Open Air Galleries: Israeli Street Art

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A sign of hope in Jerusalem

Whether it is a political or religious statement; call for social justice; expression of poetry; or a way of marking one’s history or passing, man has always felt the need to place a sign of his existence for posterity. From the ancient cave writings to street graffiti, Israel has its own unique style. I’m sure there are markings from Biblical times on stones and in yet undiscovered caves. The earliest that I’ve encountered here is Crusader graffiti. Notched into the walls in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem are myriad crosses, the sign of the knights and pilgrims who paid homage to the spot in the Middle Ages. There are hundreds of them!

Modern “urban guerrilla art” had its start in Israel in Haifa in the very early 2000’s. Four teens, Unga, Tant, Deso & Kip formed the Broken Fingaz Crew and started painting brightly colored pictures and murals on walls and abandoned buildings. At first, their work was covered up, but as people began to appreciate their  artistic endeavors, and to see the actual beauty, it gradually began to be left in place. Today, they have gained not only acceptance, but fame and a large following in the art world. Their designs have appeared on posters, album covers, t-shirts, and is displayed in trendy galleries.

Tel Aviv is definitely the place for the most unique and innovative street art. The hip Florentin District has quite a bit as do the old quarters of Neve Tsedek and Yaffo. In fact, it has become so popular, there are explanatory tours given in Hebrew and in English by Dioz (himself a street artist) and by my personal favorite, Guy Sharett (Guy has the most wonderful podcasts teaching Hebrew, Streetwise Hebrew, and several Youtube posts – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED). He’s one of the most interesting guides in Tel Aviv, explaining in depth the artist and the sometimes hidden meaning behind each piece of art in this open air gallery.

Some of the pieces are just fun, starting with the easily identifiable work of Sened, known for his wood-cut block characters that are painted over and then applied to the desired surfaces. Also starting his art in the early 2000’s, his characters are known as kufsonim(boxy guys) and can be found throughout Tel Aviv.

An artist with the tag “Dede” moved from California to Tel Aviv in 2010. He is known for his images of wildlife and of bandaids, symbolizing healing (as in a globe plastered with bandaids; a heart with a bandage).

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There are several graffiti images with Biblical references. For example, the story of Cain and Abel placed in the present and making a statement of responsibility for our fellow human beings.

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There is a type of street art that pastes pre-done drawings directly on the wall. This is one, in Yaffo, upholds the virtues of ecumenism and peace. It shows a mufti, a priest, and a rabbi holding hands – notice the skateboard and skates!

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Others are cute , like the sketch of people cleaning off their feet on a wall bordering a Tel Avi beach; and other symbols of pop culture.

Nitzan Mint is a young woman who had a difficult time finding an outlet to publish her poetry. So she combined it with art and took it to the streets of Tel Aviv. She has since gained fame as a respected Israeli poet.

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In Jerusalem, the artist Solomon Souza wanted a way to add color, energy, beauty, and a bit of Israeli and Jewish history to the Mechane Yehuda market in Tel Aviv. In 2015 he started spray painting the metal doors of the vendors with gorgeous murals. He has gained international acclaim, and has had gallery shows and offers to promote several product lines. I love his pieces!!!

The “Na-Nachs” have left their mark here as well. These Hasidic followers of Rebbe Nachman Maiman of Uman, with their hippie lifestyle have graffitied EVERYTHING here – walls, stones, houses, you name it – with their tag: Na, Nach, Nachm, Nachman, from Uman in huge, usually colorful, block Hebrew lettering reminiscent of Biblical script.

And because this is a religious land, one can find all kinds of humorous references or tongue-in-cheek puns. Like this one. A take on Psalm 137:5  an admonition to never forget the importance and holiness of Jerusalem. This graffiti plays on that, with “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, it is because of Tel Aviv.” Obviously the nightlife, secularism, and activity of Tel Aviv has rubbed off!

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And to remind us that there are angels everywhere-

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Israeli graffiti can be quite thought provoking as well – for example this simple Hebrew word is the first word in the prayer said several times a day, the V’ahavtah…. and you shall love (the Lord your G-d and your neighbor). It is a command. but when a question mark is placed after, it becomes – ” And so??? Have you loved?”

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This, too is a good one. For Jewish people who keep Kosher, it is forbidden to mix meat and dairy products. So here is a reminder from the father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. His famous quote is “If you will it, it is no dream.” Turned around here to say – “If you will it, NO!!!!”

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And of course, there are always political statements as well:

A reminder to the Anglos:

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And a clever piece for the visually impaired to enjoy as well-

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I wish I had gotten a photo of one my son thought amazing. You can see it randomly on walls or freeway overpasses, but it one scrawl that is always soon removed. “Why did I draft????”

Israel is a provocative land – one that frequently calls me to thought or to action. I do not always agree with all of the statements or ideologies that I have presented here, but it provides a glimpse into the culture and diversity of its people. I leave you with two last pieces:IMG_8463

          You don’t write the graffiti. It writes you.

and finally-

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( This piece is dedicated to Katie and Britta – the two people who have expanded my horizons in street art. Love you both! Enjoy!!!)

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