|By Rivka Borochov
Photos courtesy of ISRAEL21c
A crucified woman with two heads, bike chains superimposed on pastoral landscape paintings, street art on factory walls, and clusters of young artists working side by side to make their artistic visions come true: Welcome to Kiryat Hamelacha, the Workers’ District in South Tel Aviv, Israel.
Street art in South Tel Aviv
A couple of streets lined in factory warehouse buildings not only house small shops for metal, glass and printing businesses, but have become a new refuge over the last 10 years for young contemporary Israeli artists as well.
Israel’s edgiest artists, translating their local culture to locals and to international viewers, can best be felt, seen, heard, tasted and even smelled in this somewhat rundown district.
This place where swarthier characters might roam at night is really the perfect setting for art and artists, says Yonatan Mishal, who runs CTLV, a tourism company for art and culture in Tel Aviv. An artist himself, Mishal says that the Workers’ District, the main part of it running through Factory Street, is where to see young Israeli artists in action thanks to affordable rent, easy access to parking, a do-what-feels-right-environment and the freedom to paint and make noise at all hours of the day.
Celebrating three new cultural centers
This year there is a growing interest in the contemporary Israeli art scene, thanks to a new initiative by the city of Tel Aviv called Art Year 2012.
The event didn’t come out of the blue: This year, Tel Aviv re-opened three of its newest cultural centers, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, and the Habima National Theater, after extensive renovations and upgrades. Art Year celebrates these buildings in the context of the new art scene.
On the last weekend in March, galleries throughout the city spilled onto the street, and Mishal was giving foreign and local press an exclusive peek at what’s going on behind the factory doors.
At the Rosenfeld Gallery with CTLV guide Yonatan Mishal, far right
Winding up staircases past factory workshops and the occasional fashion studio, Mishal swings open doors to enclaves of young artists working side by side, sometimes in a shared space housing five or six of them at a time.
Other opened doors reveal fine establishments like the Rosenfeld Gallery, opened originally in downtown Tel Aviv in 1952, one of the first art galleries in modern Israel. Its two-year-old branch in South Tel Aviv aims to stay in tune with the new lifeblood coursing through the veins of the Tel Aviv art scene, a scene that is raw and visceral, playful and political.
Zaki Rosenfeld is currently displaying the works of artists such as Marik Lechner, in his opinion one of the most important Israeli contemporary artists. The oil paint is still wet on some of Lechner’s canvases.
Where raw and street art is safe
The Raw Art Gallery shows works merging the Jewish narrative with other worldviews such as Christianity. Its current exhibit, “Showing the Tragedy in Ethical Life” by Jonathan Hirschfeld, might make some Israelis uncomfortable, says Mishal, but it’s those kind of feelings that put art on the edge, and not in a necessarily safe place.
Other artists inhabiting the district include pioneers like Yuval Caspi and Ido Shemi, two upstarts who use Israeli icons like the soccer hero to playfully challenge the Israeli masculine stereotype and way of life. Shemi has developed a new character, “Israbilly,” and facetiously hoped to have him become the new Israeli mascot for the 2012 Olympic Games.
While everything they do seems to be a joke, on another level their work makes perfect sense -- making one think about Israeli identity, where it came from and where it’s going.
Outside of the studios, Klone and 0 Cent are two of 20 street artists in Tel Aviv grappling with newfound recognition while learning how to hold onto their first and true nature of making non-commercial street art. Some of their earliest works can still be seen on the streets in the Workers’ District on a wall that intersects with Factory Street.
“This art, although street art, is consistent with the way other artists develop,” says Mishal. “It develops its technique and content.”
He says Tel Aviv doesn’t exactly know how to handle street art, because on one hand it may be considered vandalism while on the other it can really beautify a place.
But artists, street or more traditional types, don’t have these doubts in the Workers’ District where art that’s planted on the walls is -- at least for now -- here to stay.