For many, Israel is all about politics and conflict.
An exhibition coming this month to the Susquehanna Art Museum indicates how incomplete that picture is.
“Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art” features 49 works by 34 artists, reflecting the diversity of the country’s population and the richness of its cultural life, according to co-curators Martin Rosenberg and J. Susan Isaacs.
“Israel is a modern nation—built on the foundation of the millennia of history—a focal point for three major religions, and a complex mosaic of people,” Isaacs said.
One artist in the exhibit, photographer Natan Dvir, realized he knew little about Arab society in Israel, though Arab citizens make up 24 percent of the population.
“Most people in Israel ignore the minority, or emphasize problems and stereotypes,” Dvir said. “I decided to create a photographic series of profiles of individuals [who are] 18 years old. That’s the age of adulthood, when young people can legally vote and when Israeli Jews enter the military. Most Arab Israelis do not.”
Though he met with some initial suspicion, Dvir was able to photograph and profile 24 women and 40 men from different social and religious backgrounds, exploring their lives, families and plans and hopes for the future.
Isaacs and Rosenberg consulted experts on Israeli art in Israel and visited leading galleries and major museums in search of artists.
“We realized that, outside of a few internationally known Israeli artists who had gallery representation in the United States—primarily in New York—and a series of once-a-decade exhibitions at the Jewish Museum in New York, none of which have traveled, very little contemporary Israeli art comes to the United States,” Rosenberg said. “We planned a national traveling exhibition from the outset.”
The works are truly contemporary, with most from the last decade. All the artists are Israeli citizens, but not all are Jewish. They include Arab Muslims, Arab Christians and Druze, and half of are women.
The exhibit theme is geography, but this term is used in a broader sense—in its physical, personal, religious, intellectual, political, existential, historical and economic manifestations, Isaacs said.
“Geography, conceived in this broad sense, is an inescapable part of Israeli life, psyche and art,” she said.
Although the exhibit focuses on Israel, the co-curators assert that it raises questions with wider applicability—such as competing views of history and conflicts over space and identity, among others.
Naomi Safran-Hon is another artist in the exhibit, represented by a painting made of acrylic, cement and lace on canvas and entitled “What is Left Behind; What is Left to Take: When There is Nowhere to Return—When We Become Ghosts.”
“This piece was inspired by a photograph of a destroyed home in a Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank after the Israeli military operation ‘Defensive Shield’ in 2002,” she said. “In the piece, the traces of domestic space are enhanced by the use of lace and its decorative pattern. Shadows of figures are present in the lower part of the painting, alluding to life that has been shattered.”
In her paintings, Safran-Hon combines cement, fabric, acrylic and photographs.
“As nontraditional painting materials, cement and fabric incorporate multiple layers of meanings, symbolically as well as concretely,” she said. “On the surface, cement alludes to construction but, transformed in my studio, it reflects the ways in which my life has been shaped by political reality.”
Cement, she said, is associated with strength and power. Lace, on the other hand, is delicate and correlates more with domestic space, she said.
Safran-Hon added that the historical narrative—as well as the current political state of affairs in her homeland—is linked to the way cities and landscapes are constructed.
“In a world engulfed in wars and refugees fleeing their homes, my work reflects on the continuation of historical events on our current environment and the search to find our home and place in the world,” she said.
“Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art” runs Feb. 10 to May 19 at the Susquehanna Art Museum, 1401 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-233-8668 or visit www.susquehannaartmuseum.org.
The museum will host two artist receptions during the exhibition. Natan Dvir will give an artist talk and gallery tour on Saturday, March 9, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Naomi Safran-Hon will give an artist talk and gallery tour on Saturday, April 13, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Contact Info@SusquehannaArtMuseum.org for ticket information.
Other special events include a Members’ Preview Opening on Feb. 9, 5 to 7 p.m., and free admission on 3rd in the Burg nights: Feb. 15, March 15, April 19 and May 17, 5 to 8 p.m.