I’ve followed the work of Ai Wei Wei for a number of years and had the great fortune to see his installation exhibition at Alcatraz a few years ago. It was amazing to find an exhibition of his work at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. One question I’ve had about his work is, would his work be as meaningful or would he have as much attention for it if he had not been a Chinese dissident and imprisoned for speaking out against the injustices he sees. This show confirmed for me that his work is probably among the most powerful and potentially effective means of communicating injustice around the world and maybe even making change. It certainly makes you think- first step on the road. I have chosen to include excerpts from the caption panels that appeared with each work as it helps you understand his thought processes and about his personal struggles.
“Sunflower seeds, 2010, porcelain” (detail)
In China as in Israel, sunflower seeds are a popular snack, sold in the streets and symbolizing leisure and summertime.
In China there is another connotation. During Mao’s regime the communist leader likened himself to the sun and his citizens to sunflowers, bound to him by total loyalty just as sunflowers are bound to the sun and turn to follow it across the sky. Evoking the artist’s youth in the streets of Beijing after his family’s return from exile but also the bitter taste of Mao’s rule.
It took 2 years for over 1600 artists in the town of Jingdezhen to sculpt and hand paint the 23 tons pf porcelain seeds that compose this installation. Jingdezhen is one of the oldest sites for the production of porcelain and by the 14th century it had become a flourishing porcelain center, with the finest pieces reserved for the imperial family and the rest sent for export. Until the 19th century, the production of porcelain remained a well kept secret restricted to China, hense the name china when referring to porcelain. Today the Chinese government encourages its citizens to give up traditional crafts in favor of modernity and economic development.
“Finger 2014, printed wallpaper”
At first glance this wallpaper seems to be covered in innocuous decorative motifs, but on closer inspection a repeated pattern of severed arms with raised middle finger is revealed Interestingly, the artist has chosen to complete the arm with an ear rather than a shoulder, so that the offensive gestures seems to symbolize the response of oppressed people to what they hear. The middle finger gesture is a recurring motif in A’s work. Though distinct in their specific features, all the wallpapers in the exhibit share the idea of concealment, alluding to the covering up mechanism of powerful and oppressive bodies.
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 2016, LEGO bricks
Three mosaic images made of Lego bricks document an art performance carried out by Ai in 1995: The artist took a 2000 year old Han dynasty vase and sent it crashing to the ground symbolically referring to Mao’s destruction of China’s historical tradition during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when temples and antiquities were systematically annihilated as part of the communist leader’s war against bourgeois society. Ai reapproriates this ancient tradition, becoming a link in its long chain and acting to preserve the Han dynasty, at the cost of breaking one of its antique urns.
Ai’s choice of material, Lego bricks is also significant In 2015 the artist planned to create a work in Lego bricks but to his surprise the company wrote to inform him that they refused to sell him the materials because they were unwilling to collaborate in a political artwork. He reponded by posting their letter on his Instagram page, and as a result was flooded with Lego bricks sent to him by supporters from all over the world. His choice of this material alludes to the idea of small pieces combining to form a greater whole, as well as to the integration of high and popular culture but after the Lego Company’s letter it also becoame a political act. According to Ai, censorship though more overt in China, is also present in the West where the power concentrated in the hands of big corporations actively undermines individual freedom.
“Trees 2010-2016, wood and steel/Rocks 2009-11, porcelain”
Ai started working on his “Trees” series in 2009. Each tree is composed of readymade pats of dead trees gathered from the mountainous region of southern China and sold in the market of Jingdenzen.
“IOU Printed Wallpaper, 2011-13”
In 2011 as he was on his way to an exhibition of his work in Taipei, Ai was arrested at the Beijing airport and brought to a secret detention facility, where he was kept in solitary confinement for 81 days, watched around the clock by two guards who were forbidden to talk to him. After his release he was accused of tax evasion and fined 2.4 million dollars through his company Beijing Fake Cultural Development, Ltd. which he was ordered to pay within 15 days. The police barred him from appearing in court for this appeal which was rejected. Supporters from all walks of life throughout China rallied to help him pay his fine, raising 1.3 million dollars in the day. Ai issued an IOU acknowledging his debt for each one of the loans, 3366 of which constitute the wallpaper in this gallery. Each IOU is headed by a term such as Equality, Justice, Fairness, or Freedom of Expression. And the amount of the loan appears in colorful stamps. The details of the lenders were inscribed in calligraphic script by a team of volunteers who wished to contribute to Ai’s just battle against the authorities
With this act he reconstructed in his imagination as and in ours- the trees that were, infusing their parts with new life To consolidate the sculptures he added nuts and bolts that emphasize the tension between the natural and the artificial. The artist’s construction can be seen as alluding to the modern “Republic of China” which was created by combining disparate geographical and cultural entities into a unified nation in a policy aimed at promoting China’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.
