Co-curator of art gallery at Be’eri kibbutz says art is a ‘beacon of light for humanity’

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Co-curator of art gallery at Be’eri kibbutz says art is a ‘beacon of light for humanity’

Museum in Ein Hod recreates destroyed works and gallery will be rebuilt

Kibbutz Be’eri laid its foundations in 1946 on the edge of the Negev, settling in an area of incredible surrounding beauty and forming strong roots in the printing industry. Forty years on, with a community of 1,200, the Be’eri Gallery was opened on-site to showcase contemporary Israeli art and culture.

Born and raised there, Ziva Jellin has been head curator and director of the gallery since 1993, joined in 2011 by Sofie Berzon MacKie, co-curator. They pour their heart and soul into every exhibition, working with the best artists in Israel and nurturing new talent. The gallery space was a focal point for the kibbutz; a huge draw for tourism, kids’ art lessons plus regular gallery talks and cultural events.

On October 7, when Hamas militants targeted Be’eri, more than 100 people, including peace activist Vivian Silver were killed. Dozens of others were abducted to Gaza, leaving homes desecrated and the gallery torched beyond recognition.

Sofie says: “We have a mothers’ WhatsApp group where we communicate – we are the centre of the kibbutz, the strength. Both of my sisters live on the kibbutz and I saw a message from one of them that morning, saying, ‘Help. I have terrorists in my house’. We locked ourselves into my son’s room – our safe room – and stayed silent.

Be’eri Gallery before it was destroyed

“I thought to myself ‘I don’t know what happened, but I can’t think about it right now’. When we were eventually rescued, we left very quickly so for a few days we were sure the gallery was fine. It was only when I read a newspaper describing the desecration of the gallery that I knew everything was gone.”

Sofie came to London for a fundraising event by The British Friends of the Art Museum of Israel (BFAMI), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising funds to support educational programmes run by the Art Museums of Israel. Her partner and three children are back in Israel, living in a hotel until July when they can move to temporary housing.

BFAMI became aware of Sofie and Ziva through an interview with them that had been published and got in touch to offer support. Sofie outlined the situation and co-chair Pamela Crystal was deeply moved. “That’s it – we have to get involved,” she said.

Sofie speaking at The Dorchester

Sofie spoke passionately at the event at The Dorchester, telling supporters that “art is a beacon of light for humanity”. Significant funds were raised for trauma relief programmes in 14 art museums in Israel and the rebuilding of the Be’eri gallery. The museums do receive Government funding, but BFAMI gives that ‘extra oxygen’, raising on the night more than £500,000 through the auction for artworks including a bequeathed Picasso and works by Ron Arad.

Everyone is rooting for Be’eri, including a small museum in Ein Hod Village that re-produced the destroyed works of Osnat Ben Dov, plus the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv which stepped forward to host the exhibition of photographer Daniel Tchetchik, who was due to exhibit in Be’eri in November. Additional support has come from Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who toured Be’eri with his wife Elke Büdenbender last November, alongside the President of Israel and his wife Michal, announcing a donation of €7 million to help rebuild the gallery.

Kibbutz Be’eri after the attack

Sofie, an artist herself, was due to exhibit work in Jerusalem in October and recalls: “My curator friend called me up and she said ‘the only thing I feel comfortable showing right now is your work’. The gallery is called Studio of Her Own and we opened Silvery Water And Starry Earth, which runs until April.”

Sofie remains optimistic about the future. “When you lose everything and can’t go home, you really have to think about ‘what do I need now’: clothes, therapy, sleeping pills.” Speaking positively of the gallery reconstruction, she says: “It will take at least three years and will happen alongside the rebuild of the kibbutz itself. The plan is to include a dedicated space for studio work and hopefully a small apartment to host a residency programme, so the artist and their family can stay there.

“We’ve been given this opportunity to rebuild but it has to be sustainable and relevant to what we need, so I think the first exhibits should be by the artists of the Negev.”

Sofie says that she and her fellow kibbutz community have a fierce determination to rebuild and move forward stronger than ever. “You have to work hard to be alive and mentally healthy with whatever tools you have. For me, the tool I have is art – as long as I’m making art, I’m looking to the future to restore my faith in the good of the world, taking the worst pain and transforming it into love and beauty and connection. That’s what I’m doing. Successfully.”

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