“My work is about a kind of a cry for help – for a resolution – for a kind of spirituality that would help us transcend our problem – and I feel that I don’t want to become overly melodramatic about it, but the truth is that they have become deeply existential issues – not just political issues”.
The previous is a quote from a video interview with Artist Shirin Neshat in speaking of her art and her country of origin, Iran, at an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam in 2006.
Aperture Gallery and Bookstore, located on the fourth floor at 547 West 27th Street, will offer an Artist Talk with the highly respected artist and visionary Shirin Neshat on Tuesday, May 1 at 6:30 pm.
Neshat’s multi-channel videos and sound installations, and her photography break new ground like few others have. Almost every work she creates reaches immediate iconographic status as it combines poetry, mystery, gender, religious and political issues set against the ever present violent end some will face, and a willingness to believe despite it all.
All of the lasting afterimages spawned by Neshat’s art her will haunt your subconscious, breaking through comfort-zone barriers with a myriad of stunning, and hypnotic truths.
– D. Dominick lombardi
The artists included in the exhibition, Spring, 2012, at MECA represent some of most notable figures in the Israeli art world, some of whom are also currently exhibiting work at galleries and museums closer to home. A solo exhibition of paintings by Michael Halak, Faces and Landscapes, opened in March at the Tel Aviv Art Museum. Halak was recently awarded the 2011 Rapport Prize for a Young Israeli Painter. Fatma Shannan’s figurative oil paintings are included in a large group exhibition at Art Gallery Bat Yam through October 23rd. In the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Dina Shenhav is participating in a group show that focuses on sleep rituals and the transition from day to night. Good Night combines work by contemporary Israeli and international artists with books and artifacts from the museum’s collection.
Poetry is far more important to Iranians than most can imagine here in the U.S. It is a means of expression that covers everything from the most compelling political issues to the simplicity of everyday life. The Persian artist Shahram Karimi, despite the fact that he is an exile living in Germany, maintains a strict tie with his homeland through poetry and painting.
Painting over found objects, cardboard, printed fabrics and the like, Karimi often begins with his poetic inscriptions across the surface. Over this text, the artist paints people, places, animals and flowers that float like subjects in a waking dream. And like poetry, there is a lyrical beauty to his art that, by enlivening the past, transports us to another place and time.
Karimi’s passion for change is unmistakable, as he manages an appeal to all for a new and better world. In a review by the critic Lisa Paul Streitfeld, she said of Karimi’s art at Leila Heller Gallery in New York City, “the exhibit unveils a deeply personal universal polemic, in images and his native Farsi tongue, for reconciliation and transformation at a time – the Arab Spring – when the world desperately needs it. “
– D. Dominick Lombardi
Interview: MECA’s Visionary and Founder Eugene Lemay
With the opening of MECA, a great deal of curiosity has emerged surrounding the founders behind this groundbreaking art center. We sat down with Eugene Lemay to discuss his role in bringing this project to life.
Q: You are an artist, and you served in the Israeli army. How did these experiences, and other aspects of your background, contribute to the creation of MECA?
A: MECA has been a personal dream of mine for quite some time. Having lived in Israel for many years, I have never understood why things had to be so complicated. Why there was so much conflict, indirectness – problems with communication. My background plays a big part in my support of Middle-Eastern initiative. Born to an Arab-Christian family, which later converted to Judaism, I have a multi-cultural perspective that allows me to relate to many individuals. As an artist I also recognize the important place art holds in shaping our world. All these things have helped steer me to where I am today contributing to the creation of MECA. It is also important to mention my partnership with Yigal Ozeri and my friendships with David Wakstein and Said Abu Shakra, which have made this venture possible.
Q: You are on the board of the Umm-el Fahem Gallery in Israel, the first Arab gallery dedicated to contemporary visual arts, and featuring works by both Arabs and Jews. Has this gallery inspired your vision for MECA?
