IN AN unassuming building in the center of Jerusalem, contemporary artist Beverly Barkat is working in her white-walled, light-filled art studio where she creates and paints on PVC. Barkat, the wife of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, is in the final stages of creating a new site-specific installation for a solo exhibition to open in Rome. With the different color soils of the land of Israel, she has related her connection to the modern State of Israel through the stories of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel and the colored stones of the High Priest’s hoshen or breast plate from the Temple in Jerusalem in a powerful 4-meter towering installation that she has named “After the Tribes.”
Barkat was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1966, moving to Israel with her parents in 1976. The daughter of two artists, she grew up immersed in art. After her degree in fine arts from the esteemed Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, she began working with clay, metal and glass, but later shifted to drawing and oil painting after attending an inspiring master class led by Israel Hershberg at the Jerusalem Studio School. Following the success of her exhibition shown during the Venice Biennale last year, Barkat was invited by the Israel Embassy in Italy, together with the Italian museum association, Polo Museale del Lazio, to create an installation as part of the ceremonies celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary.
Barkat drew on her wealth of artistic knowledge including metal work, architecture and space design, and painting to develop a work which encompasses her whole identity as an Israeli and as a Jew. “I wanted to examine the elements of the Jewish nation and why the Jews are who they are: creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. What is this heritage?” asked Barkat. “What is the connection we have to Israel? What makes our emotions so strong? Seventy years shows the world the modern connection to the state, but there is much more than that. Our connection is more than 3,000 years old.”Twelve circular paintings on translucent PVC, each 1 meter in diameter, appear to float in 12 square frames in the metal structure of the installation, animated by a specific color palette specified in the ancient texts. The paints used by Barkat come from raw material that she collected on field trips with her husband up and down the country, from different areas where the different tribes dwelled. Shells, stratified stones, semi-precious stones, sand and rock from the desert, the sea, and the mountains of Israel are transformed into the essential and conceptual colors of Barkat’s installation. Each of the raw materials was ground by Barkat by hand in a pestle and mortar and labeled in a box on her work table with the name of the tribe. Without a need for figurative images, she evokes the stories of the 12 children of Israel. For example, the ochres, sand colors, and reds of the soil are mixed with fragments of amethyst for the tribe of Gad or agate for the tribe of Naphtali and emerald for the tribe of Levi. Her palette is also inspired by the character of each tribe, their livelihood and profession. Some, like Asher, worked in agriculture caring for olive trees; others, like Zebulun, worked in commerce and were seafarers; still others were educators, such as
Simeon (Shimon). “The title ‘After the Tribes’ has two layers of meaning,” reveals Barkat. “I started this project by spending a lot of time studying and researching the stories of the tribes – going ‘after’ them, looking for any traces and energy they left behind. Then I started to connect these stories to the issues of the Jewish people today, to retrace our origins, our genetic code, to gain a more textured understanding of our past in order to allow us to have a richer future. I am opening a discussion into how we can relate to the legacy of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and, thousands of years later, how we might look at ourselves today.”“After the Tribes,” curated by Giorgia Calò, will be placed in the splendid Salone delle Vedute in the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi. Once the location of Julius Ceasar’s villa, today the site houses the Boncompagni Ludovisi Decorative Arts Museum of the National Gallery of Modern Art of Rome. The exhibition, also supported by the Nomas Foundation for contemporary art in Rome, will open in October and then travel to other countries before returning to Israel.