Urban spaces can be enhanced by artwork — be they hotels, halls or synagogues, banks, malls or public areas. Each of these in many parts of the world has been enriched by Ofra Friedland’s striking multi-media art.
The Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem, where she combines painting, tapestry, bronze, and wood, is one arresting example of her site-specific work — a synthesis of multimedia art created for a designated urban space. (Painting, tapestry, bronze and wood artwork, Jerusalem, Israel, 2000).
Friedland begins these monumental design projects by absorbing the structure and its surroundings. She learns, defines and soaks up the site and the features which combine to give the space its ambiance. She says:
“In my art, I can never detach myself from the place where I stand”
It is the place itself which forms the basis for her creative process. This integrates the edifice, with its diverse human element, their language, and customs, aromas and light, both in and outside the building
The components thus converge into a single theme. She then sketches and plans her installation, often in tandem with the architectural blueprint, steered by the characteristics which define the space. (1) A major challenge, she says, is recognizing the qualities that will enable the artwork to follow coherently through the structure’s differing spaces and situations.
A single theme can be interpreted in many different media — metal and ceramic sculpture, stained glass, tapestry, oil paintings and more. Their blending together in the architectural space articulates the conceptual purpose. The Aish Kodesh Synagogue in Woodmere, New York, is an example: Friedland has used murals, ceramics, paintings, bronze sculpture, stained glass windows, tapestry and wood- and stonework (Woodmere, NY. 2002-2004). (2)
The images and symbols she created for Aish Kodesh in these varied media resonate with Jewish memory of its history and its Land. Their fusion conveys the juxtaposition between past and present Jewish generations — and its theme of rejoicing in today’s freedoms while ever-mindful of the past
(2) The history of Jewish people in symbols and materials: enlarged images of parts of the stained glass windows, cement-work, embroidered parochet (Ark curtain) and bronze doors at the Aish Kodesh Synagogue.
The Olive Tree Hotel is built on what is known as Jerusalem’s ‘seam’ — the place where a wall separated the city’s historic Jewish and Arab neighborhoods until 1967. In her artwork for the hotel, Friedland has held a mirror to the city’s historical and architectural fabric. An olive tree, planted in the heart of the hotel as part of its architectural design, was a prime inspirational source for her conceptual theme.
“Our inspirational sources are imprinted within us,” she says.
To portray the theme, she created an intricate series of artworks: frescos and oil paintings nestle in niches in the hotel’s hallways, portraying local household vessels, mosaics, and artifacts. Bronze and iron lamps were designed by traditional craftsmen. Rich, colorful tapestries, inlaid with traditional Arab jewelry, were woven by Beduin women to embellish the large public rooms. (3)
Musical instruments appear, together with abstract figures of musicians, in a series of tall paintings “to highlight the area’s vibrant cultural history,” says Friedland. (4) Musical instruments appear again, hanging on the building’s inner stone walls, fashioned from wood and iron by local artisans. (5)
(5) Traditional musical instruments designed for the Olive Tree Hotel’s stone walls.
The brightly colored musical instruments, ornaments, jewelry, figurines, and architectural features, in a variety of materials, together, give Jerusalem’s Olive Tree Hotel its unique atmosphere while anchoring it firmly in its location.
A selection of the Olive Tree Hotel artworks has been reproduced as paintings. (See Paintings Collection)