Art for Israel’s sake
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Art for Israel’s sake

Local painters take inspiration and make statements to support the Jewish state

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Artists Supporting Israel founder Sheryl Intrater Urman, center, with artists Fred Spinowitz and Roberta Millman-Ide.

Ahuva Mantell of Bergenfield, who teaches art at the Frisch School in Paramus, specializes in figurative paintings.

But after watching online clips about the effect of Hamas rocket attacks on the children of Sderot, she responded from her gut with a work in an entirely different mode – printmaking in a pop-art style.

“The video was extremely visual and the message was poignant,” she said. “I had an immediate response, completely outside of what I [usually] do as an artist. This was a way for me to relate to and express what is going on.”

The exercise that so moved Mantell was part of a new nationwide project, Artists Supporting Israel (http://artistssupportingisrael.org), an initiative of Leonia artist and art educator Sheryl Intrator Urman. Many of the participants are from northern New Jersey.

Urman based the organization on her “response art” concept, which requires participants to respond artistically to a presentation about situations affecting Jews in Israel, including a written statement explaining how the artwork relates to the presentation.

The project aims to educate the artists – and the viewing public by way of the works created – as well as to generate support for Israel advocacy organizations through sales.

“I am trying to create a new genre of art,” Urman said. “This new genre responds specifically to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.”

On June 17, 40 Artists Supporting Israel artworks illustrating Israel’s restraint in the face of rocket fire were exhibited at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. The artists were responding to short videos about Sderot under attack, and/or a radio interview with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on the John Batchelor show.

“In Judaism, we’re always talking about education, and with this project we’re bringing the advocacy message to a different community – artists – who pass it along through their art,” Urman said.

Like Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a painting inspired by a traumatic attack during the Spanish Civil War, and Francisco Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” another work that commemorates Spanish resistance to Napoleon, many images generated by Artists Supporting Israel display graphic content. That includes the March 2011 massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, a bombed school bus, or the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“We’re painting just like Picasso responded to Guernica. We’re not painting pretty pictures of Jerusalem or the Galilee,” Urman said.

In the fall, another exhibition is planned, tentatively set to take place at One River Gallery in Englewood. For this show, artists will respond creatively to educational components about the wide-ranging work of the Jewish National Fund in Israel, Artists Supporting Israel co-founder Doryne Davis of Englewood said.

Both Urman and Davis have won art residencies in the Israeli city of Nahariya, the Partnership 2000 sister city with North Jersey, through the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Davis is on the local board of the Jewish National Fund and has donated several of her mosaic pieces to be auctioned off to benefit the JNF.

“Sheryl and I, along with Fred Spinowitz” – a Judaica artist of New Rochelle – “decided we need to do something for and about Israel with our art,” Davis said. Part of their motivation is to provide balance against an increasing volume of exhibitions critical of Israel.

Urman’s first Response Art Series event, staged in cooperation with a group called Artists for Israel, took place in Brooklyn in September 2011. It showcased 72 pieces by nearly 40 artists who had attended lectures given by advocacy groups such as Stand With Us and the David Project, or by authors such as Englewood resident Alex Grobman of the America-Israel Friendship League. Some 1,000 people came to see the show and to hear addresses from Hoenlein and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

In consultation with some of the people involved in the Brooklyn show, including Hoenlein and Jewish Art Salon Director Yona Verwer of Manhattan, Urman ultimately decided to found a separate organization based on her response art model.

“I really believe that art can make a difference to help Israel,” she said. A percentage of sales proceeds from the shows goes to the sponsoring or host organization.

“We are also supplying artist talks where we invite non-artists to participate with us in using art as a vehicle to expose people to ideas,” she added. “We are open to dancers, singers, and poets as well, but because I am a visual artist, right now I am focusing on that.”

Mantell, the art teacher, finds the vehicle “very liberating.”

“Every one of us has a specific style, and this pulls everybody into a different realm, regardless of our personal genres, to unite over political and social awareness,” said Mantell, who just departed for a trip to Israel with sketchpad and camera in hand. “It’s not about promoting my personal art but about an emotional response and doing something for Israel.”

Urman has drawn interest from established and emerging artists as far away as Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Los Angeles. Her goal is to accumulate a body of 300 artworks to comprise a major traveling exhibition.

“Eventually I hope these paintings and photographs will go to museums around the world, not just Jewish museums but throughout the secular world so people will see these images,” Urman said. “My goal is to get people involved with the advocacy programs and their messages.”

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