We are inaugurating the Umm El Fahem Gallery’s renovated spacious hall with the exhibition “Gershon Knispel, When the Cannons Roar,” which includes three series of works, in the center of which five huge works lean on the wall, their top just about grazing the hall ceiling. Knispel created these five paintings, along with dozens of other works, for a unique space inaugurated in the year 2000 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the military junta’s former police staff headquarters. When the regime of terror was overthrown, the old building was transformed into the Resistance Memorial Museum, and it opened with Knispel’s exhibition, “When the Cannons Roar, the Muses do not Remain Silent,” from which the title for the current exhibition was taken. When the exhibition closed in its original Sao Paulo setting, the works were shown in various places, after being worked on anew by Knispel each time. As the artist puts it: “To show that the work on a monumental canvas of the sort that were dedicated to such charged topics, never ceases.”
The works on exhibition at the Umm El Fahem Art Gallery relate to two chapters in this wide-scale series that was exhibited in Sao Paulo and that focused on injustices perpetrated in the 20th century. Three of the five works relate to the bombardment of cities: Baghdad; Belgrade, and Beirut. The other two relate to topics of Brazilian concern – the torture and murder of freedom fighters such as Jewish journalist Vladimir Herzog, and Olga Benário, wife of the secretary of the Communist Party (who was called the “Knight of Hope”). The painting greeting visitors as they enter the gallery at Umm El Fahem, relates to these happenings, and to the specific portraits of those tortured, in an extremely large, graphic collage. The second painting is dedicated to the memory of Chilean Folksinger and Composer Victor Jara, who, along with hundreds of others, was murdered in the Santiago de Chile Stadium, when the military coup broke out in Chile on 11 September 1973. For Knispel, these paintings are part of a painful personal biography – the arrest, torture and disappearance of Brazilian colleagues and friends.
A number of prints from the series Knispel created between 2002 and 2008, are also on show at the Umm El Fahem Art Gallery, works he began a short time after the close of his Resistance Memorial Museum show, in collaboration with Artist & Architect Oscar Niemeyer, his friend. The prints, dedicated to “Peace, and a Better World” (as Niemeyer wrote on one of them), are characterized by the impression of a large hand, “a hand of caution and warning,” Knispel emphasizes. The hand, dripping blood that outlines the map of Latin America, makes reference to the concrete ” Latin America Memorial” which Niemeyer created in the 1990s as part of a Sao Paulo memorial complex.
Illustrations for Alexander Penn
An earlier series by Knispel, his illustrations for Alexander Penn’s book “Along the Way” (1956), are on display in an adjacent hall. They were published separately later as an album of prints.
As early as the 1950s, Knispel belonged to the leftwing artistic trend in Israel, which aspired to reach a large public, especially by means of well-executed murals in public spaces. Artists that were part of this group, like Naphtali Bezem, Yohanan Simon and Avraham Ofek, created social works works in the public domain and related to current events in a figurative, accessible way, but rarely dealt with explicit descriptions of war. Critic Eugen Kolb tried to clarify this phenomenon in the context of the overall history of art. He explained that most artists, for spiritual reasons, perhaps may need distance, which also makes their works immune from the vicissitudes of the times. He also disputed the perception of “art in the service of…,” in the spirit of Communism, emphasizing its pathos and lack of credibility. 1
Eugen Kolb, “Painting and War: On the Soldier Artists’ exhibition, in Al Hamishmar, 8.10.1948. P. 4 (Hebrew)
Knispel however, his views strengthened and crystalized during the time he was politically active as a Communist in Brazil, still believes that the muses must not keep silent, and artists must create and influence, particularly in times of violence and struggle. Knispel acted in this way in Israel too, as for example in his collaborative work with Artist Abed Abadi in creating the memorial for Land Day, in Sakhnin (1978).
The huge paintings on display at the Umm El Fahem Art Gallery as well as the prints Knispel created with Niemeyer, refer to events that actually happened, based on press photographs (and especially those of military photographers). With time, the sculptural dimension in Knispel’s drawings, became more prominent, freer contours that heighten the three-dimensional spatial texture, as though wanting the observer to enter the scene, as with a diorama, perhaps. The division between painting and life, the gap separating architecture, painting and sculpture, loses its significance due to an emphasis on physical, emotional, dramatic involved activity.
Gershon Knispel, who joined Maki, the Israel Communist Party, in 1954, remains a steadfast Communist even now, and he does not hesitate to make his clear views known, in the Palestinian context too. He arrived in Brazil in 1958 after having won a tender offer to design immense murals, and he was an active artist there, collaborating in areas of culture and art that bear social and political messages. In 1964, when a military junta took over Brazil, he escaped to Israel; he returned to Brazil in 1995, and divides his time between Israel and Brazil.