Feeling art with ‘Breaking the Walls’ exhibit by disabled artists

Eldad Shoshtari is doing his utmost to get the creative fruits of artists with special needs out there, to cultural consumers across the country and, if possible, the world.

 SHANI ELDAR’s  mixed-media sculpture ‘Muzreket’ (Injected). (photo credit: Courtesy)
SHANI ELDAR’s mixed-media sculpture ‘Muzreket’ (Injected).
(photo credit: Courtesy)

An artist’s life can be trying, to say the least. You invest your accrued technical skills, soul, spirit and body – and probably not a little sweat – in your work and, frequently, then get yourself off to your daytime job. After all, art isn’t something you can really live off, right?

Eldad Shoshtari would very much like to change that sad state of affairs. And not just for any old artists challenged by the body-soul existential interface. Shoshtari is doing his utmost to get the creative fruits of artists with special needs out there, to cultural consumers across the country and, if possible, the world.

That objective is being palpably achieved at the “Breaking the Walls” exhibition currently in flow at the Arthura Gallery in Kfar Monash, near Netanya. The show, which was curated by Naomi Gordon-Chen, opened a few days ago and will run through until the end of the month, displaying 55 works by 37 artists with physical or emotional disabilities of varying severity. The exhibits take in a wide range of subject matters, styles and disciplines, including painting, photography, sculpture, video works, installations, illustrations and mixed media. 

Shoshtari, who initiated the idea and made sure the project took on corporeal form, says the exhibition offers the general public “some grasp of the artists’ unique viewpoint of life and society.” The physical barrier in the exhibition title, says Shoshtari, who presents himself as an arts entrepreneur, references the way people with special needs are frequently viewed. 

Part of the thinking behind Shovrim Homot (Breaking Walls), which was made possible thanks to a grant from Jonathan and Dina Leader, is to show the able-bodied that people with physical and emotional challenges have plenty to offer, and should not be turned into objects of pity, or considered inferior members of society in any way. 

Shoshtari, who suffers from cerebral palsy and Asperger’s syndrome, developed an interest in creative pursuits from an early age. 

“I had a fascination with art ever since I was little,” he says. “I loved animated movies and I studied art history, and how to draw and stuff like that. But I’m not really an artist.”

Still, Shoshtari is putting his background in art and, more importantly, his understanding of what it means to have special needs in society to good use by providing a platform for artists to show the public what they can do. 

“I can represent disabled artists,” he continues, “and can help them sell their art. It is important for any artist to make a living from their work, including able-bodied artists.”

The exhibition title speaks for itself. 

“We want to break the walls, the barriers, between disabled people and able-bodied people,” Shoshtari explains. “We want to be seen as people, and not as someone who needs help.”

There is some very emotive content behind the works on display in Kfar Monash, and it is not just from the downside. 

“The artists have very painful messages that they try to convey through their art, and some of it is very happy art,” says the event promoter.

SHANI ELDAR is certainly happy to have been given a stage to strut some of her stuff. The 44-year-old mother of four was struck down by multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 28, just six months after giving birth to her oldest child. Her work, a mixed-media sculpture called Muzreket (Injected), is a hard-hitting riposte to some of the conventional medical procedures Eldar endured over the years. 

“It was my husband, Guy, who saw the call for submissions to the exhibition,” she explains. “I sent in three works and, amazingly, one was accepted. I really wasn’t expecting it.”

Eldar trained as a graphic artist and says that, since contracting MS, she has also used her painting and sculpting skills to express her feelings and her engagement with the disease. For the past 12 years she has run an arts workshop for children and adults, which she says, “enables me to combine my two great loves – children and creation.”

Her contribution to “Shovrim Homot” is a definitively evocative and expressive work through which Eldar relates some of the anguish she has been through over the past decade and a half. That, she says, has been a therapeutic process. 

“It is like coming out of the closet. I kept my illness a secret for a long time. I was afraid to show it. There weren’t too many outer signs, but this is me getting it all out there. It is such a relief!” she exclaims. “This is me!” 

That personal declaration of independence has also taken the form of a decision to manage the disease without conventional medicaments, although the catalyst for this creative phase of her life came from a stay in a medical institution. 

“I was rehabilitating at Loewenstein Hospital [in Ra’anana] after I became sick,” she recalls. “I had been active in art all my life but, suddenly, I wasn’t able to do anything in painting or anything else.” 

A member of staff came to the rescue. 

“Someone there suggested I use my art to get stuff out. Suddenly, all my pain and anger came pouring out, so I got back into creating, and I just couldn’t stop painting and drawing.”

That was a godsend for Eldar and, eventually, led to “Shovrim Homot.” 

“When Naomi put out the call for submissions I thought, wait a moment, I’m also an artist. I can do this too.” Happily,Gordon-Chen discerned that in Muzreket, which doesn’t make for particularly pleasant viewing but certainly catches the eye. 

The work takes the form of a grey head-like figure with masses of hypodermic needles of different sizes sticking out at all sorts of angles. 

“It’s a self-portrait,” Eldar declares. “This is my first exhibition. This is the first time that I have put my illness out for the public to see. It is a big thing for me to exhibit a work of art and to exhibit my disease.”

All the needles in Muzreket were used on Eldar, over the course of the years. 

“I saved all the needles, because you are supposed to keep them in special boxes, as medical waste, to be disposed of at your Kupat Cholim branch,” she explains. 

She actually failed to get rid of them according to medical protocol, whereupon she decided to use them more creatively. 

“I had hundreds of needles, and I incorporated some of them in Muzreket. That expresses the pain I went through.”

The creative continuum may have been therapeutic but it also evoked some of the suffering Eldar had experienced.

“I cried as I inserted each needle into the head, which is made of Styrofoam and papier-mâché. It was painful. I went through so much. I lost my sight for two months, I went numb. I had to be hospitalized when my youngest child was only six months old. I was there, in hospital, together with her. That wasn’t nice.”

Ultimately, Muzreket has helped move Eldar along the way to a healthier mindset. 

“I hated the work as I was making it. I hated myself. I wanted to dump it. But, in the end, the process has helped me. I feel relieved. And now it is an exhibition. That is amazing.” 

No doubt, Eldar’s co-exhibitors have similar mixed feelings about their work and, at the end of the day, like Eldar feel blessed to be able to express some of their emotions through their art, and also to proffer the fruits of their labor to the public. 

For more information: arthura.org/