudan

Works by asylum-seekers Afwerki Tahma and Tsegay Berhe are currently on display at the Zadik Gallery in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Courtesy)
Works by asylum-seekers Afwerki Tahma and Tsegay Berhe are currently on display at the Zadik Gallery in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Yael Fibak Ilan moved to south Tel Aviv, what struck her about many of her neighbors was the loss of dignity they had endured. Having immigrated illegally to Israel, these individuals and families were (and are) stuck in a state of purgatory, unable to put down roots, unable to decently provide for themselves and unable to leave.
“I moved to Tel Aviv four years ago from the North, following my children and also because I wanted to pursue my art in a more serious way,” explains Fibak Ilan via Facetime. “In my daily life I meet asylum seekers and people in very difficult situations. I identify with this very much. My parents are Holocaust survivors and requested asylum in Switzerland through the ‘Kastner train.’ If it weren’t for the yes they received, I wouldn’t be here. I can’t stay indifferent to this kind of thing.”
Fibak Ilan, a divorced mother of three grown children, teacher, artist and curator, felt the best way to impact the lives of those suffering around her was through art.
“In my previous projects, I have dealt with the individual and society. I have worked with amazing artists, many of whom are from the periphery. I think art has the potential to return human dignity and honor. It’s a universal language. We can see, through art, what people have been through. The asylum seekers don’t want to talk about it, just as our parents didn’t. They put it behind them and didn’t talk about it with us. My mom only started to talk about it when she was 85. These are people who want to be joyful, who want to live normal lives.”
Fibak Ilan is not the first to champion an artistic endeavor for the benefit of asylum seekers. However, she is the first to propose a show in which Israeli and foreign artists would display their creations anonymously. In her exhibition Other Name, which will open at two locations in Tel Aviv in March, works by some of the biggest names in Israeli art will hang on the walls alongside unknown artists from Eritrea and Sudan. Viewers will receive this pieces as one, without clues as to which work came from whom.
“I wanted to show the asylum seekers’ work next to the works of the biggest artists in Israel. We are presenting the work anonymously so that the person seeing the art won’t know who it’s by but will see the art and feel.”
GETTING HOLD of the Israelis such as Sigalit Landau, Tsibi Geva and Asad Azi was the easy part, explains Fibak Ilan. Having carved a niche for herself in the art community, she already had connections to most of the artists she wanted to include. The difficulty was in reaching out to the asylum seekers.
“I got in touch with several organizations for asylum seekers which led me to Hamoutal Sadan, who is researching this subject. She exposed me to several artists and their work. Many of them live in very rough conditions and aren’t free to make art. Many of them are autodidacts.”
Fibak Ilan was delighted to discover the works of artists such as Afwerki Tahma, Tsegay Berhe and Maria Saleh Mahameed. Several of the other artists preferred not to be mentioned by name due to conflicts with their immigration status.
With time and patience, cups of coffee and chats, Fibak Ilan got to know these artists and their stories. Little by little, they shared their bits of their histories with her. Often, these tales were short and came in pieces.
Aside from the anonymous paintings, Fibak Ilan has chosen to display texts written by the various artists. “We asked them to consider four questions: What do you miss? What memory do you have? What was the moment that you decided to leave everything? How do you identify yourself today; Israeli, Sudanese, Polish, Hungarian? Their answers will accompany the works,” she says.
The exhibition will inhabit two spaces: the Zadik Gallery in Jaffa, where the works will be on sale for three weeks’ times, as well as a special event at Hamekarer in Tel Aviv, where the larger works will be on display (not for sale) as well as music and dance performances. Forty percent of the proceeds raised will go to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of underserved and underrepresented individuals.
In order to make all of this possible, Fibak Ilan has had to scrape together funds from all over.
“We crowdsourced but we are still missing a lot. I earn a teacher’s salary, which doesn’t cover the enormous costs of producing an event like this one. My partner asks me why I do it and I tell him that this is my art. When I curate, I build a world. A person that comes in leaves in a different state. It has impact. I was in very hard positions in my life and today I am, thank God, well, my kids are OK and I have a job. If I can help someone with art, I need to do that.”

Other Name will run at the Zadik Gallery from March 5-21. The event at Hamekarer Art Space will take place on March 12. For more information, visit jumpstarter.co.il/projects/2110.