Asylum seekers featured in living color through portraits and baskets
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Asylum seekers featured in living color through portraits and baskets

Women from the Tel Aviv Kuchinate arts collective were photographed for World Refugee Day, now exhibited through June 30

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

A portrait of an asylum seeker who is part of the Kuchinate arts collective,  exhibited for World Refugee Day, on June 19, 2020 (Courtesy Michael Topyol)
A portrait of an asylum seeker who is part of the Kuchinate arts collective, exhibited for World Refugee Day, on June 19, 2020 (Courtesy Michael Topyol)

Kuchinate, the asylum seekers’ arts collective known for its vibrant woven baskets, is hosting an exhibit and pop-up shop in Tel Aviv’s Engel Gallery through July 2, marking World Refugee Day, commemorated on June 19.

The exhibit features vivid portraits of the female asylum seekers by fashion photographers Miri Davidovitch and Michael Topyol.

Davidovich’s portraits are part of a project embarked on two years ago, while Topyol took his portraits this past winter, prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

Kuchinate, which means crochet in Tigrinya, is an arts collective of African asylum-seeking women living in Tel Aviv that offers psychosocial support aimed at empowering the women, many of whom are survivors of human trafficking and abuse.

A portrait of an African asylum seeker from the Kuchinate arts collective (Courtesy Miri Davidovich)

The studio, located in south Tel Aviv, is known for its shelves stacked with dozens of solid-colored baskets in dozens of shapes and sizes, also sold in home design stores around Israel.

With the advice of Israeli women who helped establish the workshop, the women began crocheting the baskets in bright, cotton fabrics as a way of earning extra money, utilizing skills and knowledge they brought with them from their African homes.

Both sets of portraits spotlight the women of Kuchinate with their handcrafted baskets. TopyoI said he captured the women in joyous, proud moments, while also hinting at their painful pasts.

A portrait of an African asylum seeker from the Kuchinate arts collective (Courtesy Miri Davidovich)

“I photographed the Kuchinate women in a way that would memorialize their beauty and their African traditions, in addition to a glimpse into the horrors they experienced on their journeys to Israel from the Sinai,” said Davidovich.

Davidovich’s photographs are part of an ongoing project entitled “Black City,” in which she attempts to shine a light on the asylum seekers and refugees of South Tel Aviv.

The exhibit includes the photographs and a pop-up shop featuring the cooperative’s signature baskets, handmade dolls dressed in African fabrics, face masks, notebooks and purses, all created by the asylum seeker artisans who make up the collective.

The exhibit and pop-up shop are located at 26 Gordon Street, Tel Aviv. The artisans at the collective will host a basket crocheting circle and Eritrean coffee on Saturday, June 27 at 11 a.m., where people can meet asylum seekers and hear their stories. Participation is NIS 50. Sign-up is at events@kuchinate.com.

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