I have a theory: if difficult subjects were presented through graffiti, we would all be astronauts, neurosurgeons or world leaders.I arrived at this conclusion after reading Words & Walls: Social Commentary through Graffiti in Israel and the West Bank. The author, Adam Heffez, gives a new twist to the complicated and often heartbreaking story of Israel by using the uncensored medium of graffiti as narrator.
In the United States, unless we’re really listening, we hear the same story about the Middle East on repeat: fighting. Israelis versus Palestinians. But Words & Walls digs deeper, telling each region of Israel’s micro-story. The book goes beyond the media’s message, and beyond the government’s message. It gets to the heart of what the average Israeli – the Israeli who is longing to be heard – experiences on a daily basis by analyzing the graffiti of each region.
In Tel Aviv, the narrative is political, touching on gay rights and social justice for refugees, and a yearning for coexistence between Muslims and Jews. Just 60 miles away, in Haifa, the message is hopeful – cheerful, colorful graffiti “monsters” dot the city, and optimistic sentiments like “hate is not kosher” are the norm.
Farther south, the tone of the street art is dramatically different. In Sderot, where thousands of rockets have fallen (and continue to fall) since 2005, residents “don’t have the luxury of writing…about issues like financial troubles, minorities, and educational reform since their basic human need – to live – is under constant threat.” The graffiti in Sderot tells a gritty story of survival. “We want to live,” reads the wall of one bombproof building. “Until when?” asks a wall of the Town Square, questioning how long its residents will have to suffer.
The story takes a political turn in Jerusalem, where tensions among Jews overshadow those between Jews and Palestinians – at least if the city’s graffiti is any indication. The Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) and secular populations air their frustrations with each other through street art – and in many cases, walls and buildings are tagged with swastikas; the metaphor Haredim use to portray their disdain for secular Jews.
The story of Israel is a tumultuous one, and it isn’t always easy to explain. But Heffez stumbled upon graffiti as the perfect storyteller to simplify the narrative without dumbing it down. Heffez spent a year in Israel and the West Bank photographing and translating over 200 pieces of street art. Unsurprisingly, he was met with plenty of roadblocks along the way: tear gas and a broken leg, to name a few.
Heffez will bring a Twin Cities audience along on his journey when he speaks at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis at 3 pm this Sunday in the first event of Culture BLVD III: An Exploration of Israel Through Artists.
Culture BLVD III is a program of the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. The Israel Center is dedicated to strengthening the connection between the Twin Cities and Israel, and Culture BLVD utilizes the unique and evolving culture of Israel to explore the country’s vibrant vision.
Sunday’s event is co-sponsored by the Sabes JCC and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council. Tickets are $12, $10 for JCC members, and $6 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.jewishminneapolis.org/cultureblvd.aspx.