It’s hot in Lod, in more ways than one, but the Zumu traveling museum set up in 20 locations across this city, which recently saw some of Israel’s worst Arab-Jewish violence in years, hopes to bring some soothing relief.
Traveling museums are mobile project spaces devoted to contemporary arts and ideas. Zumu’s 20 sites in Lod are situated on either side of Hashmonaim Street, which divides Lod’s Arab and Jewish communities and which was the flashpoint for much of this spring’s violence. The artistic experience, founded and run by Melina Gitzin Adiram, is open Tuesday through Saturday this week.
Gitzin Adiram had previously set up her traveling museum in various far-flung places in Israel, bringing a different array of artists each time to a hangar or empty space.
This latest installment had been planned for the central city of Lod, adjacent to Ben Gurion International Airport, during the very week in May when violence erupted, bringing chaos and riots and leaving two men dead — one Arab, one Jewish.
So Gitzim Amiram postponed Zumu, but decided not to cancel it entirely.
“I couldn’t just cancel this. I had to go back and touch the places where all this pain began, to try and help,” she said. “It was an opportunity to get people involved. I felt we had to react to what was happening here.”
And so, Zumu shifted directions. Gitzin Amiram regrouped, keeping some of the scheduled artists and finding others. Some expressed fears or concerns about being in Lod.
“I told the artists at the start that this is a meeting, a chance to allow people to dream, both the artists and the residents,” she said.
The Zumu staff and artists came to Lod this summer, deciding to create their art spaces within the neighborhood. They began knocking on peoples’ doors, getting to know the residents in the buildings where they would be creating artworks.
Some of the residents joined the artists for lengthy conversations, said Gitzin Amiram, telling them about their lives with the neighbors.
“They said, ‘Yes, there were battles here, but there’s gray as well,'” she said. “It’s complicated.”
The mixed city’s balance was upset in recent years by an influx of religious Jews to the city via a movement known as Garin Torani, which seeks to establish or bolster the national religious Jewish presence in neighborhoods or cities where there are few religious Jews.
In Lod, such activists have moved into parts of town that are predominantly Arab, and longtime residents have accused them of attempting to Judaize their neighborhoods. The movement has been boosted by support from Lod Mayor Yair Revivo.
“I come with my own political feelings, but I wanted to hear the voices of everyone, and not to judge,” said Gitzin Amiram, who initially brought Zumu to Lod with the encouragement of Moriah Edar Plaksin, an artist and resident of Lod who is a member of the Garin Torani.
“Nothing is what I thought. It’s all very complicated, people suspect and fear one another — all those defense mechanisms.”
In Lod, the Zumu artists installed their work in the communal entranceways and lobbies of residential buildings.
In front of one building, a resident created a verdant garden from abandoned tires and containers that was now augmented by an artist’s floral murals on the grimy walls. In another, the walls of the entrance are painted with spiraling vines of a pothos plant, also known as devil’s ivy, ending in giant black-and-white hands.
One Zumu artist made portraits of a building’s residents on tiles to be hung on the walls, while another created a wall-wide stencil of familiar objects from the garbage-strewn grounds, ending up with a flowery rendition of weeds, cigarette butts and abandoned keys. She was assisted by teenage residents of the building, who expressed interest in creating their own artwork.
“The works in progress are always a surprise, you never know what’s going to come out,” said Gitzin Amiram. “But we hope that art will be the trigger to put some things out in the open.”
Artist Shirel Horovitz — who is, by chance, related to The Times of Israel founding and executive editor David Horovitz — started her work in Lod by meeting with residents in the apartment building she was assigned to.
She looked for items in their homes that caught her eye — a clock, a portrait — and then worked those items into the series of artworks painted on slabs of wood hung with hinges on the walls, creating a rotating gallery in the building’s entrance.
As Horovitz began hanging her paintings last week, a group of young boys, one with a green parrot perched on his shoulder, took their time examining the pictures and sharing their thoughts with the artist.
That’s exactly the kind of experience Gitzin Amiram is looking for in this Lod version of Zumu.
“It’s all artistic reactions, full of feelings and reactions,” said Gitzin Amiram. “We’re looking to create bridges of conversation and culture.”
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