Jerusalem street art exhibit sheds light on Israeli women heroes

Tel Aviv street art and graffiti born in the wake of October 7 has been recreated at the Djanogly Visual Arts Center’s “Heroines of the Hour” exhibition, curated by Yuval Caspi, which opened in Jerusalem last week and will run through March.

“‘Heroines of the Hour’ showcases citizens, as well as soldiers, who have suddenly become our heroines due to the extraordinary bravery they demonstrated during the difficult days,” explained Hila Timur Ashur, artistic manager of the Djanogly gallery and Jerusalem Municipality Center for Visual Arts, part of the Jerusalem Foundation.

The idea behind “Heroines” was to create “a topical exhibition that would reflect feelings, thoughts, and ideas in a kicking and artistic way that would allow it to continue to resonate,” she said. “What has happened to us all is that all our realities have changed and become temporary since October 7 – just like graffiti is constantly changing, and one work reacts to another.

“Graffiti is one of the areas that is being developed at the Djanogly Center for Visual Arts because it is very much developing in the world and because it is a way to reach teenagers, which is one of our goals,” she added. Students attend art classes at the center above the gallery after regular school hours.

“I hope to provide an experience that will allow them to express themselves, to be free, and to feel that they have a place,” said Timur Ashur, who believes that art is “a tool for bridging, a tool for healing.

‘Rachel and the Cookies’ by Grafitiyul, depicts Rachel Edri as Wonder Woman, based on an illustration by Daniel Amit.  (credit: Suzi Bar)
‘Rachel and the Cookies’ by Grafitiyul, depicts Rachel Edri as Wonder Woman, based on an illustration by Daniel Amit. (credit: Suzi Bar)

“And at this time, art is an island of sanity. Teenagers go through a great upheaval and are at an age when it’s hard to talk about it. We want to open a window for them. This reflects the idea behind the whole exhibition,” she explained.

“Our home has been broken into, looted. We are all residents of the Gaza border communities. We were all kidnapped. We all don’t have a home. And our job is to rebuild it.” 

For Timur Ashur, “Our heroines, Inbar Heiman [aka Pink/Raven] who was killed, and others who saved so many, are the heroes who are building the house as in [street artist] Alef’s work. We are all heroes and heroines.

“Besides these heroines,” she added, “there are also the female artists and graffiti artists who felt called to serve and went out to spray their colorful responses to the painful reality on the walls in the public space, bringing optimism with them.”

Many of the works on display at the Djanogli Gallery are replicas of murals first created in Tel Aviv, some sprayed directly onto the walls of the gallery, others painted on canvas. 

Timur Ashur observed that the original grafitti works were created “in direct response to the events of the hour, emphasizing how much artists – and street and graffiti artists – in Israel feel a sense of obligation and have a mission to express themselves, even in the difficult and challenging times we are living. They mobilized to influence in the only way they know how – through color in the public space,” she said.

Tel Aviv street artist Alef, who has two pieces on display and teaches graffiti at the gallery, said, “By bringing some of Tel Aviv’s most interesting and active street artists to the capital, Caspi has curated a colorful and eclectic exhibition featuring re-imaginings of Marvel comic-book characters such as The Black Widow and Wonder Woman, as well as the vintage cartoon hero Popeye; installations that bring color and escapism to the gray reality of these trying times.”

“HEROINES OF the Hour” opened on a rainy evening in the Katamonim neighborhood. The weather added to the mixed emotions that characterized the event. On the one hand, there was the color and light in the gallery, which were coupled with pink decorations – a respectful nod to the late street artist Pink/Raven, for whom the evening was a memorial tribute. Lightening the mood considerably were the refreshments, with their early Tu Bishvat fare and hot wine – and the music.

“The opening was very complex because we opened on the day of a huge disaster in which 24 of our soldiers were killed, and there was a storm outside,” Timur Ashur said. 

Jaffa-based rapper Isaac the 2nd, who attended the evening, described the experience as “painful, yet potent,” an exhibition of “creativity and strength, and a memorial to Inbar – known in the Tel Aviv street art scene as Pink and more recently under the second name of Raven – one of the many young people who lost their lives tragically at the Supernova music festival. I often see her art as I walk in Tel Aviv.”

“Heroines of the Hour” took off with Grafitiyul, a group of street artists whose work pays homage to heroines of the war. They created a painting of a pink and purple raven representing Inbar and her legacy, in an almost choreographed, touching, live art tribute. The crowd stood silently together under the white pergola, their emotions palpable, watching the artists as they created. 

“The exhibition is a testament to the potency of the ability of the Jewish people to make art out of tragedy,” Isaac the 2nd added. “It was ultimately encouraging – and reminded me of wall drawings I had seen when visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I thought about how creativity really is one of the main attributes of Jewish culture.” 

Dekal Oshfiz aka Hatush Hayarok, a close friend of Pink’s and a co-creator at the beginning of her career, dedicated a huge mural to Pink/Raven (Tribute to the Pink Question) in the Pink Room installation. Looped videos of her work were screened on one of its walls. Other artists added their own tributes in the room, including street poet Dina Segev, Tal Tene Czaczkes, and Alef. Graffiti of a UFO by Hatush Hayarok above the exit of the room reads “Pink is free.”

‘Rachel and the Cookies’ and ‘Inbal Lieberman’

On October 7, Rachel Edri of Ofakim kept herself alive by her wits, baking cookies for the Hamas terrorists who broke into her home, while managing to send a message to the police. She kept the terrorists – who were there to kill her and her husband – at bay for seven hours. 

