A ‘watershed’ moment for artists at the Jerusalem Biennale
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A ‘watershed’ moment for artists at the Jerusalem Biennale

On now, third annual contemporary Jewish art festival features 200 artists and 26 exhibitions at eight locations throughout the capital

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

This year's Jerusalem Biennale challenged artists to seek watershed moments in their own history, and in that of the Jewish people; these are some of the works hung in the Underground Prisoners Museum, one of the eight locations of the art exhibitions (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
This year's Jerusalem Biennale challenged artists to seek watershed moments in their own history, and in that of the Jewish people; these are some of the works hung in the Underground Prisoners Museum, one of the eight locations of the art exhibitions (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

There is probably just one place in the world where the works of 200 contemporary Jewish artists could be gathered under one theme, and that is the Jerusalem Biennale.

“There’s nothing out there just for Jewish art,” said Ram Ozeri, the founder and head curator of the Jerusalem Biennale on the second day of the event, which opened on October 1 and runs through November 16. “Art can be contemporary and Jewish and we’re creating a place for that.”

This year’s exhibition is the largest so far, with 200 artists and 26 exhibitions in eight locations, all contemplating the theme of watershed, whether interpreted as a pivotal moment in time, as a geological term regarding waters, streams and rivers, or as a metaphor about people and the way they split and converge.

At the Museum of the Underground Prisoners, commemorating the Jewish underground that operated until the establishment of the state of Israel, artists’ works are exhibited in the hallways and rooms off the main corridor, divided loosely according to their definitions of watershed moments.

There is a room defined by two different biblical accounts involving water. Richard McBee’s canvas offers graphic interpretations of the Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea, looking in particular at the women and how they handled the moment of great drama.

Richard McBee’s interpretation of the Israelites’ watershed moment, crossing the Red Sea (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Across the same gallery is Yona Verwer and Katarzyna Kozer’s take on the Book of Jonah, a pivotal moment for Verwer as an Orthodox Jew who converted from Catholicism and left her home in the Netherlands for New York. Her Jonah is a submarine in New York’s East River, and she takes that up another notch with augmented reality, having viewers use smartphone or tablets to hone in on a spot in the painting, which triggers a video embedded in the artwork, leading the viewer closer to Verwer’s layered narrative.

At the end of the hallway are several British artists viewing 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, and its position as a watershed moment in Jewish history.

British Israeli artist Ruth Schreiber screened the actual declaration, a one-page typed letter, on a sheer gauze curtain that was then projected backwards on the floor, demonstrating the ambivalence of the text.

Inside the gallery is a work by London artist Jaqueline Nicholls, who embroidered the words of the hymn, “Jerusalem,” on a muslin piece of cloth draped over the sleeping figure of a female mannequin. The idea aims to bring two Jerusalems together, that of the Jews and that of the British school hymn, based on a 1804 poem by William Blake.

“It’s about the two dreams coming together,” said Nicholls, “that of the Jews and that of the British people.”

London artist Jaqueline Nicholls interpreted the Jerusalem of the Jews and of the British, through the British hymn ‘Jerusalem’ (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Back in the hallway again brings visitors to Orthodox feminist artist Helene Aylon’s “Afterword: For the Children,” her video art and photography installation that is an appendage to “The G-d Project,” installations that critique Jewish texts and rituals.

Viewers can participate in Sukkot tours of the exhibitions, or buy one ticket that offers entry to all the Biennale locations. For a full listing of Jerusalem Biennale artists, locations and tickets, head to the Biennale website.

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