In a process that lasted several months, the artist, assisted by carpenters, combined these disparate parts- trunks, branches, and roots- into whole trees through a traditional Chinese mortise-and-tenon method, in which the joints are hidden and no glue is used.
The “rocks” placed between the trees like stepping stones, endow the whole installation with the appearance of a Zen garden, symbolizing the cycle of birth, maturation, waning, and death followed by rebirth. Ai’s porcelain rocks were made in Jingdezhen using the traditional technique.
“Soft Ground, 2009, carpet”
The idea for this work originates from when Ai was invited to present an exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2009. The venue is charged with historical meaning: built during the Third Reich, it was inaugurated in 1937 to house the “Great German Art Exhibition” aimed at displaying lofty German art and emphasizing the purity and superiority of the Aryan race. One day after it opened, a pendant exhibition devoted to “Degenerate Art” was opened, featuring works by such Modernist artists as Nolde, Kirchner, Freundlich, and Kandinsky.
Ai decided to create a work that would connect this low point in Western history with the present. He photographed the 969 tiles that cover the floor in the Haus der Kunst and sent the photographs to a carpet factory in Hebei province in China, where he had the workers weave a carpet that was an exact replica of those tiles.
Photographs of the process involved in making the carpet.
Detail of photograph showing the process
Photograph showing the process
The result was so good that some of the visitors to the 2009 exhibition were not aware that part of the floor they were walking on was actually a carpet. The carpet was made using a traditional artisanal technique developed under a tyrannical regime from Imperial China, highlighting the dissonance evinced by cultural masterpieces created in such dark regimes.
The work’s title refers to the coating- usually beeswax- with which the plate is covered in the etching technique, and indeed the carpet can be seen as an impression of the floor. This representation of the original floor- complete with the marks and blemishes accrued since 1937- is now displayed in Jerusalem, where it becomes charged with new historical significance. Whereas in Munich Ai played with the visitors’ eyes, alluding to those that covered their eyes in order not to see the surrounding reality, here he displays the carpet against a starkly distinguished background, highlighting the absurdity of the idea of a race superior to all others.
“Odyssey, 2106, printed wallpaper”
In the winter of 2015, Ai opened a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos, an entry point into Europe for Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees fleeing their war torn homelands. Feeling compelled as an artist to engage with humanitarian issues and to raise awareness of the ongoing refugee crisis, Ai initiated a number of projects on the island, together with his studio assistants from China and Germany. Drawing on research into both contemporary and historical global migration, he created a wallpaper adorned with motifs from the lives of the refugees, including a sense of warfare, the destruction of ancient cultural sites, the journey across both land and sea, squalid camp sites, and demonstration.
Ai chose here to address burning political issues about militarism, migration, and displacement in a style reminiscent of ancient Greek pottery, with its decorative black-and-red graphic figures. The way in which Ai’s wallpaper is divided into strips each densely filled with repeated motifs, conveys the sense that the violence and terror can go on forever. In an ironic twist, whereas ancient Greek decorated pottery mostly celebrated scenes of heroism and glory, AI’s work depicts the shameful actions and inaction that characterize the contemporary moment.
“Chicken Cups, 2014, porcelain”
The 25 cups are copies of 15th century Ming dynasty cups decorated with roosters, hens, and chickens. The original cups of which only 16 are extant, are part of a series that is considered among the rarest and most precious Chinese antiquities in existence, and therefore fetch extremely high prices. The series made the headlines when art collector Liu Yiquin acquired one of the cups at a Sotheby’s auction for $36 million.
By replicating these cups, Ai makes a comment about the commercialization of culture and history. Mocking the hallowed notion of the “original” Ai’s “fake” cups change the object’s status, since it is no longer rare, and hence devalues it. With this work Ai puts the spotlight on the privatization of cultural masterpieces that should rightfully belong to all.
“Cosmetics, 2014, jade”
Cosmetics was carved out of jade- a precious material used in ancient China to fashion commonplace as well as ceremonial objects, from buttons and calligraphic tools to ritual figurines and imperial burial suits. Cosmetics also go a long way back in the history of Chinese society. In ancient China, especially during the Tang dynasty (618-907), makeup, nail polish, and perfume indicated a high social rank. In contrast, during Mao’s regime (1949-76), women exposed their skin to the sun and shed their “capitalistic complexion”. With this modern Western cosmetics set sculpted in jade, Ai brings together the past and the present.
Handcuffs 2011, jade
Sex Toy, 2014 jade
Handcuffs evokes Ai’s illegal 81-day incarceration in 2011 during which he was handcuffed to a chair and interrogated over 50 times. The work was carved from jade, a precious material with deep roots in Chinese culture, associated with the soul and immortality, and therefore contrasting starkly with the motif of the handcuffs and what it represents- violence, oppression, and the violation of human rights. Sex Toy, also crafted from jade unlike handcuffs, sex toys are primarily used in contexts of pleasure and fun. While sex toys such as these are common, they are not usually displayed in public. Ai subversively carves the phallic object from jade and removes it from the realm of the private and intimate. In doing so he is protesting against the limitations imposed on sexual content and on the definition of normative sex.
