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Israeli, Emirati Calligraphy Artists Hold Groundbreaking Jerusalem Show (VIDEO REPORT)
Artists and co-curators Chama Mechtaly (left) and Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen at work in the studio. (Maya Margit/The Media Line)

Israeli, Emirati Calligraphy Artists Hold Groundbreaking Jerusalem Show (VIDEO REPORT)

Titled ‘Maktoub,’ exhibition aims to build bridges between Jewish and Islamic culture

Chama Mechtaly and Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen are two young artists on a mission.

The duo has come together to strengthen the connection between Jewish and Islamic culture through a groundbreaking exhibition at the Jerusalem Theater that features works by artists from the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Titled “Maktoub,” the calligraphic artworks on display are in both Hebrew and Arabic, a show of unity that comes on the heels of the historic US-brokered Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize ties with the UAE and Bahrain.

“We called it ‘Maktoub,’ which is a double-meaning word – not only of things that are written but that are written in the sense of destined to happen,” Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen, one of the exhibition’s curators, told The Media Line.

Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen’s calligraphic work on display at the Jerusalem Theater, called “Pressure.” (Courtesy)

Sponsored by the British Embassy in Israel as well as by American philanthropists Jon and Dina Leader, there are 10 participating artists: five from Israel and five from the UAE.

Co-curator Chama Mechtaly, who was visiting Israel for the third time in the past six months, said that the exhibition was a way to begin a new chapter and find common ground.

“It’s important to me because we’ve lived in a context of separation, specifically within the last 100 years or so through colonialism and post-colonialism in the region,” she told The Media Line. “We’ve been harboring and carrying so much trauma from that separation.”

Mizrachi-Cohen, a Syrian-American Jew who lives in Jerusalem, mainly works in Arabic calligraphy, while Mechtaly, a Moroccan-born Muslim who lives in Dubai, works in Hebrew calligraphy.

Chama Mechtaly’s “Tile From Meknes” (2017). (Courtesy)

In addition to “Maktoub,” the two also collaborated on a separate exhibit in Mizrachi-Cohen’s nearby artist’s studio. There, a multimedia installation invites visitors to explore complex issues surrounding identity, memory and place.

“As we worked together more and more Chama and I discovered that we actually have a lot in common,” Mizrachi-Cohen said. “For example, our families have origins in the Middle East, we both spent a lot of time in America and are now back living in the Middle East but in different countries than where we were originally from.”

For Mechtaly, whose grandfather was Jewish, the creative partnership became a way to address Islamic-Jewish relations.

At its peak, the Moroccan Jewish community reached roughly 300,000 people in the mid-20th century; however, the vast majority left the North African country once the state of Israel was established.

“There were Muslims in Morocco who actually sent letters in the 50s and 60s to their Jewish neighbors who left to Israel to ask them why they left and when they were going to come back, so we’ve had so many historical moments that were scarring for the region,” Mechtaly recounted. “The Abraham Accords are finally allowing us to bridge these gaps in ways that are more sustainable, more impactful and more scalable.”

Said al-Nahari’s work “Surah Al-Anfal Verse 61” (2002). (Courtesy)

Though it is the first exhibition of its kind to take place in Israel, Mizrachi-Cohen and Mechtaly are hoping to expand the concept in the future to include artists’ residencies in both the UAE and Israel.

“Maktoub” is part of the Jerusalem Biennale, a massive contemporary art festival that takes places in Jerusalem every two years. The current edition has over 300 participating artists and, taking a cue from lockdowns during the pandemic, its theme revolves around the concept of personal space.

“This year we really saw the Abraham Accords as an opportunity to open channels and start a conversation with artists in the Emirates,” Rami Ozeri, founding director of the Jerusalem Biennale, told The Media Line.

“Doing it through calligraphy was important because in Arabic calligraphers are much ahead of us,” he noted.

Diaa Allam’s “A Pathway to Heaven 03,” 2019. (Courtesy)

“Maktoub” is not the only show in the festival bringing artists from the region together.

A contemporary jewelry exhibit at the Tower of David, called “Between a Break and a Breakdown,” showcases the works of 24 artists from Turkey and Israel.

“Everyone here addresses the pandemic and how they felt during that period,” Ariel Lavian, the show’s curator, explained to The Media Line. “Some artists really went quiet and were unable to work or even think about creating during such a difficult time, whereas others really flourished.”

Unfortunately, due to issues with securing visas, the Turkish artists themselves were unable to physically attend the festival.

Nevertheless, the exhibit marks the first time that the works of Turkish artists are being shown within the Tower of David, whose citadel was built by the Turkish Ottomans.

“To host an exhibition that is a collaboration between Israeli and Turkish artists at this is site is a reflection of the citadel’s continuity,” Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator of the museum, related to The Media Line. “The citadel was built up by many different cultures and connects cultures, styles and architectures from different periods.”

Director and chief curator of the Tower of David Museum Eilat Lieber, curator Ariel Lavian (center), and founding director of the Jerusalem Biennale Rami Ozeri at the Tower of David Museum. (Aaron Paz)

“Maktoub” and “Between a Break and a Breakdown” will remain open to the public at the Jerusalem Theatre and the Tower of David, respectively, until December 30.

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