Three actors step into the role of Israeli soldiers, inspecting traces of buried mines in a stretch of no-man’s land near the Judaean Desert. This is a scene from a five-minute video, titled Seeds (2012), which is part of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi. The narrative examines wars that plague Israel and other parts of the world and includes famous Israeli performance artiste Shahar Marcus, from Tel Aviv, dressed as a farmer, walking with a bag of seeds and planting these at sites where mines were found. It is his attempt to render conflict zones with new hope. Marcus’s inspiration was a news article on Israeli army’s plans to plant tomatoes in fields in the south of Israel. Marcus is among 19 Israeli artists participating in the show, “To the End of Land”, which explores the political, economic and social climate of Israel. NGMA, in collaboration with Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Israel, and the Embassy of Israel in India, has organised the exhibition to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel. The curators of the exhibition are Drorit Gur Arie and Or Tshuva.
“The characters are, in a way, soldiers who are used to taking life. I am changing that notion from not taking lives to giving life,” says Marcus, 46, adding that the video was shot four km from the landmine sites. Recalling childhood memories of seeing cotton fields separating her home city Acre, where she grew up, from the neighbouring Jewish kibbutz, multi-disciplinary artist Anisa Ashkar has framed cotton twigs, painted in gold and black, within wooden boxes on the wall. Through the work, she recalls how the cotton fields of the kibbutz remained a distant dream, a fantasy land, which she and her friends were forbidden to enter.
Curator Tshuva says, “The exhibition is a peek into the issues that contemporary Israeli artists are occupied with. They are also reflecting on the future of the planet and ecological concerns that are not related to certain nations but concern all of us.”
Tired of being bombarded with news revolving around bomb attacks and killings, Israeli artist Atar Geva has assembled countless newspapers into sculptural pieces that resemble tiny mountains resting on the ground, and burnt them as part of the work, Unrest, 2017. Terming his work as “a time capsule”, 42-year-old Geva, who teaches art in Tel Aviv, says, “It reflects how people in Israel cannot listen to news any more. All the headlines appear like bomb attacks on our faces. There is news on how civilians in Israel are under threat all the time. There is never a dull moment in the media here. There is provocation all the time.”
After observing the behaviour of a flock of flamingos in the enclosed premises of Karlsruhe Zoo in Germany over 10 days, artist Nira Pereg came up with her video 67 Bows. Amid the squawks and clucks of the birds, the firing of a gun can be heard in the background and the flamingos collectively bow every five seconds. Witnessing how the flamingos imitate each other, the artist was startled to notice that, when a bird starts bowing, the others follow. Tshuva says, “The video challenges our perception of threat or collective threat and how communities handle threats.”
In Dafna Shalom’s sound and video installation Fearful Days #3, from 2010, two figures enveloped in military camouflage dresses, resemble the grassy fields they have been set against. They engage in a hand-to-hand combat, which resembles a dance-like performance that portrays them like ancient gladiators battling each other amid the ruins of stone walls. These walls date to a time when the British hid weapons to counter possible German attacks.
The work’s inspiration can be traced to the days leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Mizrahi Jews pray and cry endlessly for a month for their sins. The artist is a Mizrahi Jew herself. The work questions the importance of political self-scrutiny and repentance.
Resembling a science laboratory working in full swing, artist and educator Geva’s installation Bubbling, 2018 takes viewers on a trip to an unfamiliar and magical world, where more than 200 plastic tubes, filled with water and bubbles, appear to be facilitating the growth of green algae.
The work brings to the fore activities of the Ecological Greenhouse in Kibbutz Ein Shemer that has been set up by his father. Geva pays an ode to the micro-algae spirulina. He says, “The algae is an amazing solution to many of the problems we have, if we know how to look beyond the microscope. We can produce fuel and purify water. In Israel, a lot of people consume it in the form of tablets and as a superfood, especially those who run marathons. In India, they are used in the water supplied to rice fields to help the crops turn out better and stronger. Spirulina can feed and give energy to a highly populated planet, especially in a country like India, for it is a rich source of vitamins and proteins. It is cheap and accessible even if one doesn’t have access to high technology.”