Street art in Tel Aviv: feel the liberal resolve of Israel through its walls
Street art in Tel Aviv imprints one of the most culturally resonating expressions of diverse opinions in the world. Like in many other global hives of street art, conflict, social and emotional struggles and longing for freedom, are the engines for creativity exhaled on the Israeli walls. Legally commissioned or spontaneous, off-permission wall collages, paintings, sketches, even poetry call for your attention and, perhaps, engagement. Particularly, the aching walls — battered by relentless winds, humid salty sea air and the human desire for conquest — welcome artful beautification. Over four-thousand-year-old Jaffa port and nearby hoods in the South concentrate much of the street art in Tel Aviv.
Sitting on a stone wall above the wide stretch of its Mediterranean sandy beach, the autumn wind flagging my hair in a breezy dance of liberty. I gazed south on the sun-setting collage of warm gold, dusted over the limestone-washed phenomenon. The bodyboarders and surfers rode the waves smoothly as the sunset was dawning over the sea horizon. I penned down a poem.
As if the lighthouse of the ancient Jaffa port stepped out of its place in time, the eternal unison of beauty flashed through my soul. The glaring rays’ glitter yielded to my sensual cords. Strung with the fingertips of some god that perhaps only a sensitive artist can echo the sacred messages from the Universe, I relished my relaxed, nonchalant joy in free writing.
That cosily warm weekend morning in Tel Aviv — a blend of an old, rusty Bangkok exoticism, East Berlin urbanism with clean Miami Beach superficiality — sublet an architecturally eclectic charm to this Eastern Mediterranean natural beauty.
Guided into Street art in Tel Aviv
I was interested in the street art in Tel Aviv well before visiting Israel this fall for the first time. Along with Berlin, Buenos Aires, New York, São Paulo, and Athens, this liberal coastal metropolis hives with boundless creativity. Much of the free expression is exposed beyond the local galleries (I recommend the non-profit CCA), and even its superb museums (thumbs up for Tel Aviv Museum of Art). Urban art is exhibited free of charge for anyone strolling the the city’s diverse hoods.
Visually engaged, yet linguistically limited, my ignorance of the Hebrew script called for assistance if I were to decipher the meanings sprayed on the walls. So, I booked the Street Art in Tel Aviv tour with a local female guide specialising in the Israeli urban art and its food scene (my favourite combo of life-bettering human creations). Some wall art is merely in text form. From quotes of Hebrew poets to dialogues between different graffiti artists, most though mixes the pictorial with the written such as my favourite Puzzle Poem by Murielle Street Art (riddle it out on the snap above).
Ancient beauty of Jaffa meets millennial liberal expression in bohemian Florentin
The most interesting street art in Tel Aviv is in the hip Neve Tzedek, bohemian Florentin (פלורנטין) named after a Greek Jew who purchased the land in the late 1920s, and the blistered Jaffa. All south, minutes from the long sandy beach.
Kis-Lev. shows off his talent on re-enacting Banksy’s Girl with Balloons set in a Palestine settlement. He also highlights the musical greats and, I guess, their addiction to drugs (Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, et al.). He added his own blurred face.
The Eastern-most pearl of the Mediterranean authentically expresses its mixed heritage. Geographically in Asia, mentally in the US, while politically encroached in the Middle East, the Israel’s strongly educated eight-million strong population has never had it easy. Israel’s prime Minister’s wife was targeted by one of the digital artist going under #TAG (her saying “Stop being poor” stirred plenty of dissent), who also mirrors our problematic relationship with the social media (see bellow). Political messages have always prominently engaged street artists, and it is no different in Israel. Street art in Florentin often has strong political message through graffiti battles on the walls of the gentrifying neighbourhood. Current day issues and peace activism are relieved on the walls.
Still, the expression of human mind, its struggles and current social issues broaden art’s reach. Identity is flowing free in Tel Aviv. LGBT-friendly, beach-body buoyant, tech start-up savvy, young energetic creativity, a Jewish tax heaven, Russian oligarchs’ low-key playground (the billionaire Mr Roman Abrahamovic just bought a boutique hotel turning it into his residence) — Tel Aviv blends it all.
Female street artists are currently widely expressive. Their strong presence and distinct voices inject more emotional beauty into the street art in Tel Aviv. Kim Kong painted the inside walls at the vibrant Raisa bar and cafe in Jaffa. Nitzan Mintz, a poet and a partner of Dede Bandaid, a pseudonym for a graphic artist known for his inclusion of band-aids and stencil technique. Immigration caught her mind, writing on Dede’s masterpiece in Jaffa: “Floating out there the sea is large covering two thirds of the world. Leave the door open”. Not limited to the city walls, his art was exhibited at local galleries as well as abroad from Switzerland to New York.
Other themes featured in the street art in Tel Aviv were: food trends (cabbage and veganism), animals (local street cats, even a tiger), local dudes, love, plush ladies, ‘wise’ graffiti quotes in english (“Marriage is friendship first“; “Be brave and kind“), zionism, and surprisingly anti-zionism proving that freedom of expression through art in Israel is still respected.
The creative forms beyond graffiti blurbs and painting included doll houses, sculptures, an urban mini-garden dug into a rain water pipe, and other free for all artistic blurbs across the city. Tiny Tiny Gallery is the cutest phenomenon in- and outdoor, featuring up and coming talent. Outside, its walls are covered in a melange of wall painting and scribbles – from miniatures to large scale art. Some traditional artists such as the female sculptor Sophie Jungveis set up their studio in plain sight in the centre. In her garden giant slabs of yet unpolished stone await her artistic hand.
The Applied Art Gallery in Florentin commissioned a local artists to spray its walls. He reinterpreted it as a queue of aspiring artists, black and white waiting for their entry to the gallery world, coloring them exiting the door from the other side. As if suddenly their talents shone brightly from the exposure the gallery granted them.
Not all of Tel Aviv rejoyces in a hurrah seeing its walls hammered with some disparate ‘art’ and graffiti. The beauty of most great architecture stands out best on plain walls. The curves, arches, and the overall geometry of a building, when overshadowed with other art forms illegally plastered over it, suffer. In Jaffa I admired the simple purity of an archway, hoping that nobody tags on it.
It is all about sensibility after all. Crumbling walls can be beautified by creative touches, but a truly great, responsible artist has the ability to discern where his expression fits, and where it contributes to the urban ugliness.
Lodging at design treasure — the Norman Hotel opened our eyes to the interior crafts hidden behind the white walls of the city’s poshest district off the leafy Rothschild Boulevard. There are frescoes in the annex suite building, even a poem by the owner’s father, Norman Lourie, entitled “Castle in the Sand” rolls down four floors of the hotel’s atrium. Emotionally capturing the tender feelings for one’s homeland. Still, one does not have to be Jewish to fall for Tel Aviv and Israel, and if you want to grow even closer to its contemporary culture, you should check out the street art covering its walls. I cannot wait to see all the new creations on my next trip this coming spring. I am not waiting for long before visiting the creative country again!