Knocked to the canvas

Danieli's exhibit tells story of a once powerful kibbutz movement, now at the end of its journey.

yuval danieli 248.88 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
yuval danieli 248.88
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Kibbutz-born-and-bred artist and archivist Yuval Danieli is not only a prolific creator of thought provoking art, but also an ardent guardian of what once was, what has become and what might become of the kibbutz. Danieli, tall, 60-something, with piercing blue eyes and a mop of hair, is a walking, talking almanac of information about the kibbutz movement, individual kibbutzim and the colorful characters who founded and developed Israel's special communities. Even a short conversation with Danieli is sufficient for the listener to witness his deep feelings both for Kibbutz Hama'apil in the Hefer Valley, where he grew up, and the Hashomer Hatza'ir movement he grew into, and has never really left. His work is featured in Roads of Remembrance, a exhibit that recently opened at the Ein Harod Museum of Art. Danieli's works are exhibited in three large halls, an alcove and an alcove off an alcove where a poster breathing strong socialist messages hangs on the wall. A simple metal bookcase full of books by the likes of A.D. Gordon on shelves stands nearby, as does a small wooden writing table, with an open book sitting on it, as if the reader has just popped off to a committee meeting and will be back soon. An 84-year-old life-long member of Hashomer Hatza'ir's Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek rests, tucked in the alcove under the poster depicting three strong forearms, one grasping a hammer, another a spanner and the third what looks like a wooden stave in clenched fists. The text asks one to give a "hand" (support) to the renewal of the Histadrut Labor Federation. Eitan Ben-Or, a ceramicist of many years' standing, is the gentleman sitting in Danieli's "kibbutz corner," breathing life into a scene that would have been common when he was young, one of the first children born unto a pioneering community in pre-state Israel. In Danieli's plethora of paintings, sculptures and installations, he delves deep into his heart and past. Images of kibbutz cypress trees, watch and water towers, robed horseman, and dirty and battered work boots hanging from a nail appear again and again, as do the old-time "work is a virtue" posters. The deep physical and emotional roots binding him to the kibbutz ideals are clear in Danieli's works, as is his bitter disappointment at what has been lost. A three-time general-secretary of his kibbutz, Danieli left the post during his third term to show his dissatisfaction with a majority vote accepting drastic changes to the community, bringing about what is commonly known as hafrata (privatization). Even though he found it spiritually crippling to see his community end the collective ways he had known all his life, Danieli was unable to leave. He still lives and creates at Hama'apil. These days, Danieli finds solace at the Yad Ya'ari Center for Research and Documentation, dealing with artifacts from the days when kibbutz was kibbutz, the movement a force to be reckoned with and his own community functioned on the ethos of "everybody is equal." A large black-and-white canvas depicts the kibbutz's watchtower and silo falling down, crushing the small two-room kibbutz homes, uprooting crops in the field. A hammer and spanner flying aimlessly through space and a rooster that doesn't seem to have too much to crow about paint a dismal - albeit accurate - picture of the end of the kibbutz. Standing in front of another of the large photographic installations depicting the cypress-lined path from the kibbutz to the community's cemetery - tucked in on a small hill between avocado groves - Danieli explains that the path represents the connection between the community today and those who reached the end of the road - and their lifetime - and are buried in the earth they toiled, planted and harvested. Danieli speaks of eventually ending up at the end of that road himself, alongside the groves he worked in as a youth, and comments that for him, there is no more dignified a place to rest when the time comes. "The road leading to the cemetery is a road of reflection on the living and the dead, a short distance indeed between the kibbutz community of today and those who dreamed a dream and whose final resting place is just one short kilometer away. "The road represents belonging, continuity and connection to the land where the fields are at times green, at times yellow and sometimes, just tilled soil," he says, standing with his side to the artwork, looking very much part of the picture. Danieli appears a link between those whose vanished ideals he still shares and those current community members who have chosen a very different lifestyle and are taking him unhappily along for the ride. The Yuval Danieli exhibition at the Museum of Art at Ein Harod runs until the end of April.