One of the most fascinating finds in Israel would be the infinite graffiti one could find in Florentin, Tel Aviv. In this neighborhood of Israel, the garage shutters and cement walls are plastered and painted in designs covering languages like Hebrew, English, Polish, Russian and French. The graffiti is also put into place by individual artists in Israel, so it reflects not only the community of Florentin, but it also defies the government’s enforcement of Hebrew as the language of Florentin. It is a place where art signifies contradictions, art signifies power, and through both of these, the art in Florentin signifies politics.
Unlike art locked in a museum, there are virtually no regulations to the art on the many walls of Florentin. It unleashes potential for bold, powerful statements. One of the pieces I saw depicted a cartoon of a woman saying, “Hi Washington!” in Hebrew. On the left hand side of the piece, there were many references to LGBTQ+ rights among many other liberal-minded perspectives. The graffiti work here was, in a way, through language and artistic talent, connecting values that have been growing in the United States with values increasing in importance in Israel.
Another piece of art in Florentin was contrasting an English phrase “Shower me in pearls and I will obey” with a Hebrew phrase that translated to “Love through compassion” to compare perhaps the materialistic perception of love associated in some European and Western cultures with a more authentic form of love in this Israeli society. There are many ways in which art and pure statements in graffiti on the walls of Florentin can signal towards political views, hierarchy perceptions, and the identity of the self.
When we look at art in Florentin, it is essential to question who the intended audience is. For instance, in Florentin, the community does not appear to be tourist-based. In fact, it is extremely residential in nature, meaning that the audience would most likely be locals in Israel. The question here is then whether or not these locals are indeed Israeli. Given that many of the signs in Florentin, unlike the signs in the rest of Tel Aviv, are in other languages like Polish, Russian and French, we may conclude that there is a large population of immigrants in Florentin. We must question whether the art was created by the immigrants or for the immigrants. Perhaps the answer is that is created by the melting pot of cultures that exist in Florentin, leaving the walls further in depth of conflict. This conclusion would imply that a work of art could be completely different socially, culturally and politically from the work of art it sits beside.
Art is a fascinating way to understand a culture, and how it perceives itself. The question is a matter of who is the creator and who is the intended audience. With no clear label, it is this mystery that adds to the fascinating complication of the art. To truly understand its culture, we ought to understand its many languages – its language of communication, its language of values and, most especially, its language of art.
- Florentin: TrekEarth