From Israel with love: art sale raises funds for Western Negev

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From Israel with love: art sale raises funds for Western Negev

All profits from Heart to Heart, an exhibition of painting, sculpture and craft art at the Catto Gallery in London are going towards expert creative therapies in the south of Israel

Detail of (from left) Untitled by Zehava Masser, 'October 7th' by Limor Zarfaty Max and 'Happy Days' by Zadok Ben-David
Detail of (from left) Untitled by Zehava Masser, 'October 7th' by Limor Zarfaty Max and 'Happy Days' by Zadok Ben-David

Everything has small beginnings, they say, and so it was for this week’s star-studded exhibition of Israeli art at a gallery in London.

A curator in Jaffa, Iris Elhanani, was handing over some work her British friend had bought at the previous week’s show, a planned encounter one Sunday last autumn that would have been unremarkable. But the day the two old friends were meeting was 8 October. Both arrived with a determination born of the ‘black Sabbath’ the day before. “I took the pictures to her and I said, ‘Let’s do something,’” Iris recalls.

That something has come to fruition over the past week in a charity art sale and accompanying exhibition of work generously donated by 60 Israeli artists based both in Israel and in London, and which includes big names from the international art scene.

Iris’ friend, Susan Coller, a former events organiser and fundraiser, was the perfect partner for their project, alongside co-curator Ilana Wegrzyn, an Israeli based in London. Iris and Ilana have both been superheroes, Susan said. “Iris has worked tirelessly. I get phone calls at four o’clock in the morning – two o’clock for me because she’s up at four o’clock.” Iris and Ilana approached the artists they knew, and many they did not yet know, to ask whether they’d be willing to donate a work or works to be sold to help Israel’s communities in the western Negev. Susan found a space – it took the Catto Gallery in Hampstead no more than five minutes to agree to donate the gallery, and plenty of their own time – sponsorship from the UJIA for mailings and found masses of support from the Israeli community in London. As the Israel–Hamas war raged, the project gained momentum.

Co-curators Iris Elhanani (right) with Ilana Wegrzyn

The paintings, sculptures, photography and craft pieces on show in the gallery in Heath Street from 1 to 5 to February 2024, and online until 1 March, include works by artists with an international standing such as Zadok Ben-David, Ron Arad, Ori Gersht, Gideon Rubin and others still making their names. Women are well represented, and among the works that have been brought to the UK are pieces by the founders and members of an artists’ hub in the south of Israel.

Sharon Ken-Dor and Limor Zarfaty Max came to London for the exhibition. Both are from kibbutzes in the south: Sharon is from Erez – less than a mile from the Gaza border – and has been evacuated to Mitzpe Ramon, and Limor is from Kibbutz Rachama, to the east. Both lost friends in the 7 October attacks. Since that date, the organisation’s activities have been focused on using art to heal and empower, as well as on managing emergency aid to support the artists in the Gaza Envelope, facilitating access to equipment and art materials.

The money raised from the sale of the works donated by the artists will go towards art therapy and creative programmes in the Western Negev communities run by Umm Culture. “This is just the perfect opportunity for us,” Sharon said. With both having now spent much time at centres for relocated families, they see how art is helping. “It enables people to express their trauma, without words, but by creating.”

They are drawing on the work they have been using for years during rocket attacks from Gaza. “We’ve translated these techniques to help people being OK with not having control,” Sharon says. ”When people are stressed, and can’t be in the present, they touch the material and they calm down. They have a relief.” With the Israeli art scene very much based in Tel Aviv, they are happy to extend its influence to the south of the country – and now to London. For their work, the exhibition in Hampstead brought a extra bonus: a donor walked into the event with a pledge to fund a mammad (safe room), for children at their art therapy centre in Sderot, which will enable them to return far quicker than anticipated.

Untitled by Hadass Shlagman; Limor Zarfaty Max and Sharon Ken-Dor

In addition to the art sales, donations are being sought for Back Home Art Aid, a partnership with Tel Aviv Artists’ House. The ‘back home’ is a reference to the future, and the eventual return of Israelis from areas in the south that were evacuated after 7 October. The aim is to buy Israeli artworks that will then be placed in the new homes built in the Western Negev.

During these dark days, Susan said, it has been lovely to see beauty coming from Israel. The exhibition in London has also emphasised that the Jewish community in the UK “is Israel’s too”, as she put it. “Am Yisrael chai. We are one.”

The charity art sale continues online until 1 March 2024 at

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