The Third Mediterranean Biennale in Sakhnin Valley

Tabunni Butcher shop (6 Al-ghalil St., Sakhnin)

Tabunni Butcher shop (6 Al-ghalil St., Sakhnin)

BY Michal Blayer

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Talia Ashuach-Salomon

About 60 Israeli and international artists are participating in The Third Mediterranean Biennale in Sakhnin Valley, which opened in July 2017 and will continue until the end of December, with alternative exhibition spaces spread along a route stretching from Yodfat to Deir Hanna. The works chosen by the curators, Belu-Simion Fainaru and Avital Bar-Shay, are linked by the title “Out of Place”, bringing up issues pertaining to immigration, borders, social and financial inequality, and injustice. The human connection between art and everyday life is the prominent facet of the exhibition that, in a way, creates a living installation, thus reflecting on and validating the works of art.

Entrance to the information center in Yodfat with Shahar Marcus’ work “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes”

Entrance to the information center in Yodfat with Shahar Marcus’ work “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes”

If you have one or two or three days to spend in the area, to watch the numerous video installations, or if you have only a few hours for a quick visit, it’s worth spending them in Yodfat and Deir Hanna, even if these are the only places, because they embody the essence of the brilliant curatorial work, which has succeeded in creating a local, as well as a whole, interconnected experience of interactions between exhibits and venues. The latter is particularly exemplified by the connection created between the first stop in Yodfat and the last stop in Salah Muassi’s Bedouin tent in Deir Hanna* (After the Biennale’s opening another stop was added, when Abu Salah’s Christian neighbors decided to participate in the project).

Abu Salah’s Bedouin tent in Deir Hanna

Abu Salah’s Bedouin tent in Deir Hanna

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Sérgio Téfaut’s documentary film about an eclectic community of people living in “The City of the Dead”, the largest cemetery in Cairo, is exhibited in the information center in Yodfat. The film shows a day to day reality whose proximity to death intensifies the experience and emphasizes life. In one conversation between a woman and her granddaughter, which I found especially moving, the child expresses a surprisingly feminist point of view. She looks free and independent, as though living in an impure place liberates her from social constraints and enables her to develop a different, fresh self image.  

The connection between the past and the future is intensified as one notices Belu-Simion Fainaru’s work - a miniature of a boat in a cup of black coffee, with the word ‘Jerusalem’ written on its sail - almost hiding between the archeological exhibits in the information center. This gentle work both amuses and reflects upon a cultural journey and a yearning for a place that spans peoples and religions.

One cannot miss, on the outer wall at the entrance, Shahar Marcus’ work “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes” – a self-portrait as a general decorated with medals of Honor made of cookies. The large print heightens the character’s grotesqueness and the despair from violence and war.

The brilliant curatorial work has succeeded in creating a local, as well as a whole, interconnected experience of interactions between exhibits and venues

As opposed to it, integrity and a desire for peace are the main impressions rising from the encounter with Abu Salah, in the Bedouin tent that he set up next to his house (stop 15). An open and optimistic person with no cynicism, but with plenty of patriotism, an ex-army man and a scout, Abu Salah set up the tent as a place of gathering, education and intercommunication.  He reminded me of Shahar Marcus’ general - an actual person who believes with all his heart in peace and brotherhood, in people and in the possibility of making a better world.

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Inside the tent, next to the numerous appraisal certificates, are a number of screens showing video art dealing mainly with war, conflict, and humanism. In the parking lot, in front of the tent, stands the only traffic light in town, with its green light flashing the word ‘Love’ and the red light ‘Don’t love’. The traffic light, Fainaru’s large, eye-catching work, which is at the same time tricky and deceptive, like its little sister in Yodfat, poses a question about our ability to love or not love when we’re ordered to do so.  

... in front of the tent, stands the only traffic light in town, with its green light flashing the word ‘Love’ and the red light ‘Don’t love’

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Towards the entrance to the house, inside an open floor held up by pillars, which offers a view of the surrounding hills and the roofs below, we suddenly discover (hanging on the columns) the light, delicate, almost shimmering works of Avital Bar-Shay. Using just white paper and a thread she creates transparent, geometric outlines of buildings, airy cubes, and needle holes. Like a picture of a quiet night, her images reflect and echo the city, as though brushing away its dust. Facing the elegant, white works are the large photographs by Lela Ahmadzai, from the series “The undaunted women of Kabul”, depicting intimate scenes whose protagonists are Afghan women captured in their everyday moments. The photographs are installed on the outside wall of the house, as if creating a window to the inside, a place run by women, as opposed to the tent, which symbolizes the nomadic life and the outside.

