This past Thursday evening, the Achshav Yisrael committee of CBS presented its third program, "Current Dilemmas In Exhibiting Art In Israel," in Koret Hall.
Dr. Noam Gal, the Horace and Grace Goldsmith Curator of Photography and the Head of the Noel and Harriette Levine Photography Department at the Israel Museum (in Jerusalem, Israel), provided an enthusiastic group of congregants and members of the general community with an engaging and occasionally provocative survey of some of his recent curatorial efforts for the museum.
In addition to his Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication (Bezalel Academy of Art and Design) and Master's in Cultural Studies (The Hebrew University), Dr. Gal received a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Yale University. Perhaps he was drawn to comparative literature because of his special affinity for documentary photography, which is a highly narrative art form and one plainly informed by and connected to other spheres of human activity, including history, politics, philosophy, and science -- just consider the prominent social role of contemporary photojournalism.
Yet, although documentary photography is among the most obviously socially-oriented mediums, Dr. Gal insisted that "all art is necessarily political" because of what we, the viewers, bring to it. We're all political animals -- even those of us who like to claim otherwise! -- and we automatically bring our experience and ideologies to bear on any artwork we view. When an audience member asked if politics could be "taken out" of art (a question that resonates especially in the context of contemporary Israel society), Dr. Gal replied that it would be "blasphemous" to do so. All art is part of our visual culture, he insisted, and should therefore be considered through the lens of critical cultural theory.
Dr. Gal is dedicated to educating the public -- especially younger audiences -- about photography's political and social significance, and his curatorial choices reflect this commitment. For example, in order to enhance the resonance of artifacts and artworks in the permanent collection of the Israel Museum, Dr. Gal made what could be described as a series of curatorial interventions. A particularly compelling instance of such an intervention was his installation of four photographs from the turn of the 20th century, two by Russian-born Israeli photographer Yaakov Ben Dov (1882-1968) and two by Khalil Raad (1854–1957), known as "Palestine's first Arab photographer." These four photos were hung nearby iconic Israeli painter Reuven Rubin's "First Fruits" (1923). "First Fruits" famously depicts Israel's "new kind of Jew" -- in Rubin's words, "the halutzim with their bronzed faces and open shirts." Ben Dov's photographs of Jewish pioneers engaged in agricultural activities in Palestine ("Planting young citrus trees" and "Youngsters carrying saplings," circa 1910) echo Rubin's early Zionist imagery, whereas Raad's photos of Palestine's Arabs ("Olive harvest" and "Picking oranges," 1910) highlight another, soon-to-be-competing national narrative that was taking root in the land.
Following the screening and lecture, some of the guests gathered in a small group for an intimate discussion of the photography and ideas presented by Dr. Gal.
CBS gives a hearty todah rabbah to Dr. Gal for his time and insight, the Achshav Yisrael committee for its work on this program, and congregant Gary Sokol for greasing the wheels that made last night's program possible! Thanks, too, to the Israel Museum for letting us borrow Dr. Gal, and for donating copies of the Israel Museum magazine for program guests to take home.
Check out some photos from the program below.
ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.
Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: Eileen Auerbach, Alex Bernstein, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Ephraim Margolin, Lucia Sommers