"You are caught in the middle of a war, and at the same time you want to make it into art."
By TALYA HALKIN
On the morning of Gilad Shalit's kidnapping last week, Orly Amsellem - an art student at Sapir College and a resident of Yevul, in the vicinity of Kerem Shalom - was woken up by what she described as an "incredible blast."
"We were told to stay inside our homes, and people were beginning to get fearful and anxious," Amsellem recalled on Wednesday. "But look how absurd living here is. Later that day I was driving between two roadblocks through the pastoral Negev landscape, and at the same time, I could see a helicopter bombing in the area of Rafah, in Gaza. And all I could think of was, 'Why didn't I bring my camera?' It was so crazy - you are caught in the middle of a war, and at the same time you want to make it into art."
Amsellem, a native of Marseilles, is a second-year student at Sapir College's School for Art, Society and Culture. This month, a series of artworks she created over the past year are being shown as part of "Neighborly Relations," an exhibition of eight art projects created in the course of work in various communities in the college's vicinity.
The college, which is located near Sderot, has an unusually heterogeneous student body that includes secular and religious students, local residents and students from Tel Aviv, members of nearby kibbutzim and former settlers from Gush Katif.
According to artist Orit Hason-Walder, who has directed this series of student projects over the past year, they are all related to unique local human and political occurrences. The students, as she noted in a text accompanying the exhibition, are always looking through eyes familiar with art-world codes, while attempting to create social dialogue in the region to which they belong.
For Hason-Wilder, the projects all exist on the borderline between art and life, art and society.
"This is the only college that encourages art as a form of social entrepreneurship," she said. "There is an exhibition in our gallery, and at the same time the art works are shown in the places where the projects took place - the communities from which the students themselves come. In this way, the college becomes a center, which fosters local leadership and reaches out to people who might not be able to reach it."
Over the course of several months, Amsellem and a fellow student who also resides on Moshav Yevul turned their cameras on their new neighbors - former residents of Netzarim, a religious settlement in Gush Katif.
"Yevul is a mostly secular, left-wing Moshav," Amsellem said. "But when the evacuees from Netzarim arrived here, we quickly discovered that they were as curious about us as we were about them."
Amsellem documented the development of warm social relations between the two communities, which were nevertheless not always devoid of political tensions.
For instance, when evacuees from Netzarim invited members of the moshav for an Independence Day celebration, many moshav members initially stopped short of participating because of the presence of orange ribbons that had been attached to the Israeli flags. However, eventually most if not all, joined in the celebration.
"There were difficult moments," she said, "but the beauty of it is that we succeeded in meeting one another, and in becoming neighbors."
Isabelle Laique, who was evacuated last summer from Neve Dekalim together with her extended family, now resides in a temporary home in Nitzan. Her art project centered upon the story of her family.
"My parents have now become refugees for the second or third time," Laique said. "The first time my father lost his home was during the Nazi invasion of France. Later, he arrived in Algiers as a Jewish soldier in the French army, met my mother, and settled down in Algiers, where I was born."
In 1962, Laique's family was forced to leave Algiers and start over again in France. When she made aliya and settled in Neve Dekalim, her parents moved in next door. Laique asked her parents to create paintings of all the homes they were forced to leave over the course of their lives.
In the exhibition, she presented her parents' memories of their home in Algiers alongside their images of the home they were forced to leave in Neve Dekalim, as well as paintings painted by children in an art therapy workshop she taught in Nitzan.
"At Sapir," Laique said, "all of a sudden, I find myself talking to everyone about my experience. Initially, I was really resistant to doing an art project about Gush Katif, but I realized that even if people around me didn't agree with me, we were developing a dialogue. This is something that just doesn't happen enough in this country, and which we should have begun a long time ago."
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