A: Said Abu Shakra, the founder and director of the Um El Fahem Gallery, has been an important figure in the development of MECA. As a pioneer within the Arab sector in Israel, I find his work to be very inspiring and it has certainly influenced my actions here in New Jersey. I wanted to extend the efforts he and others have begun in Israel, transposing them to a greater international stage. With my business knowledge, experience in the arts, and the resources provided by Mana Contemporary, the larger art complex that houses MECA – I knew I had an opportunity to create something special.
Q: The inaugural exhibition Spring, 2012 opened on Sunday, April 1st. What feedback have you received so far about the exhibition from the local arts community as well as the arts community abroad?
A: The feedback has been great. People are very excited about the center. The reaction in Israel has been especially touching. We have been getting many emails about Spring, 2012, noting that it is the most polished and professional exhibition of Israeli art in years. We have gotten responses from artists, and curators from around the US wanting to get involved. It’s been a very exciting time!
Q: Hannan Abu Hussein suggested in her MECA Recorded interview with curator David Wakstein that artists are more sought after by galleries in Israel if they are Palestinian or Arab artists. What are your own thoughts about her observation?
A: I wasn’t too surprised by her comments. Trends are a very powerful thing especially in the art world. This can be seen in New York by the recent interest in Latin American art. As an artist myself, I understand the desire in wanting to preserve the purity of art, however the art market serves an important purpose. I admire Abu Hussein’s courage to challenge those who wish to represent her based on her nationality. She is a very talented artist, one whose provocative work has sought to tackle the subject of female identity and sexuality within the Arab world – either way her voice deserves to be recognized.
Q: What do you envision for MECA’s future?
A: The innovative spirit that gave rise to MECA will continue to carry through its future projects. For example: we plan to introduce a residency program inviting artists and curators from the Middle East to reside within a one of a kind community space. The visiting curator will select six artists of different backgrounds who will live together here, for a 3-month period, working collaboratively towards a group show.
This unique venture brought together an interesting mix of people, some seeking a piece of home, others simply bearing the curiosity of an outsider.
In attendance were David Wakstein, the esteemed curator visiting from Israel, Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri, the founders of MECA. (Photo: David and Eugene greeting Mana Contemporary artist Carole Feuerman)
Eileen Kaminsky (left) with her daughter (right) and Carole Feuerman
Sasha Serber, who took part in a two week residency program with David Wakstein at MECA, prior to the opening of Spring, 2012.
Enjoying the view from above…
Visitor scanning QR code linking to more information about the work and the artist on MECA’s website, themeca.org
From left to right: Ray Smoth, Yigal Ozeri, Isabel Pinyol and Gino Rubert
Video art works by 7 artists were shown in succession
Middle Eastern music was playing throughout the event at the cafe located a floor above the MECA Gallery
Loretta Mae Hirsch, manager at Mike Weiss Gallery, and Shear Ozeri, Yigal Ozeri’s daughter and studio manager
Gallery view of Spring, 2012
– Chen Yerushalmi
Photography by Adam Cohen and Tema Stauffer
The gap between perception and experience greatly impacts our ability to relate to people, thus making it easy to exclude Others. It is with this notion in mind that a new contemporary art center dedicated to the vibrant culture of the Middle East has come to fruition. Located within the urban landscape of Jersey City, The Middle East Center for the Arts (MECA) opened to the public on April 1. Created to advance meaningful dialogue about the Middle East through contemporary art, MECA will feature numerous exhibitions, screenings, dance and musical performances in its first year of production.
With its unique acronym and ambitious agenda, MECA’s activities focus on the concept of collaboration, with artists, curators, scholars and institutions of different religious and cultural backgrounds working together as a unified community. The shared goal is to broaden the perception and educate the greater public about the Middle East, bringing together divergent philosophies and beliefs that would otherwise not meet.