Her bravery is commemorated by Grafitiyul, who depict her as Wonder Woman, surrounded by her cookies. Graphic artist Daniel Amit created the initial sketch as a digital illustration, in which the character of Rachel Me’Ofakim appears as a superhero from an American comic book and is reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter. 

After uploading his original image to the Web, Amit was approached by Grafitiyul, requesting permission to use the illustration as the basis for a wall painting in South Tel Aviv. A collaboration was born, leading to additional ventures in the public space that connect superheroes with the heroes of the hour. Rachel and the Cookies and several other works have been sprayed directly onto the Djanogly gallery walls by Grafitiyul.

 Their works include graffiti based on another Amit illustration of one of the first heroines to be recognized in the war, Inbal Lieberman, the security coordinator of Kibbutz Nir Am’s alert squad. Together with members of the squad, Lieberman prevented Hamas terrorists from penetrating the kibbutz. 

In the painting, Lieberman appears as the Marvel character The Black Widow, with an M-16 rifle in each hand, and behind her the unmistakable yellow gate of the kibbutzim and moshavim in Israel. Lieberman had decided to keep the gate closed – a decision that saved the lives of many kibbutz members.

Another impressive work in this collection depicts two of the tazpitaniot (female lookout soldiers) who kept warning that Hamas was preparing for an attack and were repeatedly ignored.

I am looking for freedom – the MissK?

A week after the exhibition opening, Iris Haim, mother of the late hostage Yotam, spoke at the gallery about how to be a light and not stay in the pit, and how to live happily, even when the ground falls away from under your feet. Yotam was mistakenly killed by IDF soldiers days after he and two fellow hostages had managed to escape their Hamas captors.

His mother’s signature statement, “If anyone wants to do something good for Yotam, adopt a cat,” had already inspired Keren de Mis, aka “the MissK?” to paint the I am looking for freedom mural in Tel Aviv. 

“The three big cats hanging at the center of the exhibition are an homage by the MissK? to the three hostages – Yotam, Alon Shamriz, and Samer Talalka,” explained Timur Ashur. The MissK? recreated her mural of three cats with writing in Hebrew letters spelling out the English words ‘I am looking for freedom.’ The ginger cat in the middle is a symbol of Yotam.”

A second mural by the MissK? is of multiple colorful heads, with the text “Half a pin on the map of the world,” referring to the size of Israel and its right to be left alone. The MissK? is also responsible for Israel’s unmistakable homage to Picasso’s famous anti-war painting Guernica, created in Tel Aviv post-October 7 and now making the rounds on social media.

Tal Tana Chechax’s ‘Popaita’

Among Tal Tana Chechax’s contributions to the exhibition is a canvas painting that introduces Popaita, a hybrid of two characters, Popeye the Sailor and Olive Oyl his ladylove, from the comic originally created by Elsie Seeger in 1929. The artist blends Olive’s head with Popeye’s body. 

“The figure is painted in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag,” pointed out Timur Ashur, “and lifts a barbell to symbolize the power of a woman in a male world. Popaita is part of a series on female empowerment that the street artist has been painting for the last few years.

Unity between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Graffiti artist Alef said he was honored to have been able to attend the special opening in memory of Pink/Raven, as well as paint a work titled All Israel Are Heroes to One Another for the “Heroines” exhibition.

His piece, he explained, depicts “the two very different cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which both have a special place in my heart. It shows two figures meeting in the middle of the composition to symbolize the unity that we must pursue in order to overcome this darkest of periods in our history.”

In Alef’s painting, the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv appear on both sides, with two schematic figures connecting them to symbolize unity and mutual guarantees among all the citizens of Israel. 

“The figures symbolize the heroic Israelis who build the dream and connect Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They are the street and graffiti artists who work in the public space of Tel Aviv and come to Jerusalem and put the Tel Aviv street walls onto the walls of the gallery. All of Israel are heroes to each other. The colors of the work, gold, blue, and white, symbolize the luxury of being Israeli,” he said.

Alef dedicated his work on canvas to the memory of David Newman, Asaf Shlezinger, Osher and Michael Vaknin, Shani Luk, Inbar Haiman, Elyasaf Shoshan, all who lost their lives in the Oct.7 massacre and the Israel-Hamas war, and to the safe return of the hostages and the IDF – and to peace, speedily, in our days.

Star of David

Artist Ezra Herman created Shield of Israel, a fractal mandala-like image of brightly colored geometric shapes that is a multiplication of dozens of Stars of David, a symbol of protection, as well as defense. He taught himself how to make a bulletproof painting by watching YouTube videos. His object is a single Star of David shield, which symbolizes protection and connection – and is also bulletproof. 

Alef, who also portrays the Star of David in his piece, explained its significance. 

“The idea of the nation of Israel being made up of individuals who come together creating the Star of David also connects to the idea of the cherubim from the Holy of Holies, our Creator’s earthly dwelling place in the ancient holy temples of Jerusalem,” he said. 

“When we are facing each other with love, then everything works out for us. The golden crane in the middle is symbolic of the dream of the complete rebuilding of Jerusalem, where we will have a house of prayer for all nations. One that allows everyone to worship freely in the way that they see fit.”

The works of artists Palm Hospital Graffiti team, Elinoy Kislov, Maayan Mola, Nof Dvir, Edva Ben-Dor, and Ignacio Gerenstein are also on display in the exhibition. ■

‘Heroines of the Hour’ is on show at the Djanogli gallery, 3 Tuvye St until the end of March.

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