Why do you create (art)? 4th Jerusalem Biennale show answers: For heaven’s sake

Why do you create (art)? 4th Jerusalem Biennale show answers: For heaven’s sake

The exhibit showcases 200 Israeli and international artists for 6 weeks, with works displayed in iconic venues, seeking to bring people together in a conflicted city

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

'Waterfall,' a video installation by Marina Abramovic in the historic YMCA indoor pool, as part of the 4th Jerusalem Biennale (Courtesy of the Marina Abramovic Archives and MONA)
'Waterfall,' a video installation by Marina Abramovic in the historic YMCA indoor pool, as part of the 4th Jerusalem Biennale (Courtesy of the Marina Abramovic Archives and MONA)

A massive tapestry of 1950s-era Moroccan vinyls hangs from the ceiling, a famous Moroccan model is crowned with a wreath of sfinge doughnuts, and dozens of frames show Instagrammed photos of Moroccan youth, all taken with an iPhone.

They are some of the 18 works featured in “Ziara: Moroccan Wisdom in Jerusalem,” one of the exhibits in the 4th Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event bringing together 200 Israeli and international artists to 14 spaces and galleries in the city October 10-November 28.

With exhibits in the YMCA, Hutzot Hayotzer, the Begin Center, Heichal Shlomo and the Clal Center, the Biennale is an art show that includes artists both Jewish and not. It revolves around the theme of “For Heaven’s Sake,” exploring motivation for action and artistic creation, along with the Jewish tradition of dispute.

“Ziara,” gathered in one of the high-domed spaces of the YMCA, is perhaps more about motivation for artistic creation than dispute.

Artsi Mous ‘Moroccan Souvenirs,’ featuring a well-known Moroccan model with a crown of ‘sfinge’ doughnuts, featured at the 4th Jerusalem Biennale (Courtesy Jerusalem Biennale)

According to its curator, Amit Hai Cohen, it presents a selection of Moroccan art, created by both Moroccans, who are very aware of the Jewish influence in their land, and by Israelis of Moroccan heritage.

All the participating artists in “Ziara” explore the Jewish foundations of Moroccan culture and how they’ve manifested themselves in Moroccan society and in the hearts and souls of Israelis of Moroccan heritage.

“It’s really a mess in here,” said Cohen, pointing around the room. “We like it like this — this is how Moroccans think, all together in one room, all connected to each other.”

One of the dominating pieces is a video work by film director Shlomo Elkabetz, who filmed his sister, Ronit Elkabetz, prior to her death, talking to people on the street in Morocco. It’s a fitting part of the exhibit, overlooking the room full of Moroccans.

Photographs by Hicham Benohoud show images of a Moroccan family at home, but with jagged holes in the ceiling, or their furniture split in half — with the younger generation sitting on one half of the couch and the older on the other side — in a literal representation of the the family unit breaking apart despite the lasting notion of the home at the center of that unit.

Hicham Benohoud’s photo ‘La Tronc,’ of broken families and traditions in Morocco, featured in the 4th Jerusalem Biennale (Courtesy Hicham Benohoud)

“We find a kind of common wisdom,” said Cohen. “We’re all in this together.”

It’s also appropriate that “Ziara,” looking at the Jewish connection to Morocco, is situated in the iconic YMCA, a first for the Biennale. It wasn’t by chance, said Rami Ozeri, the founder and head curator of the event. He wanted to include the Christian organization that welcomes people of all religions and faiths in the art event.

“Maybe it marks our way for the future,” he said. “It’s important to have all routes; art brings people together, especially in Jerusalem which is so conflicted. Art is healing.”

Andi Arnovitz’s ‘I’m Not’ at the YMCA for the Jerusalem Biennale (Courtesy Ido Noy)

The YMCA’s historic but empty indoor pool is also housing several other Biennale installations, including “Waterfall,” a video installation of 108 images by Yugoslavia-born, US-based artist Marina Abramović, each showing a Tibetan monk or nun chanting in meditative abandon, accompanied by a “waterfall” of sound filling the space.

Just across from the pool are more than 1,000 handmade porcelain fish by Jerusalem artist Andi Arnovitz, in her installation titled “I’m Not.” The mural of fish wandering across the wall draws on the visual tradition of fish as a historic Jewish symbol — akin to, but different from that of Tibetan monks.

It’s all for the sake of heaven.

Other highlights at the Biennale include an artistic conversation about climate change in “Living Under Water,” at Heichal Shlomo, a reflection from five Israeli artists who took up temporary residence in Venice and explored the issue through a Jewish lens.

Leora Wise’s work, ‘Venice Jerusalem,’ from the ‘Living Under Water’ exhibit at Heichal Shlomo, part of the 4th Jerusalem Biennale, (Courtesy Ido Noy)

“Table of Content/Table of Contacts” is also at Heichal Shlomo, and presents an exhibit from the Jewish Artists Initiative (JAI) of Southern California, which includes a video installation and original artist books that represent voices of American Jewish artists of different ages and backgrounds.

At the Menachem Begin Center is “Hebrew Suffragists: 100 Years,” dealing with women’s voting rights in Israel.

There’s a Jewish Street Art Festival during the Biennale, bringing together street artists from the Diaspora and Israel who will create street art with Jewish themes.

Kol Ha’Ot in Hutzot Hayotzer is hosting an exhibit that addresses the culture of dispute with an experimental exhibition by designers and artists who responded to the call.

There are also gallery talks, panel discussions, performances and English guided tours on Hol Hamoed Sukkot. All information is available at the Biennale site.

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