It can be tricky to bring together a group of artists and find a theme or an element among their works. It’s an even trickier proposition when it comes to Israeli artists, since too often the conceit involves the thorny subjects of politics or religion.
In a new group show at the Mina Gallery in Cooper Square (www.minanyc.org), on view through Dec. 6, it is something that doesn’t quite exist that is meant to be the connection.
Using a Salmon Rushdie quotation as a premise — “Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures, at other times, that we fall between two stools”— curator Sascha Crasnow has assembled a group of nine Israeli and American artists who have called both countries home, and the show ponders the question of a homeland. The art she has selected reflects what she sees as a connection between America and Israel: a sense of national identity “born out of exile and assimilation.” The starting point may be an academic one, but the feel of the show is loose, and its objective not entirely obvious.
The artists display work in media ranging from painting to sculpture, incorporating such aspects of Israeli life into their art as Judaism, literature and the military. Ohad Matalon, a photographer, uses the premise of documentary photojournalism to comment on Israeli society from the vantage point of a Jewish-Israeli citizen. In his photograph, “Kite,” Matalon took a photograph of a group of Arab children flying a kite in east Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives. Instead of presenting a straight image, he used computer manipulation to distort it, treating the scene like “theater.” He made Israel’s separation barrier larger and implanted a prosthesis in place of a boy’s leg.
Noa Charuvi, currently based in New York, has made small sketchy drawings in pen and ink and in acrylic that are based on the Israeli army’s press footage. They are presented on paper that has been ripped out of a sketchbook and painted a washed-out green, reminiscent of the night-vision technique used by the army. “My position as a painter is the spectator’s position: I represent what I see but I filter it through my own feelings and intuition, and it becomes subjective,” said Charuvi.
Gil Even-Tsur, an architect currently based in New York, has designed a Nomad Synagogue for the show, because for him, “The synagogue represents Judaism. It is a place where Jewish life happens. In its simple function, use, and symbolism, it helps defines the Jewish experience today and throughout history. The Jewish diaspora was always nomadic in its nature — without a country, without a sense of security, and always ready, physically and mentally, to move on.”
Even-Tsur is a native of Hadera, Israel, where the Sephardic community had no synagogue. As a result, it met for worship in a local school. “The energy generated from those gatherings — the songs and prayers — transcended the lack of a permanent structure.”
Another artist in the show, Leor Grady, has installed three wooden shelves around the space in which he placed books by authors such as David Grossman and David Sedaris, using their titles, in both English and Hebrew, to form poetry via his arrangement. Yael Hameir has made architectural models of the Jabalia Refugee Camp in Gaza, while Rachel Papo has photographed young women in the army. Benjamin Tritt’s rough and textured paintings are untitled but are meant to evoke decay and abandonment, and Eitan Vitkon’s large composite photograph shows a busy day at the Western Wall.
The conceptof a homeland remains abstract in the show. “I keep looking back to my personal ‘homeland,’” says Even-Tsur, “the one that belongs to my father and me, inside the temporary Sephardic synagogue Hadera.”