Vibha Galhotra said that she had some doubts before accepting the invitation but she doesn’t regret her decision.
Indian conceptual visual artist Vibha Galhotra is making waves in Israel after being chosen as one of this year’s Jerusalem International Fellows (JIF).
Aiming to be a catalyst for interdisciplinary, cross-genre, cross border conversations through creative collaboration, the JIF choses four candidates each year for its ten- week residency programme for leading artists from around the world.
Galhotra told the Sunday Guardian that she had some doubts before accepting the invitation but she doesn’t regret her decision.
“I had doubts before coming to Israel and before replying actually. It’s a conflict zone. But then I decided why not? I should see things for myself,” she said. “After coming here the programme really gives us great knowledge about the place, especially about the culture which I was particularly interested in. Culturally there are many things to learn about.”
Delhi-based Galhotra, who was born in Kaithal, creates sculptures, installations, photographs and videos and since 2008 has focused on the shifting topography of a world transformed by climate change, consumerism, capitalism, and globalisation.
“I look through my local window at the global community. Water is an issue that affects the whole world and so does air, so that’s what I focus on.”
She draws from varied disciplines, including the fine arts, ecology, economics, science, spirituality, and political activism to investigate the social, economic, and political implications of human activity on the environment.
During their time in Israel the Fellows collaborate with independent artists, ensembles and cultural institutions in Jewish west Jerusalem and Palestinian east Jerusalem.
Galhotra’s partner organisation in Israel is the Jerusalem-based Muslala, a non-profit community of artists and craftspeople, which combines artistic activity with a social orientation and operates numerous projects in Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods.
Galhotra was particularly impressed by Muslala’s Jerusalem Food Rescuers project that takes food from vendors in the city’s Mahane Yehuda market that would have otherwise have gone to waste to support poorer communities.
She showcased some of her work based around the theme “Who Owns the Water?” to an enthusiastic Israeli audience in early April on the rooftop of Jerusalem’s Clal building, from where Muslala operates. The presentation was followed by a delicious and imaginative vegetarian meal prepared by the Food Rescuers team.
“I really enjoyed my salon on the rooftop,” Galhotra said. “Muslala are able to generate this community which is thinking about food waste and food preservation and I want to take that experience home to India and do something similar with my own foundation.”
Amongst other things JIF aims to expose and connect the burgeoning Jerusalem cultural eco-system to a world-wide creative network and for Fellows to return home with a deep and nuanced perspective on Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem and its cultural ecosystem is the most interesting in the world, an international city – a crossroads for diverse people over thousands of years. It is so fraught and complicated, a relatively poor city with a mixed population. Anti-normalisation efforts in east and west Jerusalem have made it difficult for the disparate populations to work together. It is also a cauldron of creative activity, often taking place against great odds.” said Elise Bernhardt, founder and Director of JIF. “The intensive interactions between these world class artists and Jerusalem’s cultural community will be a catalyst for long- lasting relationships between Fellows and creative leaders in Jerusalem, both east and west.»
So what has Galhotra learnt from her stay in Jerusalem?
“I am thinking that people are essentially the same- it’s just the politics that divides us. Everyone wants a happy life and a life with hope. We are on the edge of a climate crisis and we should be all thinking about that,” she said.
“India and Israel have a lot in common – we both come from complex cultures. The artistic communities think alike –we are trying to create new work and I think we read each other very quickly,” she said. “But one difference is that it’s much easier to move around here and to navigate my space as a woman than in India.”
During her stay in Israel Galhotra wants to create a sound installation, involving objects that trigger a sound when people come close and she is interviewing religious leaders and intellectuals from the three Abrahamic faiths –Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
“The different religions teach us essentially the same thing. They may be different but they don’t say we can’t share the same natural spaces. Religion doesn’t divide people and all teach that people can share the same natural space. I’m trying to create a meeting point.”
Galhotra is convinced that she will leave Israel inspired with creative ideas that can be applied in future works once she has finished her next project: the premiere in Delhi in November of a film she is making.
Laura Kam is the President of Kam Global Strategies, an international strategic communications company based in Jerusalem, Israel.