From Thought to Form — dynamic international council held in Jerusalem

The Zanele Muholi display in the Israel Museum’s African Art Gallery. Muholi’s Zibuyile Parktown was donated by SAFIM to the Israel Museum’s collection

Nestled on the hilltops of Jerusalem stands the extraordinary Israel Museum. 

Steeped in history and rich with cultural treasures assembled around their vast indoor and outdoor galleries, it is one of the world’s leading encyclopaedic Museums. Weaving stories, narratives and traditions spanning over 5000 years, the Museum has built a far-ranging collection of over 500 000 objects. 

Every year during the first week of June, the Museum’s international Friends from across the globe meet in Jerusalem for a four-day International Council. This art and cultural experience provides an opportunity for participants to enjoy new exhibitions and events, mingle with Museum curators and professional staff, and connect with others from around the world. 

The 2019 Council, titled From Thought to Form, focused on the creative process behind the curation and production of the exhibitions — from concept to completion. Over 100 patrons from 12 countries enjoyed a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings of the Museum through a programme of activities, workshops, lectures and events. 

The South African Friends of the Israel Museum (SAFIM) is one of 16 international Friends associations promoting and supporting the programming, exhibitions, publications, and special events that have become the hallmark of the Israel Museum. SAFIM is the sole sponsor of the Museum’s Youth Wing Outreach Programme for children of Ethiopian Immigrants. For many of these children, this is their first exposure to various forms of art and craft, and particularly to the Museum. 

At this year’s Council Marco van Embden, SAFIM Co-chairperson, was a recipient of the prestigious Honorary Fellowship Award given during a ceremony at the council. The award recognised Marco’s significant role in founding SAFIM and his on-going commitment to its cause. Participants also delighted in sharing the unveiling of SAFIM’s recent acquisition to the Museum’s collection, Zanele Muholi’s Zibuyile Parktown, which has pride of place in the African Art Gallery. SAFIM’s two interns were on-hand to welcome guests and share their knowledge and experiences gained. 

Karen Fisher, SAFIM Member and first-time participant, reflects on her time at the council: 

I went with a completely open mind, without pre-conceived ideas or expectations.  I can honestly say I was not prepared for the exceptional and profound experience of the last three days. 

We were able to choose from a number of curator-led exhibition tours.  Highlights included: Veiled Women of the Holy Land, Through Time and Space: the Diary of Astronaut Ilan Ramon and a Scroll from the Dead Sea, Peter and Pan: from Ancient Greece to Neverland,  Maimonides — a legacy in Script,  Victory over the Sun, Russian Avant-Garde and Beyond, and Julia Rosefeldt’s Manifesto.

We also participated in workshops led by curators, experts and artists. These dynamic presentations represented a broad cross section of the arts in Israel. What they had in common was the way each artist represented some of the core values of the Israel Museum, namely innovation, inclusivity and tolerance. It was inspiring to see how the arts can be used to preserve cultural identity and also to synthesise the old with the new. The artists, all working in different mediums, demonstrated how art can be used as a vehicle for building bridges, bringing people together and instigating positive social change.

This account would be incomplete without mentioning the social components which were great fun and facilitated the forging of new friendships. The various lunches, dinners and receptions were carefully designed so that every gathering was elevated to a multi-sensory experience, which offered equal elements of surprise and delight.

The council culminated in a spectacular final dinner in an illuminated forest grove. Harpists, movement artists and aerialists entertained us under the crescent moon. Personally, what I valued most was the range and high calibre of all the content and the opportunity to meet and get to know people from around the world. This experience seemed to parallel the Council theme From Thought to Form — the spark of creativity: new ideas and friendships, and finding the form: the pathways to sustain meaningful engagement with others, the arts and Israel. 

To become a member of SAFIM, participate in unique art events or for more information please contact Sarin Goott: 

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