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Immigration, introspection, identity: Young Bezalel grads to look out for

CM 28/07/2021

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Every summer, Israel’s art community ascends Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus for one of the biggest exhibitions in town – the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s graduate show, featuring the final projects of the latest crop of emerging artists who have studied in the nine different departments operating in the institution.

This reporter, a Jerusalem Post contributor and art critic, paid a visit to the capital’s promising event and selected her four highlights. Two of them are on view in the graduate show of the Fine Arts Department; two more are on display at the academy’s Screen-Based Arts Department.
While the works were created across various mediums, all seem to be guided by a keen desire to reflect on and explore their creators’ personal, national and aesthetic backgrounds. Together, they coalesce into a visual journal, giving rise to the voices of young artists who are trying to understand and cultivate a statement on what it means to live and create in the tension-fraught Israel of their generation.

1. ‘Yasmeen’ by Asia Zughaiar

One of the most riveting projects on view in the graduate exhibition of the Screen-Based Arts Department is the short film Yasmeen, created by artist Asia Zughaiar. In a department known for producing avant-garde and at times painfully contemplative videos, Zughaiar’s work stands out for its candid and unassuming pictorial and narrative qualities. Merging raw footage in nature and Zoom conversations between the director and her friend Yasmeen in a style reminiscent of such journey films as Into the Wild, it tells the story of a Palestinian amputee whose biggest passion in life is mountain climbing.
The camera follows Yasmeen as she ventures on her weekly climbing trips, grappling with her physical inability and the mental setbacks that make her doubt her ability to join her peers. It also offers an intimate yet unsentimental peek at the budding friendship between two young Palestinian women and the tension caused by their mutual decision to turn Yasmeen, her challenges and her triumph into the subjects of her friend’s academy project.

While the work certainly includes engaging political scenes in which Yasmeen discloses her ambivalence regarding her status in Israel, its strongest moments are to be found in the mundane video conversations the two women share. “Today wasn’t good without you,” director Asia tells Yasmeen in a scene that shows her clasping her cellphone closely after an exerting climbing session without her friend who had to abstain due to her physical condition. In four simple words, it asserts that the tenderness and intimacy shared by people – regardless of their national, political or physical affiliations – are the simplest yet most interesting topics worth exploring both in life and in art.

2. ‘I Killed My Friend’ by Moaad Gader

“I had a dream… or let me say it was a nightmare. Yeah, I know my English is not that good but for some reason I feel that I should do it that way.” With these opening words, uttered by the artist himself in a thick Arabic accent, begins an 11-minute journey inside the interior of a dark, candle-lit and liminal space in which the director embarks on a poetic and tragic sparring session with his past. Chain-smoking cigarettes on the floor of a bathroom whose sink overflows with water submerged in blood, Gader – who stars in his own work – carries out a sad and introspective monologue in which he seems to try to come to terms with a separation from a loved one through a pathos-filled but nonetheless piercing cinematic language.
“It was very peaceful, the moment I realized that I am the one who is leaving,” Gader admits in a shaking voice against the backdrop of footage of the mysterious interior. Above all, Gader’s work is fascinating because of its visual accuracy, with beautiful frames such as one featuring cloak-wearing characters dancing in a circle and dropping to the floor –  which seem to derive their inspiration from the austere cinematic syntax of 1950s French neo-noir films. With a clear interest in stretching the boundaries of cinema by exploring his own psyche and the tension between his mother tongue and the lingua franca, it is interesting to see where Gader will turn next in his work.

3. ‘Celebration’ by Rotem Weizman

Tucked inside one of the interior presentation halls of the Fine Art Department’s graduate exhibition is a minimalistic yet visually compelling work by graduate Rotem Weizman. Unlike its boastful name, her project – a video diptych screened in a darkened room and playing in loops – is a sinister, meticulously staged and thoughtfully designed work that ruminates on the rite of matrimony in traditional society and on the idealized representation of women and family life.
On one screen are depicted a hassidic-looking couple, garbed in religious attire and clasped in an embrace. The pair, who gaze intently and apparently past one another, are seen dancing slowly in circles, orbiting around one another in a strange and tense movement that looks nothing like a celebratory wedding march. On the adjacent screen, the pair are seen installed inside a fish shop that seems to belong in a Jerusalem market stall of the previous century. The camera then turns to focus on the delicate bare hands of the bride, who skillfully descales a fish in a gesture that appears to silently speak volumes about the complexities of the marriage ceremony and the pain inflicted on women throughout their domestic life.
Weizman emerges as a confident artist who already possesses a cultivated style of her own, one that brings to mind images from the silent film era of the previous century and particularly corresponds with the visual dialect of such works as the iconic play The Dybbuk. Nonetheless, the work doesn’t seem to offer a resonant narrative, leaving something to be desired. It could use a more coherent installation mode, accompanied by a curatorial text (which was left out of most exhibitions in the department this year) and more importantly, appears to serve as only one chapter in what could become an intriguing series of video installations. 
AN INSTALLATION view of the project ‘Mother Country’ by Vlada Shtroymisch. (Photo credit: Lena Gumon)AN INSTALLATION view of the project ‘Mother Country’ by Vlada Shtroymisch. (Photo credit: Lena Gumon)

4. ‘Mother Country’ by Vlada Shtroymisch

One of the most mature and well-rounded projects presented in the Fine Arts Department is Mother Country, crafted by graduate Vlada Shtroymisch. Unlike some other projects, which seemed to show fragmentary aspects displayed mid-process, Shtroymisch is showcasing a strong mini-exhibition of her own, which includes a sculptural object, an installation, a sound work and a video that join together to tease out a humorous and irresolute story about the artist’s perspective of living in Israel as the daughter of immigrants.
Piles of sand mounted on a makeshift closet, a fan made from the leaves of a local palm tree that abruptly switches on and off and a video of the artist herself cleaning up a carpet laying out to dry in what is presumably the backyard of her family home, all accompany a recording of a woman speaking emotionally in Russian. Shtroymisch translated into Hebrew and then scrawled the woman’s words – most likely her mother’s – in her own small handwriting on the wall, turning the spoken confession into a strange memento, an artificial evidence of her family’s illogical decision to uproot and relocate to Israel.
“I really love this country a lot / I love it I won’t replace it I just won’t / I’ll say it again I won’t grow tired of repeating that I love this country a lot I’m happy here,” read the words. Juxtaposed as they are by the symbolic imagery Shtroymisch has erected, the words are stripped of their patriotic essence and instead rendered into a written testament of the artist’s conflict of displacement.
Other noteworthy projects are My Blue Period, a clever and minimalistic painting installation by graduate Gilad Leiba; And to Pulp You Shall Return, a gentle and intelligently detailed series of works of ink on paper and manipulated paper by artist Or Nigri; and Tzirim, a coming-of-age short film by Jonathan Maoz that combines his memories of rapping and skateboarding in Jerusalem.
The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s graduate show is on view until July 30. Opening hours: Wednesday-Thursday 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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