A diplomatic approach to art at J'lem’s Hutzot Hayotzer

Indonesia, with no ties to Israel, is present; Turkey, represented in the past, is absent this time.

Hutzot Hayotzer 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Hutzot Hayotzer 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
While Morocco is the only country from the region to be represented at this year’s Hutzot Hayotzer international arts and crafts festival in Jerusalem, an artist from faroff Indonesia, which maintains no diplomatic ties at all with the Jewish state, is happily displaying his work at the two-week event.
The Christian painter known as Samto said there were mixed feelings about Israel in mostly Muslim Indonesia, but added that he was happy to be here as an artist. He has been turning out new works day and night since arriving a week before the festival began on August 2 in order to have on hand an entire gallery of paintings of a tree commonly found in Israel.
Beautiful examples of arts and crafts from places like Cameroon and Guatemala are also on display, but countries that are much closer, including Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, which all have full diplomatic ties with Israel, are conspicuously absent.
“We are interested in good artists,” said Yoel Makov, deputy director-general of Ariel Municipal Group, which is producing the festival.
“Anyone who comes is welcome, but we are unfortunately in a state of war [with some countries].”
A Jordanian artist was supposed to attend, but according to event organizers was turned away at the border for procedural reasons. In recent years two Turkish artists took part, but this year they cancelled due to reasons said to be unrelated to the current severe diplomatic strains between the two countries.
“If a Turkish artist wants to come, it’s not a problem,” said Makov.
Palestinian art does not have its own booth but is displayed in an “eastern art” section, which also features works from other absent Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria.
To find artists from abroad, the organizers enlist the help of foreign art organizations.
“I turn to the maximum amount of countries,” Sara Malka, the festival’s artistic director, told The Jerusalem Post. “We try to add new countries every year.”
The organizers said they did not have contact with artists from countries that are officially at war with Israel – specifically Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Contacts with foreign artists are often made through Israelis who have visited those countries.
Malka added that among the countries she had been in contact with, there had been no refusals because of the festival’s location, and no cancellations.
“We don’t deal with politics.
We deal with art,” Malka said. “We want to include art from all over the world.”
This year, Australia joined the ranks of newly-represented countries, with a gallery of Aboriginal art. The artists employ an ancient rock-art tradition that has been passed down through the generations, while working with more contemporary art forms.
Other galleries at Hutzot Hayotzer, which is open in the evening hours at the Sultan’s Pool until August 14, include sculptures, musical instruments and even toys.
In addition, the festival features a variety of local and international musical and dance performances.
Malka told the Post that she will continue to seek out additional Middle Eastern countries for future festivals.
“I am optimistic,” she said.
“I hope that with the coming years there will be presentations by Middle Eastern countries that were never here before.”