What you see in the image above is a 10 ft. x 4 ft x 5in. photo-based interactive sculptural installation depicting Sara Friedlander's reflections on the situation in Israel/Palestine. Her exhibition, "Stonewalled in Jerusalem: A Gateway to Dialogue," is currently on display in Santa Cruz through Dec. 15th (details below).
See close-ups of the individual narrative “stones," which make up the extended exhibition. What follows is Sara's description of how this work evolved.
How I came to the project
Born into a secular Jewish family in 1950, I remained the only family member who had never visited the Holy Land, until conditions aligned themselves in June, 2011. Although I respect those with faith, I personally adhere to no formal religious practice and, in fact, fear religious fundamentalism’s effect on the fate of the world. And yet, I readily identify myself as Jewish and take pride in my heritage. At the same time, because of my progressive political perspective, the Palestinians’ plight, though far from blameless, has made it impossible for me to support Israel’s policies of building separation walls and settlements in the occupied territories. Criticism of these matters has been discouraged in the US, especially among Jews, who fear being labeled self-loathing or anti-Semitic. Although I freely discussed my confusion about the conflict in closed circles I had avoided visiting Israel until this trip.
However, once inside the Old City, with camera in hand, I was mesmerized and spent days walking the back alleys, tunnels and stairways, where endless stonewalls hold centuries of history along with its turmoil and religious fervor. Although I’d repeatedly heard Jerusalem described as holy, spiritual and sacred, for me, raw unresolved conflict was evident on every surface and in every face. When I touched the Western Wall for the first time, unexpectedly, waves of emotion flooded me. The grief, the ghosts, the memories and deep scars held within these walls were palpable.
“Irreconcilable” permeated these passageways and I felt the need to question why so many were rushing to the mosques, churches and synagogues to pray. Are their prayers being answered? What are they praying for? Why, when empathy could heal so much, do insularity, fear, anger, blame and defensiveness continue to prevail?
Upon returning, I searched for a way to artfully communicate my impressions to those who’d never been there, those who remember well their own experience there and those who, like myself, have kept silent about our conflicted feelings concerning the situation. I researched and then edited thousands of original and archival photographs and this led to the concept of creating a stonewall focused on compassion and shared grief, with each “narrative stone” carved from wooden panels, then painted and embedded with digitally collaged images of present day cohabitants of the Old City crossing paths with one another, while co-mingling with the ghosts that continue to haunt and separate them.
At the Western Wall, visitors routinely leave a prayer in the crevices between stones. These are intended to honor the departed or to express personal hopes for the future. This wall provides viewers an opportunity to reflect deeply and offer their own ideas, reactions or prayers for traversing this seemingly hopeless situation. Perhaps, together, we can imagine new ways to open a more compassionate dialogue in order to bridge this impasse.
Stonewalled in Jerusalem from Sara Friedlander on Vimeo
This video is meant as an introduction to an interactive, mixed media art installation by the same title, which I created after my first visit to Jerusalem in 2012. I'm hoping this piece can continue to serve as a catalyst for open and compassionate conversations about the unresolved turmoil in Israel/Palestine.
The Wall measures 11ft. by 4 ft. and consists of 22 carved and painted wooden "stones" embedded with digital collages of my own photographs, as well as archival images. It is easily hung and available for exhibition.
Stonewalled in Jerusalem will open for exhibit this Thursday, October 23rd through December 15th from 9-5pm daily at the Cowell College Provost's House at University of California Santa Cruz.
About Sara Friedlander: For forty-five years, Sara has traveled extensively and been capturing images with the camera. In 1998 she began piecing together her Photoshop skills, her interest in painting and her imagination and started working in mixed media.
Her body of work includes several series ranging from Chinese women with bound feet and the New York subways, to blurred landscapes and aerial photographs. Now, after a 30 year career as a psychotherapist, she practices art full time and resides in Santa Cruz, CA.