1990. Israeli artist, Royi meets Italian artist, Roberto, somewhere in Palm Beach. Sitting on a beach they talk about history.
In the year 71 A.D the Roman Emperor Titus burned down the second Temple of Jerusalem and stole the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum shown by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Royi says: your ancestors stole the Menorah, what are you going to do about it?
History is an endless succession of similar tragedies buried in the collective unconscious. Prominent symbols like the Menorah, however, give the mind the power to resurrect certain events, refocus them and in so doing, change their meaning forever.
That was the beginning of the Menorah project and two and a half years of an all-encompassing collaboration.
Two artists split the canvas in half. Together they pick a story, a theme. Then each one proceeds to paint.
How do you decide when you’re finished? People often ask. “We argue until we are blue in the face and until we finally agree”. They criticize each others work while continuing to paint until they are both satisfied about their own and each other’s work.
This process is truly about compromise and listening to the other it is truly a peace process.
Two thousand years after the robbery in the Temple, two artists, an Italian and an Israeli, through the medium of their art, have attempted to soothe an old wound. In a project about compromise, healing and working side by side, they have figuratively rebuilt the Menorah of old and brought it to the 21st Century.
Menorah as the Tree of Life: the seven branches as the seven days of creation. Twelve paintings. Twelve tribes. Twelve months of the year. The ritualized burning of the flame. The fire of life being kept alive through the connection with the nourishing Earth. These are some of the most powerful myths, which have sustained people of all religions and cultures throughout history. Against the dark tapestry of contemporary social issues, homelessness, prejudice, war, miscommunication, child abuse, AIDS, hunger, drugs, injustice and old-age the artists have conceptualized the Menorah as light flickering against the dark walls of a cave. They have affirmed the need for a new mythology, a “re-connection” with lost or forgotten traditions from which we can build a new social framework.
Perhaps the value of this project lies the fact that a Gentile and a Jew, together, have metaphorically reconstructed a religious symbol that transcends both religion and culture. Subordinating the ego to the advantage of common purpose might be one of the most needed messages of this time.
Aytun Altindal: Writer-Historian