‘It turns out that all Israeli art is about Jesus,” an American tourist said to me as he moved away from a painting in The Israel Museum’s paradigm-shifting new exhibit titled “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art.” In Hebrew, the title is a bit different: Zeh Ha’Ish, or “This Is the Man.” Throughout the exhibit, language makes a difference; the wall text often diverges in subtle but important ways in Hebrew and English.
The world’s museums are full of portrayals of Jesus, but scenes of the Madonna and child, the crucifixion and the Last Supper are generally not thought of as Jewish subjects, or as the stuff of Jewish art. The Jesus narrative was used to invoke hatred of Jews for centuries; some Jews interpret the Hebrew name for Jesus, yeshu, as an acronym for y’mach sh’mo u’zichro, or let his name and memory be obliterated.
But in this groundbreaking and utterly fascinating exhibit, Jesus is certainly not obliterated; instead, Jesus is used to symbolize the suffering and powerlessness of Jews in the Holocaust; Palestinians in both intifadas; Mizrachi Jewish refugees housed in ma’abarot, or temporary camps, in 1950s Israel, after being expelled from Arab countries; the disabled in Israeli society; Israeli soldiers sent to die in war; and in one of the most haunting pieces, the personal suffering of a major Israeli artist who lost his wife in childbirth, and their daughter three years later, and who painted himself as Jesus and then locked the painting in a cabinet. The painting was found a year after the artist’s death.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Jesus exhibition at the Israel Museum
CONTEMPORARY ART: A Second Coming for Jesus — at the Israel Museum (Aviya Kushner, The Forward).