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Friday, December 10, 2010

Ruins in Israeli Art

In a Hebrew essay entitled "Ruins, Demolitions and Destruction" (lit. Chorvot, Harisot, Churban), Gideon Efrat catalogs the various ways in which ruins have been depicted in Israeli art. He finds over a dozen separate categories and demonstrates just how significant ruins are in the Israeli psyche.
"More and more Israeli artists have made the ruin a fundamental topic in their work, in response, among other things, to the local and world-wide historical-political situation."
For our project, this is encouraging, and only emphasizes how relevant a project about preservation of ruins is in this country.

Luigi Mayer - Sepulcher of Rachel (1803)
David Roberts - Gate of Baalbek (1842-9)
William Henry Bartlett - Tomb of Kings
David Roberts - Gaza (1842-9)

Some early Zionist artists were less Romantic, yet still chose to depict ruins as friendly and innocuous sites, without thought as to the significance or implications of the ruins. Others showed ruins as metaphors for loss and destruction. This approach still did not personalize the tragedy implicit in ruins, and they remained somewhat Romantic.
Anna Ticho - Bitania (1935)

Shmuel Charuvi - Landscape (1930)

As the struggle for an independent state increased, Zionist artists downplayed ruins, preferring to depict positive building rather than destruction. However, ruins were still occasionally used to show the revival of the Jewish people and the rise of the Jewish State. This is also connected to a national enthusiasm for archaeological ruins as a way of showing ancient Jewish connection to the land and thus ownership.

Jakob Steinhardt (1950)

Following the War of Independence, another treatment of ruins began to appear in Israeli art, one that, according to Efrat, is connected to the act of destruction and a feeling of guilt. The ruins of Arab villages were now a part of the landscape. In particular he mentions Marcel Janco as the most famous employer of ruins in Israeli art. He painted ruined villages, but also later became the head of the Park Department of Israel. In this capacity he planned out several national parks, many of which were dotted with ruined villages. We also sometimes see cleansed ruins of 1948, without any pain involved, as picturesque objects. Efrat feels that depictions of Arab ruins in this stage were not explicit enough. In Janco's Ein Hod Landscape, for example, there is a line of Arabs traveling, but it is not clearly understood that these Arabs are refugees from the village. Efrat asks:
"The paintings of Ein Hod by Marcel Janco: moral obsession identifying with the human tragedy of the 'others', or perhaps celebration of dynamic shapes and colors? It seems that the inability to answer definitively is also the answer to our question."
Jacob Eisensher - Ruins

Marcel Janco - Arab Village

Marcel Janco - Ein Hod Landscape

Although this post could go on and on, I'm going to have to cut it short and add that ruins are also used in Israeli art to refer to:
the Holocaust;
political ruins caused by punitive bombings by Israel and its neighbors;
demolition of houses in the West Bank;
evacuations of Yamit / the Gaza Strip by Israel;
terrorist bombings;
and to archaeology and post-modernism.

In short, this is a topic with a very rich history in the Israeli conscience and multiple layers of meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    My name is Gil Hochberg. I am a professor of comparative literature at UCLA. I am writing because i am hoping that maybe you have information that may help me about an image that appears in your blog. I am trying to find who has the copyrights for the painting "ruins" by Jacob Eisenscher, included in your above blog entry.

    The image appears in my forthcoming book "Visual Occupations" in a section discussing abstract art.

    With much gratitude,
    Gil Hochberg

    Professor of Comparative Literature