Sweet Water Canal by Hili Greenfeld

We asked Hili Greenfeld to write her personal perspective on her new project, Sweet Water Canal, which is being presented at Art Cube Artists’ studios in Jerusalem. We had a great honor supporting this project and watching it materialize into a unique experience.

The starting point of this project goes back several years, when I was an art student. One of my professors had made a connection to my works, drawing similarities to two drawings that he had found as a soldier during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. He discovered these drawings at an abandoned house by the Sweet Water Canal in Egypt. After some time, I visited his studio to view the pieces he had collected from the house. In addition to the several drawings, he also coveted a small toy donkey, and a Turkish coffee cup.

This reference to an anonymous Egyptian artist intrigued me for two reasons. Firstly, Growing up, I had been made to think of Israel as a Western country, fundamentally different and disconnected from its Middle Eastern neighbors. As a student in Bezalel, my work was compared to multiple artists, yet all were Israeli, European or American. Never had I been compared to an Egyptian artist. In a broader perspective, the connection that the professor made is not so surprising — two artists from neighboring countries within the same century, sharing similar artistic visions.

Secondly, Instead of looting valuables like other soldiers would have done, this professor decided to take these drawings out of artistic appreciation. On the one hand, this action could have been seen as a violent act, but on the other hand, it also expresses sensitivity – he saw a glimpse of humanity on the side of the enemy, and chose to save these drawings from being destroyed in the war. The complexity of this act reminds me of treasures that were taken during the colonial era, which ended up being saved and displayed over time at many famous museums, including The British Museum.

Sweet Water Canal_img2Sweet Water Canal 2017; Photo by Noam Preisman

This story led me to dive into a long period of research and development together with the curator Hadas Glazer. I began exploring the resemblance between my style and that of the unknown Egyptian painter, and I decided that as a tribute to him, I would reconstruct his desk that the drawings and objects had been found on. The installation setting refers both to the views of the Sweet Water Canal depicted in the drawings, and to the artifacts looted from Egypt, which are still displayed in Europe. As part of the tribute, I created hybrid sculptures that combine the mementos taken from the Egyptian painter, as well as Egyptian-style souvenirs commonly sold in museum shops – these are the ‘Coveted Objects for Plunder’.

With the help and support of the Asylum Arts grant, we were able to travel to London, which proved to be a pivotal part in our research. Britain was important to us because it ironically functioned as a neutral common ground to meet Egyptian artists, which may have to do with the fact that both Egypt and Israel had been colonized by the U.K. at one point. They also exhibit many ancient Egyptian treasures, which proved to be an important part in our research.

We wanted to meet contemporary Egyptian artists in order to give a voice to this unknown artist, and to offer a perspective that I could not achieve on my own.  Finally, after months of emails and phone calls, we arranged an intensive schedule of meetings at the British Museum, mainly with art professionals, but also in hopes to meet with a few contemporary Egyptian artists as well.

Although in the end only one Egyptian creator was willing to meet with us, she was truly amazing, and the encounter was the highlight of our trip. Our meeting with her motivated us to continue our efforts in trying to connect with other Egyptian artists, despite the ban and the negative assumptions.

This voyage to the U.K. also opened the gate for the second phase of the project, which was to explore the origin of the small donkey doll and the Turkish coffee cup from the Egyptian’s house. The research trip led us to the Brighton flea market, where we found a toy that resembled the one taken by the soldier. The seller referred us to Farnell, an old English toy company, and to the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, where there is a collection of English toys. This discovery developed into an exhibition that will take place in Brighton next year.

This exhibition will combine visual elements from the Brighton Museum’s Egyptian collection and from Farnell’s toys, which are shown in the Brighton Toy museum.

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