Friday, March 4
Written by Janet Hirsch
– Neve Tzedek neighborhood, Tel Aviv
It is hard to imagine that our trip is almost over and today is perhaps the only part of the tour that I feel that I may actually know something. That the ground won’t shift beneath my feet – it will be interesting to see how that pans out. Today we are having a Street-Art and Graffiti tour of a newly gentrified part of the city, Neve Tzedek.
We are met by Niro, a very engaging, energetic young Israeli who clearly loves his city and his subject. He started out with a brief overview of why street art and graffiti are important especially in such a complicated political, religious, social environment that is Israel today. Graffiti is the visual representation of Chutzpa. It is literally “attitude on the wall”. We learn how the municipality of Tel Aviv has progressed from covering over graffiti to now embracing and promoting it as it is seen as a tourist attraction. That acceptance can have its price as some famous graffiti artists are in such high demand that looters strip their work off the side of buildings and sell it for tens (sometimes) hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Our enthusiastic group is first shown a large stencil of “squirrels” – right of the bat, people are saying “Wow they are huge, bigger than the trash cans, are there two squirrels or is a mutant squirrel with two heads?” We go on to learn the artist is known as Dede. We also learn there are no squirrels in Israel, and that Dede is suggesting that humans are two-faced, that we need to take care of the planet better, etc. The graffiti itself is gorgeous, and the stencils are completely made by hand.
We move on to a more accessible form of street-art, actual life-sized cat sculptures which are hiding all around the city, one curled up on a tree stump, two hiding on the top of a wall, another in a corner with his back to us. It becomes like a treasure hunt, who can see something new first. All the time our guide is showing us how Street Artists want to take art outside the elite world of galleries and museums and bring it directly to the people, where they live.
We find ourselves in a park, with gorgeous trees, and swings although it’s tiny by our standards. Here we are introduced to Maya, one of Israel’s most famous street artists. This work by Maya is done with black wool and is signed with her signature red-wool heart. It is huge, taking up the entire one side of a building. It is a black nest with lots of birds flying away from it, trailing black wool behind them. This is dealing with the fact that a lot of young Israelis are leaving the country and moving abroad. A large number have settled in Berlin. They are literally leaving the nest.
The use of wool is also an interesting phenomena and came about in an attempt to make street art “warmer”. Now that we know what to look for we stumble upon bicycles and lamp posts covered in knotted woolen squares. There is a name for this – Yarn bombing.
Did you know that there are rules for graffiti? Well, we learned them and soon we are able were able to distinguish between legitimate artists’ work and the work of naughty school children – or as Nori referred to them – kids who are too cool for school. Temporary walls are ok, old walls are ok, walls facing public spaces are ok – newer, renovated walls are not ok.
Israelis who live in Tel Aviv live in a bubble that is very tolerant of difference, unlike those who live in other cities in the country. Neve Tzedek is fastly becoming gentrified and with that come other problems, especially for the artists that used to live in the area and of course where do they deal with their issues, on the walls of their city. We see gay rights promoted by a red stencil of two girls with a heart between them.
Now we find a grey, crumbling cement wall that used to be a door (with a very old, rickety frame) that had been cemented shut \ and on it a young Israeli poet has written in Hebrew a love poem to her ex-boyfriend, that was signed with her own name. The poem starts “You – there” and goes on to say “please leave the door open”. Her name is Nitzan Mintz. Being anonymous is not important to her. She was so heartbroken that the entire community of artists was worried about her, and we were all delighted to know that she has a new boyfriend and his name is Dede and now you see her poems and his stencils next to one another, all over the city. They are known as the King and Queen of the Street.
We learned a few urban legends, but my favorite was found about an on an lovely old building that used to be the home of Shai Agnon (Nobel laureate – Author). Here we notice a a shutter lock that has the head of a person on it. When you have it one way it looks like a man, and when you unlatch it – it looks like a woman. The story goes that they were placed there to allow the lady of the house to signal her lover when her husband had left for the day.
We saw syringes with the word Botox inside them, that are done by a 13-year old who is against the gentrification which he feels is getting rid of the wrinkles of the city.
Close by the oldest synagogue in Neve Tzedek, tucked away in the corner is a stencil by Dede that has only been used once. It is tucked away, very close to the ground, and is a gorgeous black and white representation of the building – Dede is paying homage to this old, significant building.
We saw art that dealt with refugees, garbage, Alice in Wonderland having tea, and then finally another stencil by Dede (two large robotic type antelopes), next to a pepto-bismol poem by Nitzan, and a picture of a large doll without a head – the words of the poem (which is visible from the Alice across the road), say “My name is not Alice and this is not Wonderland”.
We ended our tour with a lovely group photo, with us all posed with some hilarious “attitudes”.
Now we are going to a late lunch and some shopping before Shabbat services.