Artists’ anxieties about Gaza rise to surface in October 7 exhibit

‘Or Gadol’ exhibit of 98 artworks by 75 artists at Jaffa Port includes well-known names alongside younger creatives from the south reacting to the devastating Hamas attacks

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Or Yogev's digital print of hostage Shiri Bibas and her preschooler and baby, abducted on October 7, now a print at the 'Or Gadol' exhibit at Jaffa Port that opened on December 7, 2023 (Courtesy)
Or Yogev's digital print of hostage Shiri Bibas and her preschooler and baby, abducted on October 7, now a print at the 'Or Gadol' exhibit at Jaffa Port that opened on December 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

It didn’t take long for artists to react with horror, sadness and grief to the October 7 massacres committed by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza border communities.

Or Yogev began creating graphic images of the hostages, posting them on social media. Ziva Jelin, curator of the Kibbutz Be’eri gallery, salvaged her painted canvases though they were pocked with damage caused by Hamas gunmen. Sculptor Sigalit Landau started to sculpt a mother and child wrapped in each other’s arms amid a pile of skulls.

Those three artists, along with 72 others, are part of “Or Gadol” (Great Light), an exhibit of nearly 100 artworks that opened December 7, the first night of Hanukkah, through December 23 at the Jaffa Port. It’s a joint venture of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, the Atarim group that manages the Tel Aviv-Jaffa coastline, and civil society movement Darkenu.

The high cement walls of the Hangar 2 gallery are hung with artworks created in the last two months, as well as ones from earlier that resonate with the events of October 7 or look toward the future, said curator Tally Ben Sira.

A work by Neta Harari-Navon was made in 2009, at a music festival much like Supernova, the desert rave where 360 people were slaughtered and dozens abducted by Hamas terrorists. The piece echoes what happened at Supernova, showing a field with people strewn about, injured, bandaged.

“The Girls” by Michal Mozes shows two children sleeping peacefully in bed, an image reminding viewers of October 7, when entire families were slaughtered in their beds and safe rooms.

‘Or Gadol’ exhibit at Jaffa Port’s Hangar 2 features artworks about the events of October 7, 2023, and opened on December 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

She kept asking certain artists, “‘Are you sure you painted this beforehand?'” said Ben Sira.

On October 7, thousands of terrorists poured into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in a shock onslaught. They killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians — families in their homes, people at a massive rave — amid acts of horrific brutality, and abducted over 240, including babies and octogenarians, to Gaza.

As Ben Sira spoke to The Times of Israel hours before the exhibit was about to open on December 7, she speculated that the strong sense of prophetic doom present in some of the works has to do with the artistic mentality.

“I think artists are very sensitive people, they have sensors, they can feel things before they happen,” she said. “They have anxieties that maybe other people don’t have and that they can visualize and put on the canvas.”

That would explain “Al Bureij,” a dark, threatening work by artist Haran Kislev from Kibbutz Be’eri, whose oil on canvas is a view of the Gaza skyline from the Be’eri fields.

Eitan Vitkon’s ‘True Love,’ print, part of ‘Or Gadol’ exhibit at Jaffa Port’s Hangar 2 featuring artworks about the events of October 7, that opened on December 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

Kislev told Ben Sira that each time he tried to paint that view, the nearby army unit would move him away from that position because it was considered dangerous. Kislev said he wanted to show the dissonance between the pastoral atmosphere of Be’eri and what was bubbling from under the surface, adding that he now knows he was trying to paint anxiety.

Another Be’eri resident, Ziva Jelin, married to former Eshkol regional council of mayor Haim Jelin, rescued her artworks from the Be’eri art gallery, several now riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel from the Hamas assault.

A damaged Jelin canvas is hanging in the exhibit, including a bullet hole and tear from shrapnel. The painting’s veil of red paint covering the image of the bucolic Be’eri landscape feels like “a prophecy that fulfilled itself,” said Ben Sira.

Artist Ziva Jelin with her painting, ‘Curving Road,’ damaged in the October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas terrorists at Kibbutz Be’eri, that was temporarily hung in the Israel Museum, November 2023 (Courtesy Zohar Shemesh)

One of the sculptures is a painted jerrycan created by Kibbutz Nir Oz artist Aviv Atzili, who was initially presumed abducted to Gaza. Only last week was it discovered that Atzili was killed on October 7 when he fought off terrorists as part of the Nir Oz emergency squad.

His piece — the last one from his first show, which was due to close on October 7 — is called “Recruited Artist,” “which is exactly what he was,” said Ben Sira.

The Jaffa Port exhibit got underway within three weeks of October 7, with artists from the Gaza border communities as well as other well-known Israeli artists eager to participate. Ben Sira wanted the bigger names because they’ll draw buyers; proceeds from the exhibit go to recovery efforts, with an emphasis on cultural and artistic institutions in the south.

“Everyone wanted to participate,” she said. “We started with 20, 30, 40 artists, we had so many who wanted to be included. We could have had 175 artists. People just wanted to be part of it.”

The exhibit features 98 artworks, by 75 artists.

The younger artists include Or Yogev, who reacted immediately to what happened with his digital work “The Twins” about the Bibas family. He published it on October 8 on social media and it immediately went viral.

He releases a new image every day and now three of those works have been printed for the first time, for the exhibit.

Efrat Hasson de Botton has several works, including her paper cut “Bring Them Home #2,” with the date 071023 tattooed on an arm, echoing descendants of Holocaust survivors who have had their grandparents and great-grandparents’ concentration camp numbers tattooed on their own arms.

Nearby is Nadav Brill’s AI digital art remake of Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” with her perfect skin bloodied and injured. And in another art appreciation homage, Reut Asimini’s drawing “This Is Not a Hat” harkens to the book “The Little Prince,” showing a mother crouching protectively over a child, saving them from rockets or terrorists.

“I think there’s no mother in Israel who wasn’t in this pose at least once in the last two months,” said Ben Sira.

Nadav Brill’s AI digital art remake of Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ hung as part of ‘Or Gadol’ exhibit at Jaffa Port’s Hangar 2 featuring artworks about the events of October 7, which opened on December 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

All the paintings are hung salon style on the rough cement walls of the hangar in several rows, offering a more intimate way of viewing each piece.

The installations in the middle of the gallery include Martha Rieger’s path of broken porcelain in “The Road We Take Is Long and Winding,” a sea of small white plates painted with blue stenciled images to echo the Israeli flag.

The plates were crushed by Rieger to show that everything in life is breakable, but the shards can create their own kind of path.

There are hopeful works too, such as the blooming flowers of Carmel Ilan’s woven paper work “Blooming” and Keren Spilsher’s “Anemones Spam.”

The second part of the gallery is a wall filled with “Home Hope,” a work by two graffiti artists, Boaz UNTAY and Guy Pitchon.

Pitchon’s long-stemmed rose echoes Israel’s tattoo culture, where it’s customary to be tattooed with a rose only if one has overcome a major challenge or disaster, like what happened to those at the Supernova desert rave on October 7.

“So now he’s tattooing all of Nova survivors with this rose,” said Ben Sira.

“Or Gadol,” December 7-23, Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, 12 p.m.-9 p.m. Purchases of the artworks are available online. Prices range from NIS 1,000 to NIS 80,000.

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