Rarely does an art exhibit get as underground as this. Literally housed in a below-the-ground bomb shelter, the “Shelter for Art” Gallery (Miklat L’Omanut) is itself somewhat of an earth-shaker. Located in the midst of Mekor Baruch, it is an apparent anomaly in the middle of a predominantly haredi neighborhood contiguous with the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods of Geula, Meah Shearim, which continue along the “black belt” swathe of communities through Romema and beyond.
Not exactly where you would think of going on a gallery hop? Despite the stereotype that these communities are impervious to culture and artistic expression, this refuge (another facet of the word “miklat”) for artists and art lovers was founded by Ika Yisraeli (1931-2009), a bohemian artist who found his way into the typically insular world of strict religious observance. Brother-in-law to 70’s heartthrob Israeli movie star turned Haredi rabbi, Uri Zohar, Yisraeli was an influential “returnee” to religious observance for more than 30 years and found himself without a comfortable setting to enjoy art exhibits, to exhibit his own works or for other religious and accomplished artists to exhibit their works. In 2001, he founded what he billed as the “the only Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) gallery in Israel, in the world, in history.”
If you are thinking that this is a venue for exhibitions of dancing Hasidim and kitschy souvenirs, think again. This “under the radar” venue, has quietly held exhibits for 12 years including names well integrated into the mainstream art scene, such as Leonid Balaklav, Shaul Schatz, Yael Scalia, Hanna Doukhan, Motte Brim, Chana Goldberg and Rivka Peled, just to name a few and, if that were not enough, manages to also house a room for art instruction within the confines of a standard-sized municipal bomb shelter.
The current exhibit is comprised of seven religious women artists who found each other in a project directed towards similarly-situated artists. Each were participants in an award-winning art initiative called “Studio of Her Own,” founded by Bar-Ilan University doctoral candidate, Zipi Mizrahi, which she started in order to make a bridge for the professional religious woman artist into the art world.
Talent alone does not an art career make. Mizrahi felt that the stresses on religious women artists to suppress their creative aspirations in favor of more practical pursuits, as their up-bringing often dictated, put these women at a strong disadvantage as they tried hurdling from their studies into the art scene- a particularly difficult transition for them to negotiate without a stronger support system.
Tamar Rotem reported in HaAretz here,
Mizrahi sought to pique the ambition of the young women by giving them studio space for a period of two years, together with the professional support of working religiously observant female artists. MATI, the Jerusalem Business Development Center, put together a course designed to give them the tools to promote themselves to collectors and gallery owners.
Mizrachi’s initiative, beyond the nuts and bolts of acquiring the skills, place, time and upping their awareness of an art career seems to have also bolstered another aspect lacking for religious women artists: community. No more than 10 artists have been chosen to participate in each year’s program spanning two years, each with a degree from a professional level art school or demonstrated ability, resulting in close to thirty artists who have overlapped in its activities. Studio of Her Own has had four exhibits under its auspices since its inception over its short three year existence at The House of Quality, Barbur Gallery, Jaffa 23, and the 2012 Jerusalem Design Week. (In the name of full disclosure, I serve voluntarily on the Advisory Board of Studio of Her Own).
The seven women in this exhibit took the initiative to organize this exhibit on their own and is an independent effort as a result of their finding each other (and, perhaps, themselves) through the wider opportunities of the program.
Drawing, painting, and etching served as the common glue adhering these particular artists together in this exhibit, whose works were selected by the in-house curator, artist Pnina Ramati Frank. She sees her role in selecting artists and exhibits as broader than that originally envisioned by founder Yisraeli. Frank says,
I am showing artists whose work is appropriate for Haredi eyes, religious and secular and in-between. I’m trying to broaden the artistic language for the Haredi viewers, without offending, and hopefully creating a cultural bridge through art.
Julia Aaronson, Adelle Dahan, Avigayil Fried, Haya Feirstein-Zohar, Lea Laukstein, Rachel Radishkovitz and Yael Shimoni have combined to make this a varied viewing experience, and while nearly all the works shown are within the realm of representation, that is not necessarily their exclusive art focus beyond this exhibit. The art selected is a reflection of each artists’ own world, both the exterior landscape as well as some reflections from more inner thoughts. Straight-forward, without ‘artspeak’ jargon or agendas, the offerings are the result of individual searches and subjective viewpoints.
These are emerging artists in every sense of the word. They are certainly taking the first bold steps away from their teachers, taking themselves seriously as artists, stepping beyond the traditional roles expected of them by family and society.
Did the earth move for me? The Richter scale would not have registered an earthquake. However, the solid work evidences sincere choices and results in some pleasurable viewing. Presented in a stripped bare, accessible and approachable exhibit, the viewer will not miss the pretensions of some more mainstream gallery experiences, and the level of accomplishment will far surpass any pre-conceptions.
When starting below the surface, up is the only way to go. This exhibit is sure to set off some ever-so slight tremors that will bring about shifts on the ground. Through June 23, 2013.
All images courtesy the artists.
Shelter for Art, 7 Yehuda HaMacabee Street, Makor Baruch, Jerusalem, hours 7 p.m.- 10 p.m. to confirm contact Menachem 050-8846843