Two feline extremities, tugging at Jerusalem's boundaries, stretching the city taut between them; two dimensions of existence.
One hails from a family of monarchs: regal and gracious; a symbol of majesty and power.
The second – dweller of contemporary streets, a homeless vagabond, lacking recognition and status, accomplice in street brawls and the daily struggle to survive.
The lion serves as a symbol of the city and is identified as its historical and biblical consciousness.
His image is positioned throughout the city in various forms: on building tops, as logos on official paperwork, adorning the Holy Ark and Torah scrolls in synagogues, as statues and souvenirs; however he is also found on benches, garbage bins, and loitering around drain covers.
The Jerusalem lion is always male. He is a prevalent visual image, usually two-dimensional, and he sometimes appears as a statue. Yet we almost never encounter him as a live creature - to befriend or fear, whose fur we can gently caress, or whose mouth we can feed.
The cat – local inhabitant, multicolored, impertinent, and sometimes aggressive. She roams around alone or in packs, hovering around garbage bins, between the paths of Hebrew University, or at Cat Square.
The cat is the only feral animal to survive the urban space where she manages to reproduce, and in Jerusalem, for some reason, she is always referred to in the feminine. The cat dwells in the shadows; she sees well in the dark, and hides beneath the vehicles parked in the inner yards of buildings, yet she lies on fences and benches, lazily basking in the sun. The cat is a component of the tangible, bedraggled, despicable everyday existence of the country's poorest city.
The exhibition examines the visual appearance of the cat and lion in Jerusalem and in the Israeli reality in general as cultural, political, urban, and gender symbols. In addition, it considers both as representative of the circumstances of existence that accommodate different and vivid expressions of personal identity. Where and how are the territories of the lions and cats marked, and as people, how are we reflected in this context, and what is our role in this city of cats?
Moran Kliger's work engages in myths and legends, as well as the relationship between nature, man, and beast. Her painting in this exhibit portrays a woman-beast carrying a kitten in her mouth, blood dripping from his body. Is he her prey or is this a maternal act of rescue? The artwork appeals to the accepted gender structures and floods our minds with questions about maternal feelings and animal instincts.
In the ceramics installation, "The Winter Session", publicly elected political officials are sprawled out in a variety of postures on the gallery bench, not far from the Knesset government building. Taking a humorous view, Sovar Lerner aims to distinguish and characterize between which tomcat, female pussycat, or lion would suit each one respectively. However, beneath the light and humorous surface, lies a pessimistic political critique.
In the installation, "Sand Cats", Rinat Goldberger has buried assorted bones in a table of sand: They are there to be played with and for constructing different catlike creatures. The activity alludes to an archeological excavation, establishing a connection regarding the historical and national dimension; that is to say, exposing the stratum of the Jerusalem lions. Yet the trivial activity of sand play, and all its associations, also brings the creation closer to the stratum of everyday Jerusalem.
In another installation, three sphinx cats, a man-made breed, look menacingly at each other. The elegance, the hygiene and cleanliness, and the fear they convey, are suggestive of the fetishistic aspect of cats often associated with popular cat culture.
Ruth Tal's cats share her home and studio with her, and have become a subject of her work, even as she parts company with them and makes her way to the print workshop, a traditional technique that occurs alongside video clips of cats playing on the social networks. Each cat in her artwork constitutes a vivid portrayal of the human and psychological condition, and just like human beings, they sport different genders and exhibit an array of personality traits, resulting in interesting relations between them that are brimming with tension.
The reappearance of cats in Farid Abu-Shakra's artwork is portrayed in different scenarios of war, survival, and rest, occasionally conveying intense expression, at times the victim, and sometimes as an almost schematic symbol, integrating oriental ornamentation. In the context of the exhibition, the cat represents Abu-Shakra as a Palestinian artist and Israeli citizen, as an alternative to the Israeli-Zionist ethos embodied in the lion.
Dov Abramson observes the cats of Jerusalem as a local aesthetic object and has created a sculpture consisting of nine equal sections, each one answering to the halachic definition of "Kav" (ancient unit of measurement). The number nine is symbolic of the cat's ability to survive, and the city's ability to survive too, so it seems. The merging of the halachic definition with the cats' fur, and the clean graphic display of the street cats reflect the complex dynamics between holy and profane, and between dignity and vulgarity, in the city.
Revital Falke creates relief paintings using plasticine and glue. In her series of work, the lion appears as the symbol of the city of Jerusalem and on various religious articles, hinting at the tense political and social reality in the city. The lion has been transformed from a symbol of royalty to being representative of the threat and discomfort experienced by the artist as a secular woman in Jerusalem, where she has lived and created her art for the past decade.
The Talmud tractate of Sanhedrin describes the moment of nullification of the idolatrous impulse, that appeared in the form of a young lion of fire emerging from the Holy of Holies: "The form of a fiery lion cub emerged from the chamber of the Holy of Holies." Rachel Radashkevitch alludes to this lion, consumed with passion and a dweller in ancient Jerusalem, and seeks its manifestation, even virtually, out of a hope to discover its essence in the present day.
Shahar Sarig brings to life myths from the ancient Middle East in his works, which portray various encounters between lions, people, and different hybrid creatures. Using contemporary digital painting techniques, he exposes the presence of the cultural and historical weight of the symbolic creature, that surprisingly continues its existence, even in the absence of actual wild animals in the space around us. Sarig portrays the mythological hybrids as a combination of animal and machine, and animal and the urban landscape, thus transposing the symbolic and ancient field to the technological and domestic arena.
Roy Margaliot's installation combining sculpture and illustration is a portrayal of the generic urban environment. Buildings as markers of abandonment and neglect; the periphery as a sovereign oasis for the street cats, that are in fact the subject of loving words, expressions of intimacy, and allusions to the sky, light, and smiles. It is an environment that emits the human and feline tendency to threaten and distance oneself, yet at the same time seeking physical touch and warmth.
The film, Black Cat, combines a recorded interview with Moshe Amouyal, one of the "Black Panther" activists, with a visual translation of the interview using animation. The film is based on historical photographs obtained from various archives, as well as private family photographs belonging to veteran residents of Musrara. It provides a touching glimpse of the private history that gave rise to the Blank Panther movement. A fascinating and complex chapter in the history of the New Jerusalem that reminds us that even panthers began their lives as small kittens.
Concept and artistic management: Avi Sabag
Production: Avi Dabach
Animation: Liav Tzabari
Courtesy of the Musrara Collection.