“I-Phone Cut out, 2015, jade”
By displaying this common technological commodity in a stylized museum showcase, Ai turns it into something rare and precious. Communication technology and the social media are the basic tools in Ai’s political and artistic practice, and he uses a wide variety of digital platforms to reach his supporters in China and around the world. In 2009, following the publication of his blog of the names of 5,196 victims- mainly schoolchildren- who perished in the Sichuan earthquake, the authorities shut down Ai’s blog, and he has since moved to Twitter and Instagram to conduct public discussions.
I-Phone Cutout is carved out from a Neolithic period jade axe, displaying an interesting tension between its contemporary silhouette and ancient material. The Neolithic jade axe was a ceremonial object (jade not being a suitable material for a practical axe), though its precise function is unknown. With this piece, Ai uses the same material to create another tool that has no clear function
“Set of Spouts, 2015 porcelain”
In the mid-1990s Ai began to amass a vast quantity of ancient Chinese objects and fragments of objects that were discarded as a result of acellerated industrialization and urbanization, incorporating them in his work. These included Neolithic implements such as stone axes and sculpting tools and Buddhist ritual objects such as jade figurines and fragments of sculptures from the 4th to 8th centuries. By displaying them as contemporary works of art, Ai gives these objects a new lease on life.
Set of Spouts is a porcelain cast of teapot spouts from the Song dynasty (960-1279)- just a small sample of the 40,000 Ai has assembled until now and displayed elsewhere as a carpet covering the gallery floor. The spouts, recalling human bones, raise questions relating to the authenticity and cultural value of archaeological objects.
“Remains, 2015, porcelain”
One of the most disturbing of Ai’s works, “Remains” consists of porcelain replicas of human bones-skulls, pelvises, ribs, and tibias. The precision of the sculpting and coloring of these objects makes them appear uncannily real. The original bones were excavated at the site of a labor camp to which people considered dissidents and enemies of the state were exiled during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The conditions in these camps were extremely harsh and many of the detainees lost their lives due to famine or disease. Ai employs porcelain, a material closely associated with Chinese culture and identity, to represent the horrors of these historic events.
This work also has an autobiographical dimension: in 1958, during the Anti-Rightist movement Ai’s father the renowned poet Ai Qing, was denounced as part of Mao’s campaign against intellectuals who dared criticize his regime. The Ai family was exiled to labor camps, first in the northeast and later in the northwest of China, where they lived in abject conditions. Ai’s father was made to clean public toilets and as a result his health suffered and he lost his vision in one eye. Only in 1976, following Mao’s death, was the family allowed to return to Beijing. These formative years in Ai’s life had a tremendous influence on his development, shaping his identity as an activist and his lifelong engagement against social and political injustice
“Rui, 2012, porcelain”
In ancient China, a ruyi (as you wish) was a scepter symbolizing the ruler’s authority. Later it became a talisman for good fortune and longevity, and was often used in imperial ceremonies. Its curved shape combined the forms of immortality emblems such as the lingzhi fungus, dragon, phoenix, and lotus flower. The ruyi was generally made of gold, crystal, jade, and other precious materials. By making the object in porcelain and designing it in the shape of human organs- a heart, arteries, lungs, liver and intestines- Ai invests his ruyi with new meaning. The internal organs combine to form an oddly terrifying mythical creature that embodies the tension between power and physical vulnerability.
“Suitcase for Bachelors, 1987 suitcase, soap, toothbrush tube of toothpaste”
Made while Ai was residing in New York, this early work incorporating everyday objects clearly references Dada founder Marcel Duchamp, who Ai discovered at that time. Ai affixed the tools of our daily routine- reflecting his life in those years. He arrived in the US at the age of 24 with just $30 in his pocket, surviving from odd jobs and by playing blackjack in Atlantic City. He was constantly on the move in NY, changing apartments ten times in those years, all of which became meeting places for Chinese avant-garde artists. Ai remained in the US until 1993, when her returned to Beijing to care for his ailing father.
“Bicycle Basket with flowers, 2015, porcelain”
In 2011 Ai was arrested and held in detention without trial for 81 days. After he was released, the government refused to return his passport, de facto restricting his freedom of movement. This sculpture was created as a result of the artist’s fight to regain his passport: every day for 600 days- the time it took him to retrieve his passport- Ai placed a fresh bouquet of flowers in the basket of a bicycle parked outside his studio, documenting it on social media.
The fresh bouquet of flowers may be seen as a multicultural symbol representing the artist’s right to life, which the Chinese government claims from its citizens at a whim, as well as that essence which makes life worthwhile and to which we all aspire.
