Holy streets, ink and Israeli art

Toronto-based filmmakers Igal Hecht and Aaron Mandel chronicle the diversity of spiritual art in Israel for Canadian TV

'Holy Art' (photo credit: SHAI AZOULAY)
'Holy Art'
(photo credit: SHAI AZOULAY)
Canadian filmmakers Igal Hecht and Aaron Daniel Mandel share a great passion for a value they believe Canada and Israel share – freedom.
The two came to Israel to film the third season of Holy Art. Produced for faith-based Canadian broadcaster YES TV, the series documents Israeli artists of all faiths and backgrounds to explore the question of what religious or spiritual art might mean today.
If you’re thinking of traditional Jewish items like Seder plates, or wooden figures of Jesus, think again.
“We interviewed Wassim Razzouk,” says Mandel. “His family have been tattoo artists since the 14th century in Egypt, and in Jerusalem since the 18th century. What first started as a way for Coptic Christians to gain access to churches has evolved into commemorative tattoos for pilgrims,” including past members of the British royal family.
“Wassim has wooden tools from the 16th century. People come from all over the world to work with him,” Hecht adds. “We saw this Texan who was enormously delighted to be in Jerusalem and working with him. Wassim is a great artist and his family kept this heritage of Coptic Christian body art alive for centuries.”
Or take artist Itzzu Rimmer – inspired by ancient traditions of prehistoric desert cultures, he erected two rows of upright stones in what he calls a “Desert Kite.” Desert kites are highly effective traps early humans used to hunt deer. The deer would be chased into a funnel consisting of a pair of long stone walls constructed at an angle to each other, at the apex of which was a large enclosure. These traps, thousands of which have been found in Jordan and Israel, are feats of human ingenuity and collective effort. They were given their name based on their appearance from the air.
“We hired a drone to shoot reels of it from the air,” explains Mandel. “From the sky it looks completely different. It illustrates how Rimmer is inspired by the land itself.”
Viewers are introduced to the spiritual theory of color employed by David Louis, who deals with Jewish traditional abhorrence for idols by painting in an emotional color-scale that inspires one to touch the divine. The audience can also listen to him play a harp he fashioned himself, seeking to recreate the biblical harp of King David.
The two also document Dan Groover at work as he adorns the streets of Jerusalem with powerful graffiti that fuses Hebrew words and iconic scenes from Zionist and Jewish history.
“You know how people often think that the Druse people keep their faith a secret?” asks Hecht. “We were lucky enough to join Druse documentary film maker Nahd Basheir as he was making his own film about this culture. Our take was that we’re interested to get to know a man making a film about his own faith.”
“And they were all very nice and pleasant to us,” adds Mandel. “You know, nobody frowned or complained about ‘these two strangers in our midst’ or anything, it was a great experience for us.”
Slotted to air on Sunday June 3 in Canada, having been shot in 30 location across Israel, the third season includes 60 artists, including Muslim and Jewish female artists who openly discuss their resentment at how their societies prefer to label them as “hobbyists” as opposed to serious artists because of their gender.