"We invite artists and curators to take part in this conversation, to allow their important voice to shape the present and future of Jewish life."
To see press coverage of the Biennale click here
The Jerusalem Biennale took place for the 3rd time in 2017, hosting 26 exhibitions and 7 installations from around the world.
Biennale 2017's title was Watershed. As a geological term, it examines water, streams and rivers that split and converge. It can also be used as a metaphor to help us think about ourselves and the way we split and converge as individuals and groups. Both in Hebrew ("Kav Parashat Hamayim") and in English, Watershed is used to describe a moment of important twist - an event that changed the course of history. Read more about Biennale 2017
Born in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, artist Astha Butail currently lives and works near Delhi. In 2017, Butail won the coveted BMW Art Journey Award, gifted each year to an emerging artist showing at Art Basel Hong Kong. Butail’s winning project, In the Absence of Writing “is ‘an homage to the intangible oral traditions that are still alive today’ (artists words). For the BMW Art Journey, Butail investigated the Zoroastrian Avesta, Jewish Oral Torah and Indian Veda traditions by experiencing and recording their different memory techniques and interviewing scholars and practitioners of each tradition."
Butail traveled to Jerusalem for a week in late February and early March of 2018. Through several mutual connections, Butail reached out to the Jerusalem Biennale, and we ultimately acted as an informal host to the artist and her team, guiding her to relevant sites, scholars, and experiences across Jerusalem.
Butail carried with her a moveable temporary tent, fabricated from fine muslin and gauze, and held up by wooden poles. We led Butail across the old city of Jerusalem, erecting the tent in a various sites and hosting several interviews with scholars within. The scholars we led her to included Rabbi David Sperber, Rabbi Nachman Kahana, Rabbi Shai Finkelstein, and female scholar Sarah Yehudit Schneider. Butail interviewed, filmed and photographed each scholar, soaking up knowledge of the Jewish oral tradition that has existed for over 5000 years. Additionally, we introduced Butail to participating Jerusalem Biennale artist, Andi Arnovitz, for a talk in her studio, where the two exchanged ideas and showed one another works in which they found commonality.
Butail visited Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls where she erected the tent, photographed and filmed in preparation for her Art Basel exhibition. She took visual documentation at the site of the tomb of King David, and listened to men learning Talmud nearby. We brought her to a traditional reading of the Book of Esther in honor of the holiday of Purim, celebrated by Jews across the world.
The time spent together was meaningful for both the artist and for the Biennale. Butail’s visit as an exploration of the Jewish tradition is not only relevant through spiritual associations, but more from the perspective of the work itself in a modern contemporary world which seeks to honor the ancient traditions in new and relevant ways. The Biennale was honored to have hosted Ms Butail, and looks forward as conversation continues.
To learn more about Astha Butail, her project, “In the Absence of Writing,” and her time in Jerusalem, check out BMW Art Journey