“Free Speech Puzzle, 2105, porcelain”
Shaped like a map of China, this puzzle is divided into pieces reflecting the different regions and ethnic groups that compose modern China. Each piece is inscribed with the slogan “Free Speech”.
The porcelain pieces are inspired by traditional pendants bearing the wearer’s name, which serve as a talisman. These pendants could be made from a wide range of materials such as jade, porcelain, or wood and thus also indicate the wearer’s social status.
“Blue and White Porcelain Model of Descending Light, 2014, porcelain”
The stack of blue and white vessels, reminiscent of traditional Chinese porcelain, is a variation on an earlier work by the artist, Descending Light (2007) a monumental spiral chandelier that looks as if it just fell on the floor. Both works seem to “freeze” the moment in time before the object’s imminent fall and its aftermath. The original piece is red, a color symbolizing both imperial and Communist China. In the new piece Ai gives the chandelier a blue and white glaze associated with the high-quality porcelain that was reserved for the Emperor in ancient times. Today, chandeliers are a standard feature of the interior design of luxury hotels and restaurants in China, connoting grandeur and affluence. All this political and economic power is about to come crashing down in Ai’s piece.
Light and chandeliers are also highly symbolic in the West, signifying enlightenment, truth, and knowledge. The work’s title seems to express the hope that the light will shine and the truth will come out- but to reveal what exactly? The question remains open….
“Wave plate, 2012, porcelain”
Ai has always been fascinated by the motif of waves, and here he incorporates it in the design of a porcelain bowl- an object closely associated with the material culture of traditional China. Allying the past with the present, the work draws on a number of sources: a water lily that appeared to the artist in a dream two weeks before the great 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; painting s from the period of the Yuan dynasty ((1271-1368), in which the motif of water featured prominently; and Japanese prints- especially Hokusai’s “Great Wave” (1832). The choice of porcelain to embody water posed an obvious challenge because of the contrast between the hard, brittle texture of the material, and the liquid, flowing nature of the motif. Together with craftsmen from the city of Jingdezhen, Ai made repeated trials until he reached the dynamic example seen here. Its gray-green celadon finish, developed in China during the 9th century, recalls the luminous aesthetic qualities of jade.
“Illumination, 2009 printed wallpaper”
In August 2009, Ai traveled to Chengdu, China to testify on behalf of Tan Zuoren, an activist arrested and charged for his activities in researching the student deaths from the Sichuan earthquake, Ai was in his hotel room when police officers forced their way in and beat him, thus preventing him from attending the trial and from testifying. He complained of pain from the beating he had endured and the police allowed him to go to the hospital. On his way out of the hotel, Ai noticed the mirrored surface of the elevator and quickly snapped a photograph on his cell phone. This image would later be shared online, alerting Ai’s supporters to what had transpired in Chengdu.
Unlike regular selfies, which people usually post on social networks to share their presence at a party or in an enjoyable moment, Ai’s selfie serves as a political tool documenting and illuminating acts that the Chinese government would rather keep secret.
“Illumination, 2009 printed wallpaper”
In August 2009, Ai traveled to Chengdu, China to testify on behalf of Tan Zuoren, an activist arrested and charged for his activities in researching the student deaths from the Sichuan earthquake, Ai was in his hotel room when police officers forced their way in and beat him, thus preventing him from attending the trial and from testifying. He complained of pain from the beating he had endured and the police allowed him to go to the hospital.
On his way out of the hotel, Ai noticed the mirrored surface of the elevator and quickly snapped a photograph on his cell phone. This image would later be shared online, alerting Ai’s supporters to what had transpired in Chengdu.
Unlike regular selfies, which people usually post on social networks to share their presence at a party or in an enjoyable moment, Ai’s selfie serves as a political tool documenting and illuminating acts that the Chinese government would rather keep secret.
“Laziz, 2017, color video with sound (14 min)”
In May 2016, Ai and his team traveled to Gaza to film part of a documentary he was making about refugees around the world. Ai visited the Khan Younis Zoo, in which only 15 out of the 100s of animals it had previously housed had survived, all in a state of neglect and near starvation. Among then was Laziz, a 10-year old tiger who was brought from Egypt to Gaza in 2007. Laziz, the last surviving tiger in the zoo became a symbol for the conflict tearing apart the region. Because of war, financial difficulties, and extreme weather conditions, most of the animals in the zoo had died, and the zoo itself, instead of being a source of joy for the coildren of Gaza, became known as “the worst zoo in the world.” In a region where daily life is a struggle for human beings, animals cannot be kept in decent conditions.
Ten months after Ai filmed Laziz in his cage Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization joined with officials in Gaza and Israel to rescue the 15 surviving animals, moving them to zoos in Israel and around the world where their needs could be provided for. Laziz was flown to Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, a nature reserve in South Africa, where, for the first time in his life, he could have a taste of freedom.
