Old Jaffa, the sleepy, seaside neighborhood of winding cobblestone streets and galleries hawking mostly old-fashioned artwork, isn’t what it used to be.
The historic neighborhood has had a facelift, thanks to this year’s Illustration Week, a 10-day Tel Aviv event, November 15-24, highlighting the art of illustration as presented by artists of all mediums, and housed in galleries and museums throughout the city, with a special focus on Jaffa.
Some 14 of the 50 exhibits created by more than 100 artists are being shown in galleries and spaces of Old Jaffa, turning this quaint, sun-drenched neighborhood into something far more lively for the 10 days of the art event.
A DIY tour of Illustration Week exhibits can start at the Jaffa Museum, now reinvented as Atar, a multidisciplinary artist residency project hosted by the museum, and comprised of artists’ studios and exhibition space.
Start off with “A Family Gathering,” on the second floor, showing works of several artists who delved into their family’s pasts to portray works about their personal histories.
Illustrator Amit Trainin painted pillowcases to illustrate his childhood of sleeping away from his parents in the children’s house of Kibbutz Beit Nir. Arrayed on the floor in a grid, similar to beds in a dormitory, the colorful pillowcases first appear to be illustrated with images and quotes meant to inspire sweet dreams, said Trainin.
A closer look, however, reveals thoughts and sentences that he heard as a child, such as “Head to the wall,” what he and the other children were told when they needed to stop talking, or the threats they heard if they tried to run away.
“That whole life doesn’t exist anymore, but the parents were in a dilemma of what to do,” said Trainin, who had his mother — present on a Sunday-morning tour of the exhibit — reveal that his younger brother once asked why the family’s dogs were allowed to live at home with them, while their children weren’t.
The arches around the room were illustrated by Trainin with images of the kibbutz and snow-filled forests, part of his childhood dreams about World War II and the partisans who hid in forests, images that formed the basis of his imaginary life.
Those thoughts and dreams about the Holocaust were central for the other two illustrators in this top-floor gallery, all born long after the war, but to families and a country that was still deeply enmeshed in its aftermath.
Artist Itzik Rennert took the sides of several freestanding walls and, armed with photographs of his family, drew his own inked caricatures of his family portraits, scribbling their nicknames, making fun of their outfits, and writing his own thoughts about their backgrounds and stories on the whitewashed walls.
“It’s a Holocaust story, but I didn’t want it to be sad,” said Rennert. “I was born only 20 years after the Holocaust, and that stuns me. These people,” he said, pointing at his relatives, “just had that bad timing.”
Farther in the gallery was the work of Yana Bokler, who was born in the Ukraine and knew little about the Holocaust, until her family emigrated to Israel and eventually met other family members here.
That discovery led to hearing more about her family’s history from her own grandfather, a raconteur known for his jokes and storytelling, and who let Bokler in on his own survival story in the forests until his debut onstage in Moscow, all of which is drawn in pen and ink on another long wall of the gallery.
At the back of the gallery are the exhibit boxes of “SSSuperpharm,” where a group of silversmiths displayed their own illustrative works, with a sharp focus on irony and the Israeli experience.
Einat Leader dipped olive pits in sugar paste and gold leaf, creating clever little doves to demonstrate her ironic take on the peaceful olive leaf: “You can’t threaten a dove with an olive.”
Kobi Roth engraved a banner of world leaders, with the faces of Mussolini, Herzl, Caesar and others hammered out of silver, each with an element added to their features, demonstrating their foolhardiness and hubris as leaders.
Alongside, jeweler Vered Kaminski sculpted “Selfie,” a pure white circle of cow and sheep heads in her nod to George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, pointing a finger at the political bankruptcy apparent in the Israeli government.
Outside the museum, the paths of the neighborhood led to the Gallery of Old Jaffa, where Michal Bachar and Jerry Shai Sarig brought black-and-white imagery to great effect on the stone walls and ceilings of the space.
The two both play on black and white, but with different materials and imagery. Bachar uses portraits to make life-size sculptures out of black, laser-cut metal that are affixed to the wall, creating layers of shadows and imagery.
Shai Sarig, a fashion designer by trade, embroiders her small, cartoonish characters on white muslin with black thread, bringing her own situations to life on the muslin canvas. She first works in ink and then prints the images on fabric, working with a Bedouin embroiderer who sews the images on the fabric, letting the ends of the thread hang loose on the front side, creating two images, one on the front, the other on the back.
“Attention was a real issue for me as a kid,” said Sarig, “and sketching was always a way for me to focus and pay attention.”
Finally, the self-guided Jaffa tour takes visitors along to the Architect House, a gallery for architects that is displaying works about the home of the future, offering an architectural conversation about what kinds of homes people will be living in 30 years from now.
The eight different artists offered widely varying options, from a revolving curtain printed with images from a typical apartment and a lucite sculpture combining Mary Poppins household goods that emerge from her carpet bag.
There was the No Home capsule, a Kickstarter campaign about a home that will be a traveling capsule, and another architect’s use of blocks representing rooms that will fit together like a puzzle, offering each person what they need in a home.
There’s another full weekend ahead of Illustration Week, and the rest of this week as well, for wandering Tel Aviv from north to south, entering galleries that are free of charge and taking advantage of those visits and other events, including a pop-up illustration school for kids after school hours.
See the Illustration Week website for more details and times.