JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square
500 Post Street
San Francisco, California
By John Held, Jr.
When I first washed up on San Francisco’s foggy shores in 1995, Shmulik Krampf was the gallerist-of-the-moment, presenting the most cutting-edge art in The City at refusalon. In this, he was ably aided by artist/curator Charles Linder, who makes an appearance in Krampf’s latest endeavor, a group show highlighting Israeli artist Uri Tzaig, at the JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square. Recently relocated from the Dogpatch area, refusalon has taken over the lobby of the hotel, as well as several other locations scattered throughout the upscale lodging.
Linder is joined by local artists Jonathon Keats, Samuel Yates, and a slew of others in the group show, which also includes secondary market artists Peter Voulkos, Nathan Oliviera, Paul Cezanne and Wayne Thiebaud. But the focus on this inaugural exhibit at JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square is on Israeli artist Uri Tzaig. On hand to celebrate the September 14th opening was none other than Andy David, the Israeli Consul General, and Cissie Swig, local art patron, who previously served as the Director of the U. S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program under President Clinton from 1994-1997.
I met with Uri Tzaig, the head of the Textile Design Department at Shenkar Academy, Tel Aviv, to discuss his collaboration with Bedouin women in the Negev Desert. Formerly nomadic, the women weavers are now confined to Lakiya, one of the poorest villages in Israel. Tzaig has made it his mission to help these women preserve their traditional skills by recontextualizing their work in a modern idiom and providing them a sustainable economic model.
Weaving the wool of their sheep into tents for centuries, over the past twenty years, Bedouin families have been relegated to a static environment, placing their traditional crafts in jeopardy. Regarded as Palestinian/Israeli, the Bedouins have been marginalized by ongoing government policies and are among the poorest in the country, their health and educational needs wanting. Tzaig began visiting the community some five years ago, and commenced collaboration outside of governmental support. He saw it as a healing process, not only for the Bedouin women, but for himself as well. The weavings are not souvenirs of a culture, but examples of highly skilled craft works adapted to modern life.
Surprisingly, the project has its roots in a visit to San Francisco in the late 1980s, when Tzaig, visiting after his military obligations ended, had a chance encounter with Allen Ginsberg. Unaware of the poet’s reputation, he nevertheless accepted a personal invitation to a film program Ginsberg was hosting, and from there took up film and video work himself. Tzaig has visited the Bay area many times over the years, as a resident artist at the Headlands, as exhibiting artist in the Berkeley Art Museum’s Matrix program, and leading a video workshop at the San Francisco Art Institute. The Bay Area’s predilection for participatory socially engaged art was an inspiration for the current project.
It’s a leap for the work of Bedouin tribeswomen to be shown in an upscale San Francisco hotel, especially intriguing as these weavings were traditionally used as nomadic shelter. It’s also a departure for cutting-edge refusalon to take up quarters in such an upscale environment. It’s a long way from the edge of the desert to the edge of Union Square, but it’s a globalized world these days and what better way to expose a sophisticated traveler in The City to a culture relegated to the sidelines.
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