Just as the US is a nation of refugees and immigrants, so is Israel. Israel is one of the few countries that still accepts (if you are the right “kind”) refugees on an annual basis. In the early 1990s 500,000 Russians immigrated and just last year 16,000 French Jews sought refuge in Israel. It’s no mystery why people seek refuge and two exhibitions at the Israel Museum address this. The two exhibitions are purposely in adjoining galleries even though they deal with different times and different issues. The first is an exhibit of photographs by Yaakov Shofar entitled “Born in Israel” which documents the social history of Israel in the 1970s (a time when I lived in Jerusalem for a year), the time of the Black Panthers movement. It was a protest movement of young people from the Musrara and Katamon neighborhoods in Jerusalem, where immigrants from North African countries were housed starting a few years after the independence of Israel. They were protesting the violent attitudes of the police and the judicial system which was prejudiced against them. The leaders of the State at that time opened discussions with the young Panthers by asking “Were you born in Israel?” It makes us think about the question of origin and underlies the social tensions in Israel then and now. Of course it resonates for Americans at the current moment as well.
The second exhibition is also photography by Ron Amir called “Doing Time in Holot”. Amir’s work has been dedicated to bringing marginalized communities to our attention in photography and video. This show focuses on African migrants and asylum seekers who have basically walked across Africa (rather than making the risky Mediterranean crossings we hear about in the media). The photographs and videos were created over a three year period and mostly are empty of people, just their presence is noted. The Holon Detention Center is located in a desolate area of Israel near the Egyptian border and houses 3000 people mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. The inmates must be inside during the night and be accounted for. They are given food, shelter, and some money. It’s a difficult issue since Israel ha been a refuge throughout its history, so how can people be turned away though it’s impossible to take an unlimited number of people as well. As always it’s complicated.
This brings me to the end of my current trip. It’s raining as we prepare to leave Israel. The holiday of Tu Beshvat was celebrated while we were here and even though it’s winter the trees are beginning to bud. It’s all good preparation for returning to the north coast of California.
A friend in Mendocino has a cousin who has worked in the antiquities department of the Israel Museum for over 30 years. His speciality is art from the 3rd to 5th centuries (so ancient Rome to Byzantine). We met at the museum and he spent several hours taking us “behind the scenes”. It was amazing and I’m sharing some of what we saw.
I always visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and always find amazing things to see. I will have three blog posts on this one excursion because it was quite amazing this time. There are always so many contradictions here in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, and a day at the museum is no exception. Their special exhibit was works by Francisco Goya in honor of his 270th birthday and lent by the Prado Museum in Madrid. The cultural exchange between Spain and Israel only began 30 years ago.
The first series of exquisite prints are from the series called Caprichos. They describe imagery that is part of the “scenery” basically people who usually go unnoticed. In Goya’s hands he placed the figures in the center and turned frivolous images into somewhat sinister ones. The next two are perfect examples of how much Goya was influenced by and admired his predecessor Velasquez. The next series which was considered so radical and dangerous that it was not published until after his death is titled “The Disasters of War”. It depicts the atrocities of war, mostly the invasion by Napoleon that is also depicted in his large scale paintings of May 3, 1808 and then the rest are of the resulting famine from 1811-1812. There is quite a bit of allegory in these prints. A technique unfamiliar to me shown here is called roulette. It’s a special toothed tool used in aquatint to create a dark tone.
It was great to see two of Goya’s most famous paintings (from the Prado) that were created as cartoons for tapestries. Cartoons are full scale drawings or paintings that are then used as templates of sorts for the weavers. They depict a very different scene from the prints. The prints following them are of bullfighting, again influenced by Velasquez and in turn influencing artists like Degas with the diagonals and asymmetrical poles. Check out Degas’ paintings of jockeys to see what I mean. The final prints done just before his death are from a series called “Les Disparates”
I am following with concern what is going on in the US right now and also thinking about where I am in the context of it all. As I look out my window I can see the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) which from this vantage point looks benign but inside things are moving in some pretty disturbing directions. I’ve been thinking that many of you on the north coast look out at the beautiful scenery and the ocean and all looks well though of course, we know it is not.
There are a lot of veterans in the classes I am teaching now and in classes of the past. Most are veterans of wars that took place in this part of the world and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. It’s status quo in Jerusalem as I write but 6 people were wounded today in Petach Tikvah (a town in the center of Israel) and rockets were fired at Eilat. Israel has had quite its share of wars from its earliest time. There is a museum dedicated to a number of the previous wars that I’ve always been curious about but had never visited.
My curiosity was due in part to the fact that my father fought in Israel’s War of Independence and was a Canadian citizen and resident of the US at time which was illegal. It’s a bit of a long story but enough to say that because he was American the Israelis put him in charge of the Sherman tanks they had captured. My father was an intellectual with no military experience so it was a good thing he didn’t really see much action. I had a picture of him (which I’m unable to share here but will add to the blog post when I return home) in front of the Sherman tank and showed it to the soldiers on duty at the museum. They thought it was a marvelous thing and sure enough they have several Sherman tanks. My father fought a war worth fighting and then spent the rest of his life seeking peace.
Who were the Nabateans? At its peak the Nabatean Empire stretched from Yemen to Damascus and Western Iraq to the Sinai desert though no one knows for sure. They were a mysterious group of travelers and traders so it’s hard to know the true extent of their empire. Even though it is known they were literate they left little written record of their lives. We know them from the spectacular architecture, especially the magnificent site of Petra.
As I write this on Friday morning there will be a great deal of frenzy in Jerusalem today as all stores, public transportation, and even most private vehicles do not operate from Friday evening to Saturday night. Yes, we are in Jerusalem and enjoying being with our family. The Sabbath was wonderful as it was quiet and restful. Ordinarily, this is a very busy city though it does kind of shut down fairly early especially this time of year since there are fewer tourists.
The Eugene Delacroix Museum is located in the apartment and studio where he lived in 1857. He wanted to be closer to St. Sulpice where he had been given a commission in 1847 After his death, his friends restored the apartment as a museum and it became an affiliate of the Louvre in 2004. The museum features a series of paintings, pastels, drawings, and prints as well as many letters and mementos. If you are in Art 208 or Art Appreciation (Art 4) you will be learning about this important artist who was a leader of the Romantic style in the 19th century. His expressive brushstrokes and his attention to light had a huge influence on the Impressionists who followed him.
Bernard Arnault commissioned Frank Gehry to design a museum that opened to the public in the Bois du Bologne (equivalent to Golden Gate Park) in 2014. There are artistic commissions for artists who are invited to produce art in harmony with the building, works from the Louis Vuitton art collection, and special exhibits (next blog post). For now this is about the building itself. The geometry of the structure matches the shapes of the surrounding park and the twelve sails play with light and reflections of water from the basin the building “floats” on. While this posting focuses on mostly the exterior (some views from inside) I was most impressed with how well art fits into this space and is not overwhelmed by it.
Note: we are in Jerusalem but grandchildren are occupying our attention at the moment so blogging about the couple of days spend in Paris. Will get to Jerusalem sites in due course.
Winter is a great time to visit Paris (as long as there isn’t an arctic vortex) because there are no intense crowds and the weather is actually quite pleasant. I’m one for colder rather than warmer, since if you are cold you can always add another layer, but if you are too hot not much you can do once you’ve stripped down.
Had a day in Paris and did quite a bit of walking. Dramatic gray skies and iconic Paris sights.