‘Bread and Roses’ exhibition overshadowed by concerns about new Israeli gov't

Pia Steckelbach

4 min read
"Bread and Roses" exhibition opens in Tel Aviv, Israel.
i24NEWS"Bread and Roses" exhibition opens in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Artists worry that incoming far-right government in Israel will effect democracy and relations between Arabs and Jews

For 17 years, the exhibition "Bread and Roses" showcases and sells more than 400 art pieces donated by artists, with the profits given to organizations promoting job opportunities for Arab women and exchanges between Arabs and Jews. But this year, participants are worried in light of the political atmosphere surrounding the expected far-right government in Israel, and the consequences for democracy and relations between Arabs and Jews.

Here "Bread and Roses" is more than the slogan that became famous during the American textile workers’ protests in the early 20th century. This exhibition in Tel Aviv is taking it further: Every year for four days it showcases donated artworks that are sold for the benefit of organizations promoting financial independence among Arab and Jewish women and coexistence – something that in current political times is more important than ever, says the organizer Dani Ben Simhon.

“I think what we are gaining here is much more than money. I think we are talking about hope. Because in the political situation - radical, fascist - when you are doing Jewish and Arab projects it's already radical. Imagine where we are. And we are promoting democratic and open society. We are promoting values through this artwork.”

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The exhibition featured about 400 pieces, some by well-established artists and some by those in the beginning stages of their career. The paintings, photographs and sculptures were offered during the exhibition and online.

Two thirds of the profit go to a female workers’ union WAC-MAAN as well as the NGO Sindyanna, that Ben Simhon manages. It produces olive oil made by Arab and Jewish women together.

For Ben Simhon, raising awareness for female unemployment, especially among Arab women, was his motivation when he founded “Bread and Roses” with a few artist friends 17 years ago. Today, Wafaa’ Ake al-Tiara leads a group that will receive funds from the exhibitions’ sale. 

In ‘MAAN’ Arab and Jewish women who meet, exchange expertise and empower each other professionally.

“We help women to enter organized jobs with full rights. Develop women and integrate them into Jewish society, because we want a change in society. Therefore, we decided to have Arab-Jewish meetings, we called ‘doing and talking’. Women who started to work saw it causing a revolution in their lives - personally and in society. They reached economic independence and their personalities became stronger. We have women with very impressive success stories,” Al-Tiara told i24NEWS.

More than 350 artists contributed to the exhibition with their donations. Among them is Lida Sharet Massad. Her installation consists of wires she collected at a construction site and shaped into dancing figures. To her, her participation means supporting economic independence for women and making a political statement towards the expected new Israeli government.

“I suffer from what is happening here. I suffer from what I see around me and read. I think that we go back in time 50 years, maybe more. I think that our society deteriorates. I hope that what everyone talks about, that this government won't happen in the end. I pray for that. It is always important to support weakened women, now even more,” she said.

Ben Simhon expects that during the four days of the exhibition $57,000 - $71,000 worth of art will be sold. Sharet Massad and the visitors of "Bread and Roses" believe that art and dialogue on the ground level can bring change in society.

“Especially when women join forces,” she said. The art sale will support them doing exactly that. 

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