Being a collectista, my primary interest when traveling is art and architecture. At its very root, art is an international language. Hence, I was beyond excited when artist Matan Israeli of Muslala.org took me on a tour of the Musrara neighborhood in Jerusalem. My guide and close friend, Asher, sent a car and driver for the occasion. I let that car go faster than an emerald green Birkin leaves the sales floor. If I am going to learn anything about a culture, I need to totally immerse myself in it. And so I did…
Located just outside the Old City walls, Musrara is populated by Jews of various denominations, Arabs, international visitors, students and artists. Fortunately, I wore my favorite Gucci scarf that day. It quickly became a shawl, then tichel-mitpachat, and lastly a keffiyeh all in one morning jaunt. I would be lying if I claimed I didn’t pretend to be Carrie Mathison for just a few moments. Okay fine, it was more than just a few moments, but who really cares?
More important, I was in awe of the work Muslala does to encourage community amongst divergent groups. Muslala is a non-profit artists group based in Musrara. It was established five years ago by artists, residents and community activists in the “no man’s land’ of Jerusalem. They believe art is the only multi-cultural language and therefore must be accessible to everyone in order to create dialogue in communities and nations. During our Musrara tour, we visited the Black Panthers, Orthodox, and Arab sections. Throughout, Matan explained several public artworks created by Muslala. We saw the only Lemoniptous tree in the world as well as the “Meeting Point”, an artists’ gathering spot in an empty lot that aspires to be like the Serpentine Gallery of the Middle East. “The Meeting Point” started hosting annual events in specially commissioned structures, but is temporarily on hold due to land disputes. Next on our route were stairs that Matan had created as a gift to a former love. They have since turned into stairs “For All God’s Children.” Additionally, we walked though the Black Panther “Not Nice Alley,” and even met a Black Panther. We also bumped into local ceramicist Ruth Barkai on our way to Matan’s own home where he treated us to fresh water and dates. One of our highlights was the Museum on the Seam. Like the rest of the Musrara neighborhood, this exhibition space seeks to encourage co-existence though provocative, socio-political art. Last but not least, we had what Matan says is the best hummus in Jerusalem at Ikermawi. Here, Mohammad Ikermawi himself took care of us as we watched the diverse passersby prepare for afternoon prayer and Shabbat. I entered into another Carrie moment as everyone around me was being addressed by “Abu-This” and “Abu-That”. He informed me that all Arab men become “Abu” plus the name of their firstborn son and all women become “Um” with the same. It was all a life-altering experience.
Contact: Matan Israeli