Ironic Mother Earth

Natural History Museum opens an unusual animal sculptures and drawings exhibition.

Snake, 2013. Materials: bicycle inner tube, vacuum cleaner part, spring, balloon, toy, aluminum foil cutter (photo credit: Courtesy)
Snake, 2013. Materials: bicycle inner tube, vacuum cleaner part, spring, balloon, toy, aluminum foil cutter
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 The only natural aspect of the Jerusalem Natural History Museum gallery’s “Ironic Nature” exhibit, which brings life to 25 types of animals and insects, is a single branch from an ailanthus tree.
The Hebrew title of Jerusalem-based artist Navah De Shalit’s installation “Teva Ironi” is a play on the Hebrew homonym ironi, enabling the title to connote “City Nature” as well as “Ironic Nature.”
De Shalit explains the genesis of the idea for the exhibition.
One day, as she was walking her dog Sandy in the green, tree-filled Valley of the Cross near her Nayot home, she thought she spotted something moving in the bushes. As she drew closer, her imagination ran wild with what it could be. “It seemed like it was a rat and then a bat and then… it turned out to be a broken, discarded umbrella.”
That was the moment that De Shalit decided to take the garbage that had no place in nature and transform it into something that mimicked it.
The ailanthus tree, she says, is considered an invader in Jerusalem, and is home to most of the animal and insect species featured in the exhibit.
Many branches can be found around the city after being cut off by municipality workers, she says.
The branch meets the criteria she has set for her materials.
The sculptures are composed of found objects and materials that De Shalit has fashioned into animal and insect forms by means of sewing and weaving, refusing to allow the use of welding or aggressive adhesives in the transformation. The artist’s minimalist ink snakes and pastel fish and chalk birds on paper show another side of her diverse perspective.
De Shalit uses a broad range of materials discovered in the streets, junkyards and her old storage space. She emphasizes that “everything is made using recycled materials, apart from some wire and chicken fence that I bought to complete the sculptures.”
Among the many brilliant creations in the exhibition, one can find a dragonfly made up of a windshield wiper and an umbrella skeleton, a porcupine made from plastic cables, rubber, old darts and a worn-out badminton shuttlecock. Another sculpture is a mosquito fashioned from a sponge, broken sunglasses and plastic folder dividers, and it is abundantly clear that De Shalit has a powerful imagination with hints of humor.
De Shalit worked on the exhibition for two years in her Talpiot studio. The pieces have a crisp, light, airy feel, and although they are made with what is essentially trash, they have an elegance to them that transcends the discarded objects they once were.
The Tel Aviv-born artist, raised in Boston, is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public health from the Hebrew University; she also graduated from the art instructors’ course at the Israel Museum in 1994. After working in the public health field for almost 20 years, De Shalit – descended from an artistic maternal line and relative of artists Moshe Mokady and Michael Argov – chose to dedicate herself solely to art in 2000, and in 2003 spent a year as a special student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The Jerusalem Natural History Museum (established in 1962 with gardens planned by Yechiel Segal), nestled between the calm Talbiyeh and German Colony neighborhoods, inaugurated its new gallery exhibition space only a few months ago.
De Shalit’s first solo exhibition, “Traffic Jam,” went on display at the capital’s Nora Gallery in 2011; she has also exhibited her works at the Tel Aviv Artists House and the city’s Central Gallery, as well as Haifa’s Chagall Artists House.
Ironic Nature runs through October 28. Today, October 9, there will be a gallery reception at 11 a.m. with a talk at 12 p.m. by Amir Balaban from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Jerusalem’s Natural History Museum, 6 Shmuel Mohilever Street, German Colony. 563-1116,