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A Special Art Project Marking the 70th Anniversary of the Mass Immigration from Iraq


Orly Baher Levy Museum Curator Blog No. 2

Around three weeks ago, and with great joy and delight, we launched the special art project marking the 70th anniversary of the mass immigration of Jews from Iraq. The artist Rubi Bakal, a member of the second generation, began painting his monumental work on the walls of the Jeanette and Yehuda Assia Gallery. The work will present the Israeli-born artist's personal interpretation of the absorption experience that his parents and family members had.

Each time I went into the gallery and saw how the work was taking shape before my very eyes, questions and issues for discussion arose in my mind, as you would expect from a curator. But then an invited guest showed up in our domain – the coronavirus. So, how do you continue working on a project like this under the shadow of Covid-19?

When curators are busy putting together a new art exhibition, they typically meet with the artists in their studios and choose the finished works they want to display based on the concept of the exhibition. In our case, the challenge is definitely not easy because both the work of art and the concept evolve from an ongoing joint process and an animated and fruitful dialog between the artist and the curator.

Rubi kept on painting as long as it was still possible to go to the Museum, after it had closed its doors to the public and he was alone in the gallery space. And I would occasionally talk to him on the phone. We met at the gallery only once, but it was a bittersweet meeting of an artist and a curator who are excited about what they are doing and can observe and discuss the work of art, but only if they stay two meters (approximately six feet) from each other.

Nonetheless and despite all that, I asked Rubi two questions that had been poking at my brain nonstop: Why does the transit camp look so quiet and peaceful? Why is the sky blue and why does the spectrum of colors convey optimism and serenity? And Rubi's reply was: because that's the way I see it. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I understood. Like me, Rubi is a sabra (native Israeli) who did not experience the hardships of absorption. He is relating the stories as he heard them from those who did, while looking at the future with optimism…

The Museum is still closed and Rubi's work of art is on hold for now. However, just like the new immigrants from Iraq who overcame the difficulties and viewed the future with optimism and an abundance of hope, we too will pray for the coronavirus to quickly disappear so that we can continue exactly where we left off…



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