A glass shofar inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Bible and Dead Sea salt crystals ensconced in polished glass are among new artworks set to be gifted to world leaders and dignitaries by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during presidential visits abroad.
To this end, students from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem have been invited to create “uniquely Israeli works of art” destined to be given as gifts to foreign heads of states and officials. The idea was originally developed in 2017 by Dr. Eran Ehrlich, head of the Department of Ceramic and Glass Design at Bezalel, who then asked Professor Muli Ben Sasson, lecturer in the Department of Ceramic and Glass Design at Bezalel, to manage the overall project.
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Dubbed “Presidential Gifts to World Leaders”, the initiative combines a deep homage to Jewish and Israeli culture and an individual interpretation of “white-and-blue” tradition. The project falls under the broader umbrella of President Reuven Rivlin’s flagship program “Israeli Hope”, which aims to strengthen civil relations and partnership between the four main communities that make up Israeli society – secular, ultra-Orthodox, religious and Arab.
Students from Bezalel presented their creations to Rivlin and his wife Nechama during a visit to the President’s Residence in 2017. The president was immediately captivated by the creations and compelled to drive the concept forward, gifting a selection of artworks to world leaders.
To prepare for the project, Ben Sasson says “students met with representatives from the President’s Residence to learn about the social and global issues [that are part of the ‘Israeli Hope’ program]. At that point, the project was launched as a full-fledged academic course.”
Ben Sasson tells NoCamels that at the core of the project “was the idea that an Israeli work of art had the power to serve as an ambassador of national culture, one laden with deep meaning and historical value. Each work of art was designed by the students themselves stemming from their personal worldviews, as well as the background materials they studied during the course.”
“During their studio work, the students designed a product that aspires to adapt the design to the modern era, an era in which symbols are adapted and reformed. They created their prototypes from ceramic materials, glass and other materials. The final products show what a fascinating project this was and proves that the students, this young generation of artists, are so creative, with fresh and original ideas that begin with a deep thought process,” he explains.
When presented with the finished works, Rivlin told the students: “When we travel around the world and present these gifts on behalf of the State of Israel, we will be gifting unique works of art that showcase and spotlight Jewish culture and history.”
“Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem isn’t just an institute of art and higher education, but a creator of Israeli cultural experiences,” he said, adding that “you can see that the works of art are created with a connection to all the cultures that gathered in Israel upon our return to the land, with a connection to our shared life and culture here in Israeli society.”
Third and fourth-year students at Bezalel’s Department of Ceramic and Glass Design at Bezalel took part in the course, and some works were selected as part of a limited series in 2018.
From the pool of creations, two specific artworks have already been chosen by Rivlin for immediate gifting to leaders, while another two will be given as future presents.
Artworks selected for immediate gifting to world leaders
The first selected piece, named “Break and Repair,” was created by Bezalel student Lauren Fridberg and presented to Pope Francis during a visit by Rivlin in November 2018.
The piece is designed as a large jewel and conceived to represent the different quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City and each of the ancient Abrahamic faiths, connecting and uniting all the different parts together into one creation.
An additional piece Rivlin especially liked is “Seeing the Voices” by Matan Divald and consists of a striking glass shofar decorated with verses from the Bible.
The glass shofar reflects “the connection between the visible and the audible and seeks to express the voice of a nation in a global and multicultural dimension, regardless of religion, race, gender or nationality,” according to a Bezalel statement. “The shofar symbolizes world peace.”
Bezalel says that the shofar is decorated with part of a verse describing the ceremonial blowing of the shofar during the Jubilee years.
Artworks selected for future gifting to leaders
A piece of art that has been selected for future gifting is “Salt of the Earth” by Sharon Scheyer using salt crystals from the Dead Sea. The piece, described in a statement as a “magnification of a Dead Sea salt crystal”, is produced from blown and polished glass, giving it the appearance of a large diamond.
“In the center of the crystal is an air bubble shaped like a drop of water that Scheyer filled with crushed salt crystals from the Dead Sea. The mirror through the different dimensions of the piece represents various adaptations of inner space, and reflects its unique and mysterious core, which invites the viewer to think and reflect,” Bezalel said.
As a gift to world dignitaries, “Salt of the Earth” refers to the Biblical concept of the “covenant of salt.” The term “salt of the earth” has been used in the Hebrew language since the late 20th century to refer to a person or group of people as being of high quality.
Also selected for future gifting is “Cylinder Seal” by Chana Hauser, a modernized version of the cylinder seals used in antiquity in Mesopotamia and in Israel, shaped to emulate the look of a waving Israeli flag.
“Through the project, we learned about Israeli design, the many symbols, and the vision and goals of this unique style of design,” Hauser tells NoCamels via email.
She says the inspiration for her piece struck during a visit to the archaeology wing in the Israel Museum where she saw a cylinder seal.
“I was surprised that the cylinder seal, something that many kings and queens used in the past to make their marks, wasn’t at use anymore. When I create my sculptures, I always think about the marks I leave on the material,” she explains.
Hauser says that as a Bezalel student, she has participated in many collaborations and this one is among her favorites.