Taking the idea of urban renewal to a new artistic level, an old abandoned industrial building at the Haifa Port was turned over to a group of street artists and transformed into studios and an exhibition platform for underground culture.
The project, called Kartel, opened in August this year and is attracting crowds of admirers, both Israelis and tourists – which is only fitting, as the artists themselves are from Israel and abroad.
“We are bringing artists we love to Haifa from all over the world,” says one of the founders of the project, who prefers to remain anonymous in the tradition of urban artists.
“They each stay here a week or two in residency and create a unique site-specific installation. They visit and get the vibe; then they paint on one of the outer walls and also do an indoor exhibition or installation. We give them a team of people to help them do whatever they want technically.”
The first exhibition at Kartel showcased the work of locally based and internationally recognized Broken Fingaz Crew along with Paris-based graffiti artist Horfee. Considered one of the world’s leading street artists, Horfee blends typographical imagery onto vibrant illustrations, drawing from the influences of 1970s Americana as well as Japanese art.
The founder tells ISRAEL21c that each guest artist gets only a week or two to finish the installation. The hurried time frame tends to “bring out something new every time,” he says.
Unlike mainstream art exhibitions, Kartel shows last only one weekend, are open almost exclusively during nighttime hours, and are paired with a social event involving music and drink.
“We try to take art and make it more accessible and fun. Overall, people are very positive about it, even surprised to see how we have an audience for this outside of Tel Aviv,” he reports. “You see so many young people thirsty to be exposed to this kind of art.”
Kartel, expected to continue for several months, is partly independent and partly sponsored by Haifa’s center for immigrant absorption. Among the group of people responsible for getting the concept off the ground are the Haifa graffiti artists known as the Ghostown Crew.
“When we started it was a bit harder to convince artists to come to Israel because it was during the war [with Hamas in Gaza], but most of them come from a graffiti background and they don’t mind dodgy situations,” says the founder.
“One of the street artists we had was Finsta from Stockholm. He asked a lot of questions and when he understood he was free to say anything he wanted – that we’re pro-peace and pro-living together — he said okay.”
Among many other performing and visual artists happy to accept the invitation to Haifa have been the Israeli graffiti artist Know Hope; the underground hip-hop artists Free the Robots and music producer AdrianYounge from California; Marian Tone from Berlin; Marky Funk from Jerusalem; and Kalimist and Cohen Beats from Tel Aviv.
“It’s a very eclectic bunch, but I would say about all the artists that they are true to themselves and not afraid to go out of their comfort zone and try new stuff,” says the founder. “We aren’t looking for just nice stuff, but for people who are pushing the boundaries.”
He emphasizes that local talent gets to share plenty of the Kartel spotlight.
“We had some exhibitions of strictly local artists, to give them exposure. We believe there are a lot of really talented people in Haifa, a lot of creativity here.
“We have two goals: one is to bring artists we like and expose them to locals to inspire them and start new things; and the other is to take local artists and give them this platform,” he concludes.
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