The idea for opening MECA came from the creative partnership of Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri, the center’s visionaries and founders. A curious combination of artist and entrepreneur, Lemay has built over half a dozen businesses in the last 20 years, including Mana Contemporary, the innovative art complex which houses MECA. Lemay’s personal background has been a driving force throughout his career. The child of a mixed heritage family of Lebanese, Syrian and Canadian Christians that later converted to Judaism, Lemay spent 12 influential years living in Israel. He also served in the Israeli army.
In speaking of his latest project, Lemay goes on to say: “MECA has been a personal dream of mine for quite some time. Having lived in Israel for many years, I have never quite understood why things were so complicated. Why was there so much conflict? Indirectness? Problems with communication?”
Yigal Ozeri, an internationally renowned artist himself and a founding partner at Mana Contemporary, helped develop the concept of MECA by bringing on two key advisory members, Professor David Wakstein and Said Abu Shakra, both accomplished artists and curators living and working in Israel. Wakstein is the founder of Reshet, an association dedicated to the advancement of art-education and the making of art among and by children and teenagers from Israel’s geographical peripheral regions. Said Abu Shakra is the founder and director of the Umm el-Fahem Gallery, the first Arab gallery dedicated to contemporary visual arts in Israel.
The work of MECA follows a contemporary trajectory, investigating thematic patterns within the cultural landscape of the Middle East. The inaugural exhibition Spring, 2012, curated by the aforementioned David Wakstein, explores trends within Israeli art, showcasing 22 of the country’s leading artists, with Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin backgrounds. As a result, viewers are faced with an array of perspectives in which similarities and differences naturally rise and set. The seemingly unassuming title echoes the fervency of the recent revolutions in the Middle East, namely the Arab Spring. The title also hints to a spirit of renewal, announcing the arrival of something fresh and innovative.
A prominent motif throughout the exhibition is the subject of identity, strongly represented by a group of young female Palestinian artists: Anisa Ashkar, Hanan Abu Hussein and Fatma Shanan. Ashkar uses her face and body as a canvas, creating private performances in which she adorns herself with Arabic text. In her own words, “Through everyday routine I started investigating my biography and my Arab-Palestinian identity.” Abu Hussein is the first Arab female artist to win the 2005 Young Artist Prize awarded by the Ministry of Education in Israel. In her unique works of art, Abu Hussein primarily explores images of the female form and the restrictions society imposes on how women should look and act.
At 25 years of age, Fatma Shannan is the youngest artist to participate in Spring, 2012. Shannan creates figurative oil paintings on canvas drawn from observation – picturesque scenes of Arab villages featuring traditional colorful carpets and self-portraits that address the notion of erasing one’s individuality. “My work deals with the suppression of the individual, and particularly of women in patriarchal, Arab and Druze society in which I live, and the Middle East.”
Another recurring theme is the iconography of destruction. Professor Vered Kaminsky, a sculptress and jewelry designer, investigates the cross between aesthetics and violence through a series of small jewelry-like objects made of bullets and shell casings. Sasha Serber creates realistic sculptures made from Styrofoam and plastic, charred relics invoking images of devastation and loss. In talking of his work, Serber suggests a new meaning of beauty that is strictly formalist: “the reality of destruction is often concealed by the romanticism of the imagery,” he says. Draining all personal connection, he reintroduces the images showing them through the contrived prism of staged art.
The notion of momento mori is most poignant in the work of Gideon Gechtman, who passed away from heart failure in 2008. Gechtman incorporated the idea of his own death and its aftermath in his art for decades. Included in the exhibition are two of his Obituaries, a recurring theme in his work since his first solo show Exposure in 1973, in which he displayed enlarged photographs of his body being shaved prior to open-heart surgery. At the closure of the exhibition, Gechtman famously put up obituaries for himself in Israeli dailies Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, as well as around his home in Rishon LeZion. He later told about the reactions, “Teachers from Bezalel said to me: ‘Have you gone mad? You frightened everyone!’ ”
– Chen Yerushalmi