Locals are used to seeing uniformed, often armed, IDF soldiers walking the streets and traveling on buses. In Israel, where the majority serves in the army, it is hard to forget the person behind the uniform, beret and automatic rifle. But it can still feel startling to see soldiers in uniform at certain events — like an art exhibit.

Last week, the IDF hosted the opening of “Colors in Rifle Barrels,” its third annual visual arts exhibit and competition. The artists — kitted out in their green dress uniforms, sleeves rolled down — filled the exhibit hall with their families, examining the works on display.

The exhibit showcased a collection of mostly paintings and photographs evoking themes one would expect a young soldier to express — life in Israel and in the IDF. Yet others revealed their talents in depicting fantasy, nature and illusion.

Sponsored by the Association for Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers together with the Avni Institute of Art and Design, the competition is geared toward cultivating the talents of its artistic recruits, and thinking about life after army service. The winners received a year scholarship to the Avni Institute in Tel Aviv, whose alumni include renowned artists Menashe Kadishman and Benni Efrat.

“It cannot be that the army should only deal with preparing for the next war,” said former MK and Brig. General (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, the organization’s chairman. “It needs to encourage the creativity in all of us as well.”

The works of the 89 finalists were judged by a six-person panel that selected five winners out of 210 submissions, with a few dozen on display. An additional “audience favorite,” based on “likes” on the AWIS Facebook page, was also awarded.

After a short performance by the IDF band, Brig. General (res.) Ehud Gross, chairman of the judges’ panel, revealed the winners, split evenly between men and women. This year’s honorees were four soldiers in mandatory service, one officer and one career soldier.

Two winners weren’t allowed to comment on their win, given the sensitive nature of their roles within the IDF. One wonders how they find time and energy for their artistic endeavors.

Atalya Aufrichter 'The Last Lies of the Body' (photo credit: courtesy Photo Tzafon)

Atalya Aufrichter ‘The Last Lies of the Body’ (photo credit: courtesy Photo Tzafon)

One soldier, Corporal Atalya Aufrichter, 21, a communications and recruitment NCO in the Air Force, won for her piece, “The Last Lies of the Body.” It is a meticulous Surrealist oil painting juxtaposing a bright colored fan with an ominous background. The use of illusion was her attempt to “clarify just how much our observations can be mistaken and far from the truth.”

Aufrichter’s mother, Nugit, mentioned that even as a toddler Atalya showed artistic promise. She drew with whatever was lying around the house. Growing up, coloring on the walls was allowed — though the rules have since changed as their family moved into a new, graffiti-free apartment, said Aufrichter.

Not on display that evening were Atalya’s artworks composed on base including a 3×3 meter portrait of Jimi Hendrix on concrete made with dirt, a portrait of John Lennon in the inside of an Oreo cookie, or another finger-painted portrait of Che Guevara made with ketchup on a white plate, which she fashioned while out eating with friends.

Karin Mulcho, 26, who was a combat soldier for eight years in Israel’s Border Police and is becoming its first female NCO, won the audience favorite award for her piece “Revival.” The acrylic painting was inspired by a photo she saw nine years ago of an Ethiopian woman from Sderot whose son died in a Kassam attack on the Negev city.

Karin Mulcho 'Revival' (photo credit: courtesy Photo Tzafon)

Karin Mulcho ‘Revival’ (photo credit: courtesy Photo Tzafon)

A self-described “patriot” and “lover of this country,” she said she feels a kinship with Israel’s underprivileged and decided to express it in her artwork. Her father, Shuki Mulcho, remarked on how proud he is of her and how much she’s done for this country.

Mulcho said she wasn’t surprised by her win.

“I was following the Facebook page,” she said. “I saw how many likes I had.”