I have always been drawn to oriental culture. I was enchanted by the strong varying shades of colors. I was enchanted by its simplicity. The simplicity of the people. Their warmth, closeness, and faith drew me. The objects of Middle Eastern culture reflect these qualities. They are not perfect. They were not made by machines, rather by hand by people who faced many hardships. They too symbolize simplicity, the simplicity of the people who made them.
My friend Helen and I work together to create “Works on Iron.” We make minimalist modern compositions on big industrial iron plates. We combine in our work old authentic elements that belong to the different cultures in our area- Israeli and Arabic; Jewish and Islamic. These elements include Moroccan and Yemenite silver amulets, Bedouin amber and silver beads, old Middle Eastern coins, and Yemenite bracelets, but also Judaica pieces like silver ornaments of old Torah cases from Yemen, and pieces of silver praying-shawl from Eastern Europe.
Our works connect me to the different cultures in our area. For example, the old rusty coins which in some cases are so rusted that the metal embossing has been erased and the face of the coin is completely smooth. I always think about the people who have touched these coins. I think about hardworking people, people who do difficult physical labor and whose clothes were drenched with sweat. I think about the silver amulets which were made by Yemenites, or Bedouins, or Moroccans. Handmade amulets that are not symmetric, and which have signs of wear and tear, are beautiful in my eyes. They are like us; people who wear the marks of life as it passes us by. The wrinkles in the iron are like the wrinkles of people who have lived, and whose hardships are embedded on their face. These wrinkles are what make them unique and beautiful. They are a reflection of our lives.
Our work could be viewed as a bridge between the different cultures in our area. The beauty and harmony in these cultures are portrayed in our work on the industrial iron plates. This serves in our eyes as an analogy to the ability of people from these different cultures to live side by side in peace and harmony in the Middle East.
Helen, my art partner, is originally from Holland but immigrated to Israel years ago. She came to Israel as a tourist, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. I was born in Israel and lived here all my life. The connection between us is also a connection between different cultures. Each one of us brings a different mentality to the work, a different skill set, and a unique viewpoint. The connection between us is amazing. Even though we are different, our perception of art is identical and that is what enables us to work together which is rare among artists. Our secret is to curb our ego, and treat each other with respect and appreciation.
We both live in Jerusalem, which is also where we find the materials we incorporate into our work. The search for these materials is a special experience on its own. We roam the allies of Jerusalem, visit the various markets, and make colorful and fascinating acquaintances. Some are open, gladly willing to help, while others are more reserved, and it takes a while longer to get them to cooperate with us. In more aspects than one, Jerusalem is reflected in our works, being an amalgamation of the old and new, the modern and the simple, an ingathering of the exiles and of religions, cultures and nationalities.
André Maurois, a Jewish French 20th century author said: “Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more human world.”
And Leo Toltsoy, the famous 19th century Russian author said: “[art] is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”
I hope that our art will succeed in touching the people who are exposed to it. I hope it will succeed in reminding us that regardless of religion and nationality, we are all similar. There are those among us that are good hearted, and those that are less, those that are compassionate and those that are not, those that are full of happiness and those that are melancholy. We all have hardships and sadness in our lives, and we all take joy in similar things- family, friends, and self fulfillment. If we can internalize the fact that we all share a common ground, if we can understand that no matter what religion, nationality or gender, people are people, then we can overcome the disagreements we have with one another, and live lovingly and peacefully side by side.
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Asnat Greenberg is an economist, an artist, and a writer.
She worked in the Bank of Israel for 20 years as a Senior Economist, managing billions of dollars worth of foreign investments
A few years ago, she followed her heart, left the Bank of Israel, and began to create art, exhibiting in the US and in Europe.
Her book, Secrets of Kindness: A Journey among Good People, that has been published recently, is the story of her journey through the world of altruism. This fascinating mosaic of interviews with good people forms an impressive and inspiring document showing the human spirit at its best.
She is married, has three children, and lives in Jerusalem, Israel.
You can visit Asnat’s website here.