“If you just look back, you have a refugee in your family.”
Israeli street artist Murielle Cohen wants viewers to ponder that statement when observing her newest collage series, “Refugees,” executed on walls and buildings in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighborhood and surrounding areas.
“I am planning 10 to 12 works exploring refugees from the perspective of humanity, beyond the separation of religions and beliefs,” Cohen tells ISRAEL21c.
“As a child I had an experience of losing our family home, so I can relate. Of course refugees have it much harder because they’re dispersed and there is a lot of death around them. But I got a glimpse and it has always stayed with me.”
The first in the series is the most personal for the artist, as it depicts Jewish Holocaust refugees from the 1940s. The three-layer stencil shows two women leaving Germany on a ship, with black-and-white pictures from the Nazi horror behind them and hopeful, colorful images of Palestine ahead of them.
“We were part of the biggest refugee group in the last century, and I am going from biggest to smallest,” Cohen explains. “I wanted to honor my brothers and sisters, who have a history of persecution and displacement.”
This work appears on the side of a private house in Neve Tzedek, with permission of the owner. “I knocked on the door and asked if I could do something to cover a lot of graffiti in the area. I saw it as protecting the property,” Cohen says.
The second in her Refugees series has a picture of a Syrian girl holding her little brother, with black-and-white images from the destruction of their homeland behind them and bright travel posters of Europe in their future.
This one was done on the wall of an artist’s studio in Neve Tzedek. The owner was eager for Cohen to cover existing graffiti with something meaningful.
“I am planning them in twos because each takes a lot of research,” says Cohen. “I’m taking a break before the third and fourth. A lot of preparation is involved in choosing and printing the images and cutting them. I use old stamps, book covers, poetry and other images.”
The future pairs of works in the series will follow the pattern of black-and-white images of the troubled past and color images of the present and the future unknown.
Cohen is doing the Refugees series at her own expense.
“It’s not a commission; it’s for the soul,” she says.