Capturing the complexity of Israel and the Palestinian territories and the varied identities of the region’s inhabitants and their deep, complicated relationships with the land is a tall order, but that is exactly what J. Susan Isaacs and Martin Rosenberg present in “Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art.”
The exhibition, on display at Towson University’s Center for the Arts, features 52 contemporary art works by 36 Israeli artists that utilize a variety of media as well as mixed media.
Two of those artists are featured in associated galleries: Haifa artist Naomi Safran-Hon at the Silber Art Gallery at Goucher College; and Tel Aviv artist Dorit Feldman at the Jordan Faye Contemporary gallery.
The art provides a variety of lenses for the viewer to get a glimpse into the complexities of Israel. Through the pieces, artists communicate the despair of having to leave one’s home, spiritual connections to iconic places and pivotal events in the country’s history. Identities of the region’s various ethnic and religious groups are showcased through photographs and laid bare in portraits.
“The show is very broad, ‘Visions of Place,’ and it presents many different points of view; they’re not all my point of view, but there’s an attempt to be quite balanced,” said J. Susan Isaacs, a Towson art history professor who curated the show with Martin Rosenberg, chair of the department of fine arts at Rutgers University’s Camden campus. “We tried to put in works that could cause dialogue but hopefully not terrible argument.”
The show is split up into five units: The Past in the Present, People in the Land, Contested Geographies, Interventions and Diverse Identities.
Safron-Hon’s “Wadi Salib: Hollow Home” depicts a crumbling home, almost melting on the ink, lace and cement canvas. The home is in the former Arab and later Israeli neighborhood of Wadi Salib — Arabs fled when Israel was founded.
Toby Cohen’s “Sunrise at Masada” is a composite pano-ramic photograph showing three Orthodox men at the top of Masada, seemingly connecting to God through nature.
“Ehab Bi’ane” is a piece from Israeli photographer Natan Dvir’s photo essay exploring 18-year-old Arabs in contrast with Israelis, who graduate high school, can vote and serve in the Israel Defense Forces at that age. One of the gallery’s most poignant photos, “Last Supper,” also by Dvir, shows a large Jewish family eating a meal around a table with devastated looks and tears streaming down their faces as IDF soldiers stand at the head, waiting to escort them out of their home and the Gaza settlement in which they lived when the meal was over.
In the mixed media realm, Tamir Zadok’s “Gaza Canal” reimagines conflict and turns it into cooperation with this mockumentary where a canal is built, but then floods, making Gaza its own island. Even after an earthquake, island reconstruction is prompt and swift. Adorning the video’s corner of the gallery are “Gaza Canal Visitor Center” mugs and towels and “Gaza Canal Swimming Club” T-shirts.
Feldman’s “And hopes that set them sailing in other directions” superimposes an early map of Jerusalem over an image of Hula Lake in northern Galilee. The lake was dried up and flooded to become Israel’s first nature preserve in concert with the Zionist idea of reclaiming the land and making it productive.
“The cultural expressions of my life as an Israeli are local yet universal. I am linked to the landscapes, heritage, history, literature of my land. I live in the conflicted reality, but in my art I try to open my and the viewer’s mind to wider options of transmutations,” Feldman said. “Israel should be not observed only through the political issues, and that is the advantage of visual art that is chosen by the curators. … Not to be declarative, superficial, one-dimensional, but an outcome of humanistic, aesthetic values and multilayered theoretical preferences.”
Jordan Faye Block, who runs the Jordan Faye Contemporary gallery hosting Feldman’s work, said her pieces take the viewer to faraway places but also contain intimate moments.
“I just find them very engaging, and so I’m immersed in just sitting there and feeling all the texturesand feeling the presence in them,” she said. “They’re just really profound works that make you think more deeply about life and death and what those things are, and place does that for some people.”