A group of graffiti artists from New York arrived in the Samaria city of Ariel this week to break what they described as “an artistic siege” against its residents.
The “siege” which they describe is the boycott that was announced several months ago by Israeli theater artists and academics, who refused to perform in a new cultural center in Ariel simply because of its location in Samaria. In a letter they wrote to the national management of theaters in Israel, the artists and actors said that no performances should be held in Judea and Samaria, since performing in places such as Ariel was “against their consciences.”
The situation rapidly escalated and caused a political uproar, which resulted in some Knesset Members threatening to cut off funding for artists who refuse to appear in the Ariel theater, which nevertheless opened a few weeks ago in an emotional evening.
Now the American artists are hoping to make the best out of a bad situation. As Craig Dershowitz, Executive Director of Artists 4 Israel, who brought the graffiti artists to Ariel, said: “Graffiti writers are used to making art where people tell them not to, and when we told them what was happening in Ariel they jumped at the chance to help.”
The graffiti artists have said the decision of the boycotting artists is attacking the essential human need for beauty. NICER from the world famous graffiti group, TAT's Crew, said: “When we heard of what was happening in Ariel, we said, ‘What? This is totally against what art is about. Art is for people, not for politics.’”
NICER joined the Artists 4 Israel trip to Ariel, as did other top NYC artists including 2ESAE and SKI. European artists have joined as well, such as Spanish artists BELIN and MYRHWAN, as well as the French graffiti writer GREMS, making this truly a global mission. The artists will be joined by local Israeli artists who will accompany them throughout the trip.
The graffiti artists will be creating murals all over Ariel until Monday. They will even paint the city’s bomb shelters. “We can't take away the need for bomb shelters,” said Dershowitz, “but we can turn them into soaring works of beauty.” As well, the artists will give free painting lessons to local school children and children from community centers.
This is not the first Artists 4 Israel trip to Israel. Last April, the organization brought a group of graffiti artists to the city of Sderot, which has been suffering for years from rocket attacks by terrorists from the Gaza Strip. April’s project was called ‘Project Murality,’ joining the words ‘mural’ and ‘morality’ to evoke justice through art.
Sderot was not forgotten during this trip, and the artists made a follow-up visit there as well. They also enjoyed a special American Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the people of Ariel, and are set to also visit Beit El and Shilo.
“Graffiti artists are called ‘writers,’” said Dershowitz. “What we hope to do by organizing trips where American, European, Israeli and Arab artists can meet each other is to write a new story. In graffiti, we will write a better future for the whole region.”