Crumbling, abandoned Jordanian army barracks on the banks of the Dead Sea were reinvented as vast concrete canvases by 10 visiting muralists in time for Earth Day, marked on April 22.
The group, from Argentina, Paraguay, Greece, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and the US, was gathered by Craig Dershowitz of Artists 4 Israel. He’s been bringing artists to Israel for more than a dozen years, so they can beautify the country while learning about it.
This year’s plan was to paint near the border with Lebanon, but recent tensions on the northern front forced Dershowitz to find a new site.
With the help of Itay Manor of Minus 430 Gallery, they were brought to the Dead Sea and ,former Jordanian army barracks at Kalia Beach which have long been an eyesore.
The Dead Sea sits between Israel to the east and Jordan to the west, and its northwestern shore was contested military territory prior to the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel took over control of the area.
The Jordanian military left behind barracks that have sometimes been canvases for graffiti messages of all types, left by Palestinians from neighboring Jericho and Israelis from nearby kibbutz communities.
“Now they’re canvases for our artists,” said Dershowitz. “We’re turning the entire thing into one of the largest outdoor art galleries.”
The artists spent a day exploring the Dead Sea and speaking to local residents from nearby Kibbutz Kalia “and anyone we met,” said Dershowitz. “Tourists, strangers, it was information-gathering.”
They then spent the next week painting some 12 hours a day, from early morning until the light faded in the early evening, to create their visions of the Dead Sea landscape.
Muro, a Spanish artist, said that painting in the middle of the desert, watching the Dead Sea and Jordan in the background, made him feel blessed.
“Sunset light makes colors seem warmer, it’s special,” said Muro. “I knew the extreme situation of this sea, the global climate emergency has more strength here. The ephemeral aspect of our paintings and our existence comes to my mind.”
Paraguayan artist Oz Montania created an abstract map of the Dead Sea, a place that he said offered him a child’s sense of wonder.
“The location where we painted was surreal; it looked like a movie set. You could see bullet holes in the buildings and all the time I tried to imagine what it would have been like 50 years ago,” said Montania. “I believe that the place has tremendous potential and that art is crucial to redefine spaces.”
A graphic designer by training, Montania has always been interested in the ability of images to convey information efficiently, and while researching for the mural, he decided to overlay three maps to be able to visualize in a single glance the drastic reduction of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea’s water level is dropping close to four feet every year, and the main part of the lake is now two-thirds smaller than it was 50 years ago.
Portuguese artist Vile created a 3D mural of a fusion of graffiti letters with his name melded with the environment, fauna and the local landscape, in order to have viewers interact with the work.
“The Dead Sea is one of those unique places on the planet that we hear about, and that we never dream of having the opportunity to visit,” said Vile.
The murals are now the start of a much larger undertaking, said Dershowitz.
“We don’t yet know what it will all look like,” said Dershowitz, who believes the site will be one of the world’s largest outdoor galleries.
His plan is to continually bring artists to paint murals on the other structures, with viewers stopping by for the outdoor artworks.