When I lead Cross-Cultural Graffiti Tours in Tel-Aviv and Jaffa, pain is often discussed. It is not shameful pain but rather ways in which pain of one individual taps upon a broader human feeling that offers others shelter and refuge. Pain, as presented in Tel-Aviv and Jaffa’s Graffiti becomes a vivid conversation about human suffering, ones’ journey and simply (or not simply) being.
Looking at Graffiti as a personal culture people create allows to discuss the power in diversity. Not only diversity but also the power and importance of recognizing primary values in cultures. As in some cultures, mainly western, vulnerability equals weakness, other cultures relate to vulnerability with honesty and at times even a sense of pride. Cultures such as Argentinian cultures expressing feelings is legitimate and important. This allows people to relate to being vulnerable as just another natural feeling all human experience. But in Tel-Aviv and Jaffa being vulnerable is seen more often as ones’ weakness. Therefore choosing to create a private cultural where your most intimate and tender spots are discussed publicly in this cultural landscape, is quite courageous.
There are two Graffiti artists who discuss painful moments and existential crises on public city walls. Dede, is an artist who created a thriving artistic career by transforming traumas from his military service into Tel-Avivian Graffiti. Fascinated by the vulnerability of humans and the dire suffering some experience, his entire artistic career kindled from pain. Beginning from his own pain Dede used his Graffiti as a laboratory for researching and checking types of pain resulting from being human. It may not be surprising that Dede’s logo and signature became no other than a bandaid.
Sara Erenthal, who uses her real name when signing her graffiti and murals, creates a self portrait that she paints around the world. This girl, she told me when I met her painting in the street, aims to give a voice to girls and women who are voiceless across cultures and communities. This ‘She Being’ who is mostly drawn troubled reflects fragments of the artists’ biography. Raised in an uthra-orthodox jewish family, Sara ran away at 17 in rebellion to an arranged marriage. Leaving her culture, family and familiar world obviously lead to confusion, solitude and loneliness. I find in Erenthal’s figures, a form of healing and auto therapy.
In both the cases of Sara Erenthal and of Dede, pain is transformed into creation and dialogue. This pain bridges each humans’ personal pain by sharing segments of their experiences and stories and by pointing at the common denominator that all humans have in common: vulnerability, pain and suffering. Paraphrasing Rachel Naomi Remen, pain is a place where we can meet one another, heal and connect. I personally appreciate the intimate artistic cultures each of these artists create. As both Erenthal and Dede transform their pain into wisdom and reach out to share it with whoever is willing to look.
For learning more about them and peeking at some of their graffiti in Tel-Aviv and Jaffa, you are invited to come and experience the Cross-Cultural Graffiti Tour. For “Suffering shapes the life force, sometimes into anger, sometimes into blame and self pity. Eventually it may show us the freedom of loving and self serving.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom 1997, p.118)