Contemporary Art in Israel

Confronting local politics--on an international stage.

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New Media

A younger generation is eagerly embracing new media and developments in art practice to explore a variety of themes. Many successful artists from Israel train initially at the renowned art school in Jerusalem, Bezalel, but leave the country to pursue graduate fine arts training in Europe or the US. Some then stay in their adopted countries, representing Israel from an expatriate position.

Ori Gersht (b. 1967) photographs Israeli landscapes with an eye more for poetics than photojournalism. His smeary, blurred depictions of olive trees and the Judean desert also seem to draw forth the mystified past of the land.  Adi Nes (b. 1965) takes up the same subject matter, but focuses his lens more with the precision of a documentarian, often posing subjects in elaborate tableaux. In Untitled (1999), Nes recreated Da Vinci's Last Supper using Israeli soldiers as models.  Sharon Ya'ari (b. 1966), winner of the 2006 Israel Prize for outstanding visual art, photographs ordinary landscape scenes that hint at an undercurrent of anxiety always present in Israeli society during precarious times.

Addressing the Occupation

In the wake of the second intifada, several young artists have begun to critically address the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Part of the generation disillusioned with the practices of conscription military service, Yael Bartana (b. 1970) addresses militarization as a way of life that all Israelis know. Her video works, Trembling Time and Disembodying the National Army Tune play with notions of allegiance and national remembrance of military victories.

Michal Rovner's films present a critique of military dominance over Palestinian territories. Employing a sentimental, self-involved narrative style, Rovner (b. 1957) documents her perception of injustice along state borders. Sigalit Landau (b. 1969) broadens the debate about difference and dominance with her conceptual and sculptural works. She transforms cargo containers into provocative spaces of refuse and refuge, underscoring themes of nomadic desert life and homelessness--both Bedouin and Jewish. Growing up in a Bedouin village in Galilee, Ahlam Shibli (b. 1970) documents Bedouin communities that the Israeli government has relocated from their traditional lands into public housing. She has also documented the potentially paradoxical service of young Arab men in the Israeli army.

Working with raw news footage and special effects, Doron Solomons (b. 1969) is at the forefront of video art. His works address the violence of everyday life in Israel along with the heartfelt wish for a better, magical future. He and other emerging video artists work in a "no-frills," low budget style, often using their own homes and family members to set the scene. Guy Ben-Ner (b. 1969), chosen to represent Israel at the 2005 Venice Biennale, creates imaginative worlds from home-made materials, and often casts his young children as characters in his absurd make-believe mini-movies. Tamy Ben-Tor (b. 1975) adopts the amateur video style as well, inserting cutting cultural commentary through the articulate voices of various controversial characters--all of them played by herself.

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Jessica Kraft

Jessica Kraft is a writer, educator, and artist based in San Francisco, CA.