Note: To see the art I describe below, go to my Facebook page –
It isn’t graffiti. It’s street art, and there’s a lot of it in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood, a run-down transitional section of the seaside city that attracts hipsters, art lovers, and Israelis of every background and origin.
The art is painted liberally on the sides of buildings, in doorways, on lampposts, and on virtually anything stable in the street. This art tells many stories. Most of it is unsigned.
Niro Taub, an artist, and a graduate of the Faculty of Visual Communications at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design was our guide. As we walked the streets, he spoke of the combined currents of history, culture and society, the symbols that are uniquely Israeli and part of western popular culture.
Below are three examples:
The first is a Hebrew inscription over an apartment building door that contains the first three words of Psalms 137:5 (“Im esh’ka-chech Yerushalayim… – Should I forget you, Jerusalem,…”).
The Biblical verse continues (vs 5 and 6): “…May my right hand wither. May my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not recall you if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Translation by Robert Alter)
The second line reads “Zeh big’lal Tel Aviv” (It’s because of Tel Aviv).
Together, the Hebrew (written in a Biblical font) is this: “Should I forget you, Jerusalem, it’s because of Tel Aviv!”
The calligrapher/artist simply and poignantly focused on the wide chasm between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The ancient and holy city of Jerusalem is inherently conservative, constrained and fraught with tension between Haredi and non-traditional Jews, between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, political right and political left. The modern largely secular Jewish city of Tel Aviv is far more laid back. It is alive with art, music, restaurants, galleries, cafes, high-rise coastal hotels stretching from Jaffa to the Tel Aviv port, and a beach community that draws thousands of runners, bicyclists, and strollers, young, middle age and old, every day of the year.
The second photo is a mural of a huge black horse (notice the small car at its base on the street) that was painted by an unknown artist on the side of this large building in the middle of one night. How he/she did it is a curiosity. We wondered what it might mean, but that is part of the appeal. The art is meant to engage the viewer to muse in one’s own thoughts and come to one’s own conclusions.
The third mural depicts seven internationally famed musicians, songwriters and singers who died from a drug overdose at age 27. Included in this rendering is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse. The rubbed-out figure at the far right is the mural’s artist.
This street art creativity is, in my view, an Israeli bright light that’s not widely known or appreciated in the west, and it ought to be.