Dear Diary

A Holon gallery exposes the deeply personal

The pages by the iconic Naomi Shemer reveal a funny poem for her husband, as well as the last song she ever composed – about Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon (photo credit: COURTESY SHEMER-HOROWITZ FAMILY)
The pages by the iconic Naomi Shemer reveal a funny poem for her husband, as well as the last song she ever composed – about Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon
The Meirov House Gallery in Holon is currently host to an innovative and radical exhibition (until May 20). Titled “My Dear Diary,” the exhibition explores the concept of a diary in a multitude of ways, with various artists and media. Curator Guy Morag Tsapilevich sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss diary pages, plain notebooks and dreams versus reality.
How did “My Dear Diary” come about? It’s such a unique idea for an exhibition.
I’ve been working in Holon for the past seven years as a freelance curator. Each year, I offer them a few exhibitions. This one started when I was visiting a few artists and I saw visual diaries that they created, covering a specific period of time, or talking about private matters. Then I started looking for other artists who created diaries and as I always try to give as many sides to an exhibition as I can, I divided the exhibition into five parts. They are: visual diaries, the diary as a concept, cover designs for diaries, personal diaries of well-known culture and society people, and diaries created by Israeli and international artists as part of an ongoing project of mine called The Plain Notebook.
In the first category, there is my wife’s work, who is a well-known artist in her own right... She made a diary in 2003, which is all drawings with captions. Of course there are other artists as well, like Maya Aton, who created a selection of pencil drawings over the past year, to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. There are many different artists and many kinds of work.
In terms of the personal diaries, you were able to encourage people to expose something so personal to the world?
One of the concepts of the diary is that outsiders are not supposed to read it. It’s like a peeping sensation when you look at someone else’s diary. So I contacted some people who I hoped would agree and asked them to display their diaries, open to one specific page, which we decided on together. Here we are talking about Naomi Shemer, Nana Schreier [owner of Tel Aviv’s celebrated vegan restaurant and bar Nanuchka], and Varda Raziel Jacont [a famous radio psychologist].
Jacont’s diary, the specific page we chose, was written when she was 19. She writes about wanting to collect pieces of life, which is exactly what she does today, and she is almost 80. With Naomi Shemer, I found these amazing two pages. One of them is from her last visit to the US in 2003, when she wrote a funny poem for her husband. The other page I chose from her is the last song she ever wrote, about Ilan Ramon [the first Israeli astronaut, who died tragically], written one week after he perished. It was the first draft she ever wrote and she never heard it being played. It was only played at her memorial.
Can you talk a bit more about the ongoing project of yours that was incorporated into this exhibition?
Yes, I’ve been doing it for the past five years and it’s called the International Plain Notebook Project. I give artists from all around the world a blank notebook; the simplest and cheapest notebook there is. It may not even be real paper. I ask them to create a work of art in it. Some of the artists out of the 400 who are part of it made diaries. One made a diary called Florentine/Gaza during the last war, where one side depicted what was going on in Florentine and the other side what was going on in Gaza. The Florentine side is in color and the Gaza side is in black and white.
The whole project is very international. I contacted artists whose work I saw in MoMA, on Instagram, anyone who looked interesting to me. I got some really amazing work. There is an artist, Ulrike Fish, from Germany, who got the notebook when she went into the hospital for an infection. She described everything that happened to her in the notebook, and said it helped her spend the time there more easily. There is also a dream journal from an Icelandic artist. Another artist from Iceland, a writer named Kristin Ómarsdóttir, wrote about her life in a small village far away from everything. The last artist featured in this part is Koen Vanmechelen from
Belgium, who is an artist who interbreeds chickens. He has a project called the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, where he breeds different types of chickens and according to him, it helps us understand the diversity of people as well. He is a combination of artist and mad scientist. I want to bring him here for a solo exhibition.
With so many works, which stands out to you?
One of the personal diaries is from Sarah Blau, who is a journalist and a writer. She gave us her diary when she was trying to get her first book published. She got only refusals from everyone, and writes about one particular reply and not wanting to even open it. Now she is publishing her sixth book at the same publisher. She always talks about it to her students, how she shouldn’t lose faith and continue to write.
It seems that there are two themes at work here. One is exposing something that is deeply personal, which art does all the time, but when you take a diary, it’s even more so. Then there is also the theme of the diary as a place to put our hopes and aspirations and then see how that matches up with the reality of life.
A diary can be for planning the future, recalling the past. Of course we all want our diaries to be like our lives by fulfilling our aspirations, but it’s not always the case. One very interesting diary that I chose, actually it’s two, one by Joseph Bau and one by his wife Rebecca – his diary is actually a song and drawing book he wrote for his wife while in a concentration camp. He wrote it on the papers from cigarette butts discarded by the Nazis. He taped them all together and wrote her songs and poems that do not deal at all with the Holocaust, almost like Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, not to get too depressed. Their story is amazing.
His wife’s diary is from the ’60s, which she wrote in Israel. Their story was portrayed in Schindler’s List; you see him crossing to the women’s camp dressed as a woman. They were married in the camp. It’s amazing.
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