“Three Clothes Hangers as a Star, 1987-88, metal hangers in wood frame”
While he was residing in the United States, Ai discovered the work of Dada founder Marcel Duchamp and was enthralled by his witty approach to art and his use of the readymade. Duchamp became a major source of influence on Ai’s artistic practice and on his conception of the artist’s role.
He employs the mundane clothes hanger as Duchamp might. Unlike Duchamp, who used arbitrary combinations of objects, Ai bends the hangers to form a five-pointed star, the symbol of Community China. The viewer’s eye follows the intersecting lines in an attempt to distinguish the individual hangers. This Ai’s work implies a criticism of the way Communism has eradicated individual identity, enforcing on China a collectivism that ultimately brought about the destruction of its economy and society.
“Hanging Man, 1989, metal hanger in wood frame”
One of Ai’s earliest works, is an homage to Duchamp, referencing the latter’s use of coat hangers in his works. Ai bends the hanger to look like a line drawing of Duchamp’s profile.
“The Animal that Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca, 2015 printed wallpaper”
From afar, this decorative wallpaper evoking a rococo design seems to belong in a place rather than a museum. Only from up close can we see that the gilt ornaments are made up of surveillance cameras surrounding a Twitter bird as well as other birds, chains, handcuffs, and alpacas.
Ever since the government installed a battery of surveillance cameras around Ai Wei Wei’s home, these have become a recurring motif in his work he sculpts surveillance cameras, photographs them, and uses them as an ornament in his wallpapers. The wallpaper, which covers, and thus conceals the wall, is a cynical allusion to the elegant way in which tyrannical powers cover up their repressive acts and spy on other citizen.
The enigmatic title relates to the Chinese word for “alpaca”, which can also sound like an insult. It has become a popular slogan against the authorities as it is used to circumvent governmental censure, and is also widely used in campaigns for freedom of speech and against online censorship. The alpaca has become a symbol of protest.
“Untitled, 2005-2006, Tieli wood ornaments from a dismantled temple of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and found metal chairs”
This work- a sculpted beam connecting two metal chairs may seem puzzling at first, but to the Chinese its parts are both meaningful and topical: the chairs are similar to those used in police interrogations and the beam was recovered from the remains of a dismantled Qing dynasty temple.
With this work- as with most of his artistic activity especially since his return to China in 1993- Ai protests against the way the Chinese government places its citizens under surveillance and interrogates them. Here the roles are reversed; it is no longer the citizens that are scrutinized but rather the authorities, represented by remains of the temples they destroy in the name of progress and development. The fragments symbolize not only the destroyed temples but also the eradication of China’s cultural past.
Detail of Qing Temple element
“Kippe, 2008, Tieli wood from dismantled temples of the Qing dynasty and iron parallel bars”
Under Mao’s regime, Ai Wei Wei’s father, the poet Ai Qing, was exiled with this family to a labor camp in Shihezi, where they lived for eighteen years. One of Ai’s salient childhood memories is the chopped wood for heating that his father would pile up in a highly aesthetic stack by the side of their house, drawing the admiration of passers-by
Kippe consists of 6000 pieces of wood that Ai gathered from temples that were destroyed by the Chinese authorities in order to make way for a surge of new development. The wood is framed by a pair of parallel bars evoking a branch of athletics that was commonplace in Chinese schools.
The traditional Chinese method of working with wood, wherein the pieces are held together without any use of nails, joints, or glue, relies on the carpenter’s profound understanding of the qualities of the wood. In creating this work Ai was assisted by two expert Chinese carpenters, who assembled its pieces in a process reminiscent of the making of a giant three-dimensional puzzle. The aesthetic result combines the artist’s poignant childhood memories with remains from China’s glorious past.
Another small gallery is given over to an exhibit of works in the museum’s collections that doesn’t usually see the light of day. This time the exhibit is entitled “No Thing Dies” and is composed of collages by Lilit Azoulay, combining disparate works of art and the tools and detritus of the museum itself. I apologize for the poor quality of the images. I usually try to find the images online without the glare of glass, etc. but these works are not available so you’ll at least get an idea of how interesting this is. The artist asks the questions, how does an object become a valuable collectible, how does this affect art history and contemporary artistic practice, and can contemporary art offer ways in which the objects may be reused and redefined? Collages are put together as webs of cross-cultural and cross-historical possibilities, allowing the objects themselves to generate narratives both historical and fictional. These large scale collages appear dimensional but are all flat.
For an unknown reason, the place they took empty.
On the most beautiful thing in the world.
Caption of photo: Other children come to play with Eli and Anat and Saul. Anat looks over the wall- what a vast country, and so much sand.
Title of work: Cover Story
All sorts of sights went wrong like a great catastrophe in storeroom for glass.
Imagine that only one person can see the merriness of things.
The life in her is limited to that side only.
The return of things that are no more
Remember from that journey was only this.
Under the surface only the merriness of things could be seen.
New head: when he made the wrong movement he didn’t know what harmony he tore.
One of my all time favorite museums in the world is the Israel Museum, which holds one of the largest collections of antiquities in the world, the original copy of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, outstanding modern art, and I have never visited there without seeing something amazing. This time I am going to talk about three exhibitions in three separate blogs. If you are one of my students there is something for everyone in these three postings so enjoy. The first is from a small gallery that always has a surprising gem of antiquity to share. Those of you in Art Appreciation are just starting to explore ancient art and those of you in Ancient Art History just completed your look at Greece and Rome so you will appreciate this too.
The gallery showed exquisite original Roman gold coins and in the center had a 360 degree option to look at these coins on both sides.
Coins dating 211-294 CE, the portraits are less delicate and more rugged perhaps to emphasize that these emperors were soldiers as well as rulers and some did not come from “high society” either. We even can detect variety ethnicity since most of these emperors were not of Roman or even Italian origin.
These coins date from 294-335 CE show that individual realistic portraits were replaced with a standardized one. The large faces are meant to have a pensive upward gaze that still invokes a sense of power and superiority.
3rd Century CE was a turbulent period with those seeking to seize control striking coins bearing their image and circulating them widely as an attempt to project independence. They often portrayed themselves as soldiers. Since these usurpers didn’t last their coins are very rare as not many were made.
Roman emperors also placed their family members on coins meant to convey to the empire how women were supposed to appear and behave. Sometimes they even depicted their ancestors as gods which would make them sons of gods.
Jerusalem is very hilly and one of the largest hills is called Har Ha’Zikaron (Remembrance Mountain). At the bottom of the mountain is the Valley of the Communities, a stone labyrinth laid out in the shape of Eastern and Western Europe. The canyon created by the stones has the names of all the communities (big and small) lost during the Holocaust in geographical order. One wanders through to find the one that is meaningful to them. It’s powerful. Next up the hill is Yad Va’Shem, the Holocaust Museum, then higher on the hill are graves of soldiers, too many of course. Above that are the graves of the leaders of Israel through time and on the very top is the grave of Theodore Herzl, founder of the nation. It’s a sad place but a very beautiful one and scattered throughout are memorials (not graves) of various significant events in Israel’s history. They are the subject of this blog posting.
Valley of the Communities from above
The section of the Valley that includes Warsaw
Memorial to the Ethiopians who walked to Jerusalem from 1970 to the early 1990s and died on the road. It includes the names on the diagonal slabs, models of the types of huts they lived in in Ethiopia, and rock piles to simulate the graves where they were buried on the road.
Memorial to the Last Descendants is a memorial to Holocaust survivors who were the last in their family left alive. They managed to get to Israel in 1948, and died fighting in the War of Independence. Their memorial is an inverted house stuck in the ground with the roof at the bottom.
The names are carved on a slab that looks like the side that is missing off the top with the entrance empty. The stones you see are left by people who visit.
Memorial to those killed in terrorism attacks. Each black plaque is engraved with the names of those killed over a period of 10 years at a time. Unfortunately, it makes it possible to learn which periods of time have been the most deadly. The corner element “holding it together” is a damaged structure leaning to the side.
Memorial for people who died at sea trying to get to Israel. Their names are inscribed on the bottom of the pool.
Jews throughout Eastern Europe by serving in the Red Army helped defeat the Nazis. They are memorialized here, and it looks like a Soviet style memorial.
Memorial to the Dakar, a submarine purchased by Israel from England in 1968 that vanished enroute in the Mediterranean. There were 69 people aboard and it was not found until 1999. It is unknown what happened to it. It was one of four submarines lost that year- the others were French, Soviet, and American.
A salvaged portion of the submarine at one end of the memorial.
The memorial is below ground, as if you are descending into the submarine. There is a plaque for each of those lost.
This memorial is for those last fighters in the Old City in 1948. I believe there are 35 plaques.
You can see that it replicates one of the alleys of the Old City with plaques on either side. The actual bodies are buried in a common grave elsewhere in the cemetery. This group is called the Lamed Heh (the letters stand for the number 35).
The youngest one memorialized is Nassim Gini who was 9-1/2. He wasn’t in the army but was a runner back and forth in the days before high tech communication.
This seems like an odd name for a synagogue, especially one so beautiful and large in the center of the Jewish Quarter. It was established in the early 18th century and then destroyed by Muslims in 1721. It lay in ruins for 140 years so it became known as the “hurry”, the ruin. It was rebuilt in 1864 only to be blown up by the Arab Legion when they took the Old City in 1948 during the War of Independence. In 1977 a commemorative arch was erected that is the exact size of one of the large arches you see on each side of the building and then a newly built synagogue modeling the original one was dedicated in 2010.
Photograph of the Hurva Synagogue in 1864
Arch erected after 1967 war to commemorate where the synagogue stood
The rebuilt Hurva Synagogue
The fresco over the door is of the Babylonian exile (586 BCE).
Every project in this country has to have an archaeological research to determine if there was something there worth preserving. In this case they unearthed part of the Roman Cardo (main road in town). This dates to Byzantine times, 6th century.
This shows you what is planned to take visitors along the route of the Cardo (Roman boulevard through the center of town)
A ritual bath was also found from a private residence (1st century BCE to 1st century CE).
The ark and main sanctuary of the synagogue rebuilt to look as close to possible the original designs. Notice part of the wall was original from the “ruins”.
Medallions of holy sites on the four corners below the dome. This one of the “machpela”, burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah
This medallion shows the grave of Rachel (second wife of Jacob)
View from on the rim of the dome- el Aksa Mosque
View toward Dome of the Rock
I’ve always been fascinated with the Armenians who live in the Old City. The tall hats in the shape of Mt. Ararat, particularly appropriate this week since we just read the story of Noah on Saturday and the secrecy about their quarter in the Old City. I should explain that I am here partly for a reunion for my very first trip to Israel when I came two weeks after the 1967 War (6 Day War) when I was 16 years old. One of the participants moved to Israel and is a tour guide so he guided our group for a few days to some interesting sites, some of which are a bit off the usual track. This is part of one of them. Getting back to the Armenians, they are believed to have first settled in Jerusalem in the 4th century. Their numbers swelled after the genocide in the early 20th century though their numbers have declined steadily and are at about 2000 today. The Jewish quarter is also today inhabited by about 2000 people though the Jewish community is thriving more than the Armenians. Inhabitants of both quarters are for the most part very religious though the Armenians are much more private and secretive. They do not let visitors enter their section. Both communities within the Old City were lively areas in the 19th century and unfortunately the Jewish Quarter was decimated in the War of Independence in 1948, only allowed to return after 1967 when Israel retook the Old City from Jordan.
The relationship Israel has with Armenia is troubled because while it should recognize the Genocide that occurred in the early 20th century it needs to maintain relations with Turkey. It’s a difficult path they are taking. Genocide is something else Jews and Armenians share in their history.
If you look up in the Armenian Quarter you will see solid walls topped by additional walls with shards of glass. They are serious about keeping everyone out of their quarter.
And of course, everywhere you look you see surveillance cameras, to be expected in this part of the world.
The sign for the Menachem Zion Synagogue for a community that came to Jerusalem in the 19th century from Italy. They struggled once their leader died since he was the main fundraiser as well as leader. The Ottomans were not happy about not getting their “cut” so destroyed the community completely. What is left of it is a small synagogue behind this sign.
Portions left from the destruction of the small community are mainly the synagogue which is still functional today.
The Citadel of David, just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City has a wonderful historical museum about the origins and development of the Citadel and the entire Old City. Just as Mesopotamia was conquered and reconquered over centuries, so was the location of the Old City of Jerusalem. The amazing this is that one conquerer did not dispose of what was already there, rather added to it. Excavations in the Old City are controversial to say the least so there is likely quite a bit that is unknown and probably will never be known about the earliest times of this city.
Model of the City of David for which there is some evidence starting in 4500 BCE though this is speculation since very little remains from the original settlement. You can see how strategically going up the hill was the main impetus for locating a settlement here and the spring at the bottom.
The spring was developed by King Hezekiah to bring water to the settlement., built approximately 8th century BCE.
This model of the Citadel of David shows many different levels of development mostly starting with Herod.
Model of what First Temple may have looked like. Also called the Temple of Solomon it was probably built in the 7th century BCE and destroyed in 586, that resulted in the first exile to Babylonia.
To those of you who are taking “Ancient Art History” these recreated reliefs will look familiar to you with what looks like the Ishtar Gate and an Assyrian type of register.
This may document the exile to Babylonia (a reconstruction)
Remains of Herod’s palace inside the Citadel, dating 1st century BCE.
The Second Temple was built in 516 BCE and then destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans ahead of the second exile. Notice the Temple Mount came to be during this time and you can see the Temple in the center.
This is the temple where Jesus is said to have spent time and these steps/arch are called Robinson’s Arch. It was part of an expansion of the Second Temple by Herod.
This is what remains of Robinson’s Arch, named for the Biblical scholar who identified it.
This is a replica from the inside of the Arch of Titus in Rome that depicts the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people.
After the destruction of the Second Temple the Temple Mount is still there but there is nothing built there. That makes “room” for the Dome of the Rock completed in 691.
Skipping ahead to the Middle Ages, the Mamluks (meaning slaves) were a group of Turkish, Balkan, and Circassians who took power in Egypt and eventually made their way to Jerusalem.
Mamluk style of architecture is what we often associate with the Moorish style of two toned Islamic art including the muqarna (stalagmite type of ornamentation we see in the Alhambra in Spain and the Mesquita in Cordoba)
Finally to the Ottomans who occupied Jerusalem from 1517-1917 when they were thrown out by the British. They neglected the city so badly that it was a nightmarish place for people to live. That’s why in the late 19th century people began venturing out of the city to live.
The interior of the Citadel of David showing the various levels of habitation there and a beautiful glass installation by Dale Chihuly. (the green glass “growing” in the foreground). He filled the entire interior in the year 2000 so it’s nice to see they left something from that exhibition.
Model of the Old City at the Israel Museum in the new part of Jerusalem. At the front you can see the walls which are actually a late edition in the 16th century by Sultan Suleiman.
There is always lots to look at in Jerusalem and whenever you have to good fortune to get a “view” it’s amazing what you can see. It confirms that this city is unique in the world in many ways and I do believe those who say it is exactly the center point of the world. So many revere this place and so many come to experience it.
View from our hotel, always a different view, this time towards the Old City and East Jerusalem
The most famous view of the Old City shows the Dome of the Rock and one end of the Temple Mount
Looking towards the Christian Quarter with the tower of the Lutheran Church visible
In the distance you can see the Mount of Olives cemetery where many important Jewish scholars are buried along with Oskar Schindler and others important to Jewish history. Just a little left of center in front of the cemetery can be seen the dark gray dome of Al Aksa Mosque which is located on the opposite end of the Temple Mount from The Dome of the Rock.
The two bluish/gray domes are the domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was supposedly buried and then rose to heaven. In the foreground is the Armenian Quarter and it is totally closed off from the rest of the Old City. The Armenians do not mingle with anyone and you can’t visit the quarter. Look down into the closed in section that looks like a courtyard ringed with fortified dwellings.
To the far distance you can see the hills of Jordan.
Church of Mary Magdalene to the left and a minaret almost next to it gives you a sense of how close all of this is to each other. It’s a bit hard to tell where one quarter ends and the other begins.
The white dome of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish quarter (more on this in another posting).
A view of the modern city to the West. In the lower left corner the red rooms are the Yemin Moshe neighborhood, the first neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City first inhabited in the late 19th century. Before that everyone lived inside the walls of the city.
Anytime of year is a good time to be in Paris. Left Normandy and returned for 36 hours in Paris. We stayed on the eastern edge of the city but close to the river and Paris is a great city for walking, much like New York. There is so much to see and it’s relatively flat. We did bump into an acquaintance from home and it was a bit surreal to share how much we were enjoying Paris but our minds were “back home” with all those affected by the fires. It’s something only fellow community members can share.
The Bridge of Normandy that crosses the Seine on the way back to Paris. At the time it was built (1995) it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
The Luxembourg Palace was built in the early 17th century as the home of Marie de Medici (the one Rubens painted the series of paintings for). During the French Revolution it was converted into a government building, today housing the French senate.
Notre Dame Cathedral from the east.
Looking out at the city from the Pompidou Center Museum.
Garden at the Luxembourg Palace
Fountain of the Observatory, Luxembourg Gardens, 1874. It was originally part of the reconstruction plans that were proposed by Haussmann. Critics did to like the fountain at first but as these things go, it’s part of the garden aesthetic now.
Facade of the Paleontology Institute, founded by Prince Albert of Monaco
Established in 1910, it is the third oldest research institute in France. The building has intriguing reliefs all the way around the building.
The institute houses and does research on thousands of excavated objects from throughout the world.
In the same neighborhood can be found the Cuvier Fountain, dedicated to a paleontologist and naturalist, Georges Cuvier.
Detail of the fountain (late 19th century) which is located near the Botanical Garden.
What do these two have in common? The Abbey of Jumieges was founded in 654 as a Benedictine abbey, it was leveled by Vikings in the 9th century and rebuilt by William the Conquerer in the 11th century. This large and impressive complex thrived for centuries and was the largest abbey in Normandy. An abbey is a complex of buildings that provides a home for monks and nuns and activities for the community. With the French Revolution and its animosity towards the church, the whole complex was turned into a quarry. It has not changed since with no roof to protect the interior and many walls are entirely gone. There is a group who would like to restore the entire complex but that has not proceeded yet. I hope my photographs will help you imagine the grandeur of this place.
Entrance to the abbey is called the Porter’s Lodge built in the 14th century with additions made in the 17th century in the Neo Gothic style
Parts have been rebuilt since it was used as a quarry for other projects during the French Revolution.
This barrel vault is from the oldest part of the abbey (9th century)
Unbelievably despite the age and no roof some of the ceiling painting in the chapels still exists
You can get a sense of its past grandeur from this and the next few image
Not sure if this is just holding up the window or also meant to show how the window mullions may have looked
Abbey house for dignitaries who would visit from time to time
Remainder from an exhibit called “L’Invention de la Normandie” and this work by Francois Mechain is meant to replicate the Viking ships that came and conquered
detail of the Viking ships, made of rattan