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One of the exciting moments of the day was finding, between the bushes, almost beyond the corner, another work of Shahar Marcus, “Faith jump”, made after Ives Klein’s “Leap into the void”. You’d definitely “need a scout to find it”, as Abu Salah shrewdly pointed out. His words strengthen the feeling that the curators’ work shows an extensive knowledge of the environment and the venues chosen for the exhibition, spreading a tight net from one end of the Biennale to the other.

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Other interesting encounters and an additional testament to the curatorial skills await us at the old mosque in the citadel of Deir Hanna. While looking for the exhibition space, we met the sheikh of Deir Hanna playing cards with his ‘club’ in a small, back room. That got us an invitation for coffee and an opportunity to hear the story of the town where Christians, Muslims, and Bedouins live in harmony, side by side.

We also met a family living inside a breathtaking, though crumbling, citadel from Dhaher al-Omar’s period (17th century). Its members gladly shared the place’s history and took us to the hidden door of the old mosque. Since we couldn’t get inside, beyond the steps, without head scarves, we identified from a distance Moshe Kupferman’s work, whose evident alienation confirmed to us that we had reached our destination. It took another couple of minutes to realize that the large boards hanging in front of us, inlaid with different kinds of wood, and reminiscent of ornaments typical to Islamic art, are not an integral part of the mosque, but works of art exhibited there.

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Walking in the ruins of the Deir Hanna citadel reminded me of the documentary about the Cairo cemetery. Although the ruins of the Deir Hanna citadel are not as impure as a cemetery, the fact that people are living in it and its proximity to a mosque, a church and a mixed Christian-Muslim cemetery create a sense of communal life in which the past merges with the future, shaping a simple, harmonious community.

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My anticipation as a viewer, to follow a fixed, clear path to guide me through the different exhibition sites was not fully realized. In Jewish communities the works are exhibited in public spaces, whereas in Arab communities mainly private and business spaces were used. The difference is felt in the general atmosphere and “convenience” of the viewer, but it also “forces” direct encounters that are not easy to come by on an ordinary day and brings up issues pertaining to the gap between pessimism and optimism and the possibility of true peace. There was also a strong dissonance between businesses that knowingly chose to participate because they wanted to support art and culture, and those that were more oriented towards gaining new customers. The atmosphere in the latter indeed felt less welcoming. All along the route there were occasional difficulties locating the venues, but the disorganization enabled more sincere encounters. During our wanderings we came across very interesting people, who generously helped us find the right way.

Once you put politics and ego battles aside, and concentrate on the many positive aspects of an event like this in such a remote area, you rejoice in the existence of an opportunity to feel surprised and excited about discovering the power of curatorial work that incorporates art into life in such a way that it lights and elevates both.   

The Third Mediterranean Biennale, Sakhnin Valley

Out of Place

Curated by Belu-Simion Fainaru and Avital Bar-Shay

June 29 – December 30 2017

Free admittance

Venues map (Waze)

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Additional stops suggested for art lovers:

1. Misgav Regional Council, Sustainability Center  

Video art, especially recommended Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s poignant, short film “To Kill a Bumblebee” starring Rami Heuberger and Dvir Benedek.


2. Tabunni Butcher shop (6 Al-ghalil St., Sakhnin)

Ismail Tabunni proudly welcomes those who come to his shop, explaining and showing them around. The displayed works include those by Yigal Tumarkin (objects reminiscent of wooden skulls are hanging upside down on hooks, in place of meat), Tomasz Wendland’s portraits of sleeping leaders (which  inspired strong antagonism among the locals) and Meinrad Schade’s photographs of refugees and scenes from war zones, enhanced by the installation space.

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3. Hamudi Garage (52 Aldoha St., Sakhnin) and Masri Law Office (same building, Second Floor) 

The art works and car parts in the garage look like an integral installation. In the offices above, the poignant works seamlessly blend with the décor, reminding one of old European castles, whose corridors and rooms are adorned with oil paintings. While walking up and down the stairs one cannot escape the disturbing stare of a refugee woman dressed in red, looking at you from a huge print.   

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4. Yaara Oriental Restaurant (120 Sayder Aladraa St., Sakhnin)

Photographs and video works.

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5. Fahem Garage (5 Aludhad St. corner of 8 Halleb St., Sakhnin)

Kai Wiedenhöfer’s moving photographs from the series “40 out of one million”, which shows the impact of the war in Syria on the local, civilian population.

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6. Sakhnin College (Sakhnin) - Samira Wahbi’s intimate and emotional black and white photographs, examining the interactions between femininity and space.

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