‘Graffiti,’ according to the venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as “usually unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface.” Yet, in recent years, street art and graffiti, when authorized and permitted by local authorities, has become quite respectable and is considered a legitimate art form. In certain circumstances, graffiti is even used as an effective form of art therapy.
The western Negev town of Sderot (population 27,000), is less than a mile from Gaza, and has for many years been the focus of numerous rocket attacks, which have been a major source of trauma, especially among its youth. Sderot is a low-income community, and teens who come from socio-economically disadvantaged homes are considered high-risk. Meir Panim’s Neighborhood Youth Center in Sderot offers teens a place to socialize with friends while engaging in meaningful activities designed to help ease their trauma and give them tools for success.
It was in this spirit that teens from Meir Panim’s Neighborhood Youth Center in Sderot recently participated in two art workshops that taught teens how to use spray paint as tools in creating art. As Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development at Meir Panim, explains, the art workshops perform a dual function. “Everything we do in Sderot has two purposes. Teens can have fun and come to workshops that serve as a form of ‘stealth therapy.’ This workshop has roots in art therapy, and teens create and express themselves through artistic forms. Being creative and sitting together gives them a foundation of comfort with teens and staff so when times are hard, they can share and build that connection.” The instructors that Meir Panim appoints, she adds, are selected for their ability to give the teens skills, confidence and set a foundation for relationship building.
Aviel Ziv, 25, from Sderot, and Nofar Mallka, 27, from Netivot, led the two art workshops for the Sderot youth. Aviel and Nofar paint professionally and lead workshops in painting and graffiti. In the first workshop, the pair taught the students to use spray paint to create an artistic background of outer space with the moon in the foreground. After the students had become comfortable using spray paint, Aviel and Nofar set aside an area 50 feet across and 8 feet high on the wall of the Youth Center for the students to paint.
The teens chose to create a scene from ‘The Black Panther,’ the popular Marvel Studios film about T’Challa, the superhero from the land of Wakanda. Nofar explains that she and Aviel had initially suggested their own theme for the wall painting, so the fact that the teens themselves chose an alternative subject provided them with a sense of independence and freedom. All the teens who participated wrote their names next to the large picture they had painted. Aviel and Nofar say that the entire experience was “very liberating, freeing, and fun” for the dozen fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds who participated.
Nofar says that drawing and graffiti-type artwork can lessen stress. “When I draw, I disconnect from everything that is going on around me.” The wall of the Center, which was previously empty and boring, is now bursting with color and showcases their work. “The makeover of the wall turned out great,” she adds. Aviel, who grew up in Sderot, part of the ‘Gaza Envelope,’ which is within range of shells and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, noted, “As someone who has been living in the Gaza Envelope for a long time, I can say that the last thing you think about when you are painting is the security situation.”
Aviel says that the art seminars are an excellent opportunity for Sderot teens to get together in a fun and positive social activity. Nofar points out that the sessions took place after the students’ regular school hours had ended, when they were bored and were in search of a fulfilling activity. “The next time the teens see spray paint,” says Nofar, “they will remember the enjoyable activity that they did together, and ultimately, they may want to experiment with it further, which is what is great about the entire thing.”
The Sderot teens’ reimagining of the Youth Center’s exterior and creation of a beautiful work of art through the graffiti workshops befits the special place that the Center holds for the youth of Sderot.