Bringing modern Israeli art to India

The Petah Tikva Museum of Art celebrates 25 years of Israel-India relations with a spectacular show at the New Delhi National Gallery of Modern Art.

NAHALAL 2018 by Gal Weinstein (photo credit: NATIONAL GALLERY OF MODERN ART NEW DELHI)
NAHALAL 2018 by Gal Weinstein
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Israel last July the world was moved to see the two leaders take a stroll on the beach after sharing a refreshing glass of desalinated water, another field in which India hopes to learn from Israeli technology. Today the growth of diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Israeli can be witnessed by art lovers keen to take in the Israeli art now on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
Titled "To the Ends of the Land" and jointly curated by director of the Petah-Tikva Museum of Art Drorit Gur Arie and associate curator Or Tshuva, the show presents to the Indian public works by Yael Bartana, Anisa Ashkar, Sharon Yaari and Sigalit Landau, to name but a few among those selected to present modern Israeli art to the subcontinent.
In a phone interview with Gur Arie she shared with The Jerusalem Post a little of what went into the challenge, and the excitement, of presenting the Indian art lover with a whole generation of artwork.
"We chose to deal with agriculture, advanced technologies, earth, and water because these issues are at the core of Israeli-Indian relations. Many of the artists currently living and working in Israel are somehow dealing with land - whether through its relations to issues of borders, territory and conflict, or through environmental, social, economic and religious questions, which can be all manifested through it," she said. "There are Indian art collectors who purchase Israeli artwork but they are relatively few [as] the exposure of Indians to Israeli art is not extensive."
Both India and Israel are modern continuations of ancient civilizations dealing with modern political challenges that came after much fought for independence. The Post asked Gur Arie how this influenced the choice of works presented.
"Modern Indian art is fantastically multifaceted when it deals with the issue of the West, and in our thinking about the exhibition we wanted to touch on what is close to both these situations. Identity and boundaries, center and periphery, a globalization process that is taking over.
"When I held conversations with National Gallery of Modern Art Director Shri Adwaita Charan Gadanayak he very much wanted us to touch on the theme of spirituality. After all, religion holds a major role in Indian society. It is not only visible through the great number of temples, but also affects important aspects of everyday life and politics. So we brought in an art-video by Dafna Shalom in which women sing the Yom Kippur prayers, and desert photographs by Joseph Dadoune in which a thorn is growing out of the pages of a book.
"We address the topic of rituals in this exhibition. One work, by Orit Raff, shows her pouring sugar into the sea to make it sweet. It's a Sisyphean task, of course, and as you watch the video you can see her getting exhausted from the effort. This is something one can feel and it's universal. Another work is by Dadoune, and shows him burying trees in the sands of the desert. One does not need to be familiar with the entire depth of Zionist thought to appreciate such images.
"India is full of scents and fragrances and as you walk the streets of New Delhi you can smell the fruit and plants. We wanted to bring something that will touch on that so we brought a work by David Adika who takes a fruit and wraps it until it becomes like a diamond or some other jewel.
"Yael Bartana filmed a journey to Andromeda Rock on the coast of Jaffa during which an Israeli flag is replaced by an olive tree. Yaari presents photographs that show the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] in pink, as a very soft and romantic looking work shot in 1969, soon after the Six-Day War. So we present the relationship between nature and nationalism including critical works by Arab-Israeli artist Anisa Ashkar who writes on her face and body in Arabic and treats this feeling of being locked outside the discourse.
Modi is the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a Hindu-Nationalist party. I can only imagine what would happen if an Indian artist, Muslim or Hindi, would present a film in which he goes to the Indian-Pakistani border and replaces a flag with a tree. 
"I do hear a lot of feedback [from the Indians] about the courage and openness of Israeli artists and we made every effort to bring in art works that will deal with the question of nature and human efforts that sometimes disrupt it or damage it."
Two such works include a live performance by Shahar Marcus, who, on the opening night of the exhibition, planted seeds from both Israel and India at the site, and a live video stream of Avital Geva who decided to keep bees and show how beekeeping can be useful for eco-friendly agriculture. The feed will present the process to the audience for the duration of the exhibition.
The latter work will be the focus of special discussions between Indian and Israeli high-school students who will meet and work on questions of ecology and technology using e-learning tools.
“To the ends of the Land” opened on April 28. The National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaiput House, India Gate, New Delhi, India,