New Anu Museum exhibit offers ‘snapshot’ of how Israeli art responded to Oct. 7

Exhibition includes pieces that were made after the deadly terror attacks and others with added valence or poignancy because of them, including works by artists killed in the massacres

TEL AVIV — The first response by Anu – Museum of the Jewish People to the Oct. 7 terror attacks was to reopen as soon as the military started allowing gatherings of more than 300 people in central Israel.

“Two weeks after Oct. 7, we got together, and we said, ‘We are a museum. We’re not a tank, we’re not an airplane. What we can do [for the country] is to be a museum and open’ — so we opened. We were basically the only museum in the center [of the country] that was open,” Anu CEO Dan Tadmor said on Friday at the opening event of an exhibition dedicated to the Israeli art world’s response to the Hamas massacres.

“The second thing that we did was to create the start or the taste of an exhibition that dealt with the issue of the hostages,” he told the small crowd, mainly the artists, curators and their families.

This “taste” included a photograph of a graffiti artist, Inbar Heiman, better known by her moniker Pink, as she worked on a piece of street art and a link to a music video made posthumously from existing recordings of her, as well as a number of dreamcatchers that were made by Raz Ben-Ami. Both Heiman and Ben-Ami were taken hostage on Oct. 7; Heiman was killed in Hamas captivity in December, while Ben-Ami was released in November.

That initial exhibition in the lobby, as well as a giant yellow ribbon looping through the museum’s main staircase, expanded into a full, temporary exhibition — ”October Seventh” — which opened on Friday.

Dreamcatchers made by Raz Ben-Ami in the lobby of Any — Museum of the Jewish People.

“We are the Museum of the Jewish People. How could we have an event like [Oct. 7] and not have this be in the museum?” the museum’s chief curator, Orit Shaham-Gover, told eJewishPhilanthropy at the exhibit.

The temporary exhibition features dozens of works by Israeli artists related to Oct. 7 and the ongoing war against Hamas. Some of the works were created after Oct. 7, others were created before the attacks but either have relevant themes such as grief, loss and war or are now intrinsically linked to Oct. 7 because they or their creators were personally affected by it.

Four of the 25 participating artists — Yonatan Hatzor, Roee Idan, Eviatar Kipnis and Heiman — were killed either in the initial attacks or in the war. The exhibit’s curators — Michal Houminer and Carmit Blumensohn — included video footage that was shot by Idan, a photojournalist, depicting flocks of starlings over southern Israel. 

“As a news photographer, Idan captured images of soldiers, tanks, the fence and wall, rocket attacks, and fires set with incendiary balloons. However, his passion lay in nature photography,” they wrote alongside the video screen.

One painting, “Pavement and Mud,” a panoramic view of Kibbutz Be’eri painted by Ziva Jelin in shades of red and made to look as though the entire scene is dripping, was made in 2018. With its evocative color and style, it looks as though the landscape of Be’eri is itself bleeding — a chilling foreshadowing of the mass slaughter that took place in the kibbutz, which was decimated in the attacks. The piece could have been part of the exhibition regardless, but what sealed its place in the Oct. 7 canon are the scratches and bullet holes in the canvas, made by the gunfire of Hamas terrorists as they rampaged through the kibbutz, hitting the shed where Jelin stored her works.

At the opening ceremony, Shaham-Gover stressed in her speech that the exhibit was “a snapshot” of how artists are responding to Oct. 7, not the final word on the subject.

“We have no perspective. We have no way to summarize an event that is still going on,” she said. “This is a snapshot.”

In her speech, Shaham-Gover noted that there is normally a delay between a war and the creation of art about it. “Sometimes it’s years, sometimes it’s decades, but normally not in real-time,” she said. “But while some artists were frozen, others went back to their studios and started working — like crazy.”

A painting by Israeli artist Maor Haim depicting Facebook posts by a Be’eri resident on Oct. 7

A gut-wrenching piece by Haim Maor, an Israeli artist whose work mostly focuses on the Holocaust, depicts the Facebook posts from Oct. 7 that were written by Sofie Berzon MacKie, the curator of Kibbutz Be’eri’s art gallery. Painted as though they were Post-it notes left on a wall, the posts read, in Hebrew: “We’re surrounded by terrorists. Houses are going up in flames. I wish someone would save us.” and “If something happens to me: I had a good life. I loved a lot. I had many blessings. I was dealt a terrible hand, but it turned into a beautiful life.” Berzon MacKie survived the massacre; she has since deleted the posts.

A series of illustrations by Keren Shpilsher depict famous artworks altered to reflect an element of Oct. 7. In one of them, Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a portrait of five nude female prostitutes, is adapted to reflect the acts of sexual violence committed during the Oct. 7 attacks. In Shpilsher’s drawing, the nude women are splotched with blood and a ribbon of police tape stretches across the picture.

An illustration by Keren Shpilsher based on Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ that refers to the sexual violence carried out by terrorists on Oct. 7, 2023.

News photographs, mostly of funerals and the preparations for them, are projected onto one full wall of the exhibit as part of a collaboration between Anu and the annual photography competition Local Testimony.

The exhibit also has a repeating 37-track playlist, made up of new songs written after Oct. 7 but mostly of older ones, which were performed by the artists after the attacks — at funerals, in hospitals, on army bases and for evacuees in Dead Sea and Eilat hotels.

“Singers have always performed for soldiers during wars and it was always organized and orderly. But now, the Israeli musicians woke up — and with no organization or coordination — ran to perform for the people who were affected,” Shaham-Gover said. “Music here took on the deepest possible dimension that music can take. So the exhibit has a playlist.”

Shaham-Gover told eJP that the temporary exhibit is focused solely on the Israeli art world’s response to Oct. 7, but the museum intends to mark the events of Oct. 7 in a permanent way in the future. That would also include how the terror attacks and ensuing war affected Diaspora Jewry as well.