Historic Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh at center of Manofim art festival

Elegant and upscale, the area serves as springboard for examination of displacement and succession as part of the yearly event, along with art and music around town

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

One of Aya Ben Ron's rusted metal sculptures depicting the wounds and injuries suffered in war and conflict, hung on the walls of the Polonsky Building of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem for Manofim 2018 (Courtesy Manofim)
One of Aya Ben Ron's rusted metal sculptures depicting the wounds and injuries suffered in war and conflict, hung on the walls of the Polonsky Building of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem for Manofim 2018 (Courtesy Manofim)

Manofim, a homegrown Jerusalem art festival preparing to launch its tenth annual event, is this year taking a look at Talbieh, a historic Jerusalem neighborhood with elegant villas, institutions and avenues that were once home to well-to-do Christian Arab families.

No longer confined to the Talpiot neighborhood’s mechanics’ garages and artists’ lofts where it was first housed, the festival has previously expanded to East Jerusalem and beyond, in its endeavor to show the entire expanse of the art scene.

The festival, which kicks off October 23, will look at the layers of historic narratives that describe Talbieh’s population, including the European Jews who came to live in the homes abandoned by Arab residents after the 1948 War of Independence. The neighborhood has kept its Arabic moniker, despite attempts to rename it in Hebrew as Komemiyut.

“So much happened here,” said Rinat Edelstein, who, with Lee He Shulov, founded and now directs Manofim.

“It’s not political,” said Shulov. “It’s just what is.”

Rinat Edelstein (left) and Lee He Shulov, the founders and directors of Manofim, the Jerusalem art festival that is celebrating its tenth year, and will open on October 23, 2018 (Courtesy Manofim)

We were in the Van Leer Institute, a venerated research center in Talbieh dedicated to the study and discussion of issues related to philosophy, society, culture and education.

The Van Leer campus of long, gracious low buildings camouflaged by shrubs and trees is located on President Street, named for the President’s Residence — currently housing Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s tenth president — located just next door.

Van Leer is currently home to several exhibits and installations for Manofim, such as library shelves in the main building temporarily created by Etti Abergel, who reimagines the private libraries of those in the neighborhood. The shelves are coated with plaster and filled with other random items, signifying the experiences of residents of the area.

There’s another installation downstairs, “Kushmantush” by Ron Asulin. The artist uses the 1950s slang rechush natush, abandoned property, to examine his family’s experiences in Jaffa. His Moroccan immigrant grandparents received the keys to an abandoned Arab home, where his grandfather found a barrel buried in the ground filled with embroidered bedding and other precious objects and ended up using those items in his home.

Asulin turned that experience into an installation of metal trees being uprooted from the ground, accompanied by a video of a Tel Aviv University laboratory that develops soilless root systems, to represent the uprooting of Palestinian society.

The uprooted installation of Ron Asulin for Manofim 2018, depicting his family’s story in an abandoned Arab home in Jaffa (Courtesy Manofim)

In the nearby Polonsky Building, also on the Van Leer campus, artist Nardeen Srouji created “Column,” a white column that is identical to several other permanent ones in the spacious entrance hall but is missing its middle, symbolizing the process he says Israeli society pressed upon Palestinian society.

“It’s about the lack of belonging,” said Shulov. “A lot of this is also about the conflict of being Israeli and Palestinian,” she added, referring to Arab citizens of Israel. “They have to be both, as if they had a choice.”

Nardeen Srouji’s ‘Column,’ its missing piece depicting an aspect of the Palestinian experience (Courtesy Manofim)

The blank, white walls of the Polonsky Building are the perfect backdrop for Aya Ben Ron’s sculptures of rusted steel, illustrating images from the Israel Defense Forces first-aid handbook.

The dismembered and disfigured images, outlined in the rusted steel, illustrate what is left when a soldier is wounded and question the necessity of war.

Edelstein and Shulov didn’t confine the Talbieh portion of Manofim to Van Leer, but are bringing visitors into several private homes as well as the nearby Museum of Islamic Art and Hansen House as part of “Properties,” the main exhibition of the festival.

Beyond Talbieh are the exhibits at artists’ studios, galleries and alternative spaces throughout the city, with a full listing of the artists and locations on the Manofim website.

One of Aya Ben Ron’s rusted steel sculptures at Manofim 2018 (Courtesy Manofim)

Throughout the week of the festival, there will be tours and talks, such as “The Houses Speak Arabic, In the Trail of Palestinian Urban Culture,” with Anwar Ben-Badis on October 23, and evenings of live performances and conversations at Hansen House, the former leper colony turned art space, which sits on the border of Talbieh and the German Colony.

Hansen House is also hosting the Third Jerusalem Art Conference, a gathering of artists, curators, artistic directors and art and culture professionals.

Manofim traditions continue, such as individual appointments with artists in their studios on Friday, October 26, and the opportunity to view works by the visiting artists in residence at the Art Cube Artists’ Studio, also in Talpiot.

Each day of Manofim ends with a live musical program held in different locations and featuring local musicians, such as Apo Sahagian at the Museum of Islamic Art, Shiran at Hansen House, the Hoodna, a 12-member orchestra of African sounds at the Meir Davidov garage, and Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila at the road safety center in Nayot.

For more information about the exhibits and events of Manofim, visit its